Getting there can be a little confusing depending on where you are coming from.
Whether you’re coming downriver by slow boat from Huay Xai (Bokèo) in northern Laos (across the river from Chiang Khong in northern Thailand); or upriver from Luang Prabang, our overnight kayaking tours all start from Ban Lad Khammune, a remote riverside village nearly 60kms upriver from Luang Prabang.
Ban Lad Khammune GPS coordinates are 20° 2’41.57″N and 101°58’14.18″E.
All slow-boats from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang take 2 days, as river boats cannot cruise the Mekong at night. They stop the first night at the halfway point at Pak Beng village, where there is a range of accommodation, and then the next day arrive at Ban Lad Khammune about 3 hours downriver. It’s possible to do the 240 km trip in a fast boat from Huay Xai to Ban Lad Khammune in a day, but it is noisy, quite uncomfortable, and occasionally dangerous.
If you are heading overland from Thailand to Luang Prabang it’s very easy to get to Chiang Khong, from either Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai.
As there are no plane or train services to Chiang Khong, the only way of getting there is by bus or minivan. If coming from Chiang Mai, go to Terminal 3 at the main bus terminal on Kaeo Nawarat Rd. Buses depart at 0800, 0900, and at 1430, and tickets to Chiang Khong are available at the Green Bus counter: 1st Class 290 Bt and VIP 400 Bt. The bus takes about 5 hours.
You must arrive in Chiang Khong, the day before you cross the border into Laos at Huay Xai, as the slow boats depart early to ensure that they reach Pak Beng before dark.
If you’ve made a booking at Namkhong Travel to stay at their Namkhong Riverside Hotel or Namkhong Guest House in Chiang Khong, you can catch their minibus or van and ride to Chiang Khong in comfort for about ~350 Bt. Tickets are available from Nam Khong Travel in Chiang Mai situated between Starbucks and the Amora Hotel on the moat 100 m north of Thapae Gate.
The minibus leaves at 10am every day but you must book it beforehand. It makes a lunch and comfort stop at the beautiful White Temple in Chiang Rai, which is well worth a visit, despite the damage caused by a recent earthquake.
Or if you prefer hire your own private minibus for a sightseeing tour and go via the Golden Triangle and stop off at the Opium Museum. It’s well worth a visit. Private minibus hire seating 10 is about US$170 for the 7 hour journey and includes fuel. We can organise this for you, if you wish.
If coming direct from Chiang Rai, buses leave the central bus station every hour between 6 am and 5 pm, and takes around two hours to get to Chiang Khong. The cost is 65 Bt.
Or if you’d rather spend a night in Huay Xai instead of Chiang Khong, you can get an air-conditioned bus direct from Chiang Rai to Huay Xay in Laos, crossing the new bridge at the border outside Chiang Khong and passing through Laos Immigration. Tickets are available at the Green Bus counter at the Chiang Rai bus station and depart at 10am and 4pm for the 3 hour trip. It stops at the bus station about 5 kms outside Huay Xai and waiting tuk-tuks will take you into town. The late arrival times means you will have to stay one night in Huay Xai in order to catch your river boat in the morning.
As you’ll be spending a night in Chiang Khong before catching a Mekong river boat to Pak Beng in the morning, you can get a delicious Mexican dinner with a cold beer, great music and hilarious company at Bamboo Mexican Restaurant on the main road. (They speak excellent English and are 150 m north of Namkhong Riverside Hotel).
Bamboo Mexican also has fabulous, fresh home-made bread for breakfast, or will pack a lunch for you, if travelling on a public boat.
Tell Mim, Jib & Taew that you’re on a Mekong Kayaks’ tour and they’ll take extra good care of you.
Chiang Khong is a charming country Thai town on the banks of the Mekong River, that was famous for being the spawning ground of the Mekong Giant Catfish (Pangasianodon gigas), the world’s largest freshwater fish with some weighing in at over 300 kgs, – see story in The Nation. Sadly they are now critically endangered, but if you look carefully, you’ll notice there are brass giant catfish on top of the street signs.
In the morning you need to catch a minibus to Thai Immigration about 7kms south of Chiang Khong. After you have exited Thai Immigration you catch a bus (40 Bt/person) across the bridge to Lao Immigration in Huay Xai where you need to complete a visa and arrival card (See our Lao Immigration page for costs and visa eligibility details and a copy of the Lao Immigration card you can download and use). Opening hours at Huay Xai Immigration are 0600 – 2200. It pays to leave early as it’s not uncommon to wait 45 to 90 minutes at Lao Immigration if several buses arrive at once.
After clearing Lao Immigration, if you are on a Mekong Kayaks organised cruise your guide will will meet you inside Immigration, facilitate clearances and have transport to the port waiting.
If you are catching a public river boat to meet your Mekong Kayaks’ guide at Ban Lad Khammune, take a tuk-tuk to the port at Huay Xai (about 12kms away) and look for your public ferry boat. Tuk-tuk cost is about 200 Bt (~US$7).