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.
All slow-boats from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang take 2 days for the 300 kms journey, 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 from inexpensive guest houses to resorts.
The next day you cruise to Ban Lad Khammune (GPS coordinates are 20° 2’41.57″N and 101°58’14.18″E) arriving about 3 hours later. 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, uncomfortable, and can be very dangerous.
There are many ways of getting there, to the port in Huay Xai in Laos where you can catch a public ferry to Ban Lad Khammune or Luang Prabang if you are heading overland from Thailand, via Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Chiang Khong.
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 their first stop in Pak Beng before dark.
Please note: There are no plane or train services to Chiang Khong, the only way of getting there is by bus or van/minibus or rental car.
For the bus if coming from Chiang Mai, go to the Chiang Mai Bus Terminal No 3 Kaeo Nawarat Rd. As you walk in the door of the terminal, the GreenBus Thailand ticket counter is on your left hand side. (Excellent site in English and can book and pay for tickets online). The bus departs at 0800 via Chiang Rai (5 hours). Prices as of Nov 2017 are VX-Class 395 Bt, X-Class 254 Bt. There are other routes that also go to Chiang Khong but they take over 6 hours.
Or if you are in a group, 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. A privately hired minibus seats 10 and costs about US$170 for the 7 hour journey which also includes fuel. We can organise this for you, if you wish.
You can also stop for lunch at the magnificent White Temple just outside Chiang Rai.
If coming direct from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong, 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 about 70 Bt.
Chiang Khong is a charming country Thai border town on the banks of the Mekong River opposite Huay Xai in Laos. There are many guest houses and a few hotels there, but we always stay at Namkhong Riverside Hotel or its sibling Namkhong Guest House.
As you’ll be spending a night in Chiang Khong before crossing into Lao and catching a Mekong river boat to Pak Beng early 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.
In the morning you need to catch a minibus or tuk-tuk to Thai Immigration about 7kms south of Chiang Khong. The price is normally around 50 Bt per person. Your hotel can arrange this for you, but make sure you tell them the night before.
Now on the final leg of getting there, you’ll feel a sense of excitement perhaps mixed with apprehension, as you are about to depart overland, and let the adventure finally begin.
After you have exited Thai Immigration you have to catch a bus (40 Bt/person + a baggage charge) 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 your hotel no later than 0800 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 meet you at 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 slow boat port at Huay Xai (about 12kms away) and buy a slow boat ticket to Ban Lad Khammune. Then look for the number of your public ferry boat and tell the captain you want to be dropped off at Ban Lad Khammune the next day. Tuk-tuk cost is about 200 Bt (~US$7).
After 2 days of getting there, you are finally on the mighty Mekong River. Sit back and relax and enjoy the cruise.
Chiang Khong 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! It is unique to the Mekong River and travels huge distances every year to spawn off Chiang Khong, but sadly they are now critically endangered.
Their legacy still remains however. If you look carefully, you’ll notice there are brass, Giant Catfish on top of the street signs in Chiang Khong.