Ariving in luang Prabang
Most buses and mini-vans arrive in LP a few kms from the centre, where many tuk-tuk drivers or representatives of guest houses will pounce on you as soon as you step off your bus. Most will show fotos of accommodation and will try to persuade you to stay there. Pick a suitable one, then they usually try to stick you in a tuk-tuk for a couple dollars, but it is quite easy to persuade them to give you free transportation should you decide to stay in their GH.
TRAVEL BY BUS HERE..NO RAIL..
LUANGPRABANG Whenever I can when travelling I always, if possible ,travel by train as I beleive it is the best and most comfortable way to travel...unfortunately there are no more trains in Laos so the next best cheapest thing is a bus..The busses are generally I found to be in good condition very modern,fast,and clean, for long distance services ..ie: Luangprabang-Vang Vieng-Vientienne..also they are very reasonably priced and usually full.so book a day or so prior to your journey..
- Road Trip
Bus south to Vang Vieng
The road to Vang Vieng takes around 5 hours through some beautiful if bumpy mountain scenery. Bring water and motion sickness tablets if you are poorly as it's not comfortable. I advise paying more with other tourists for a minivan than a public bus.
In order to get across to the small village of Ban Xieng Maen, on the other side of the Mekong from Luang Prabang, you have to take a boat across the river. I took some sort of vehicle ferry thing across which transported two motorbikes, 1 guy, 1 girl and me. On the way back I took one of the many narrow boats. The trip costs 5,000 kip each way.
Stop at Vang Vieng
Chances are you are coming to Luang Prabang via Vientiane.
Sure, this is not the only way to LP, but is the most common one.
Some, however, do come by boat from the South West side. For this there are 2 options: fast boat (where you wear helmets, it's a scary ride), & the slow boat (very chilled & slow, though totally relaxing).
Anyway, if you are coming from Vientiane, you must stop for a while (minimum 1/2 a day) at Vang Vieng. This breaks the otherwise 7 hour journey. From VV it's another 4 hours of a gruelling uphill & meandering route.
Vang Vieng is compact & beautiful. Caving, tubing along the shallow river with some fun mini-rapids, stops along he river for beer/soft drinks, are amongst the activities to be enjoyed.
Fares from VV to LP are 5 USD. from VTE to VV it's 4 USD.
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Get yourself some wheels.
A great way to get about Luang Prabang and the surrounding countryside is to hire a scooter, the all-purpose vehicle of Southeast Asia. Having ridden bikes as a young man, I am quite comfortable with scooters although I would suggest if you have limited or no experience, this region is maybe not the place to learn. In town, the traffic is the usual chaos with people apparently going where they want and road signs ignored totally. Out of town, apart from Highway 13, the roads can be a little tricky, especially if you cross to the far bank of the Mekong. If you are confident though, you can save yourself some money on the tours to the likes of Pak Ou caves, and the two main waterfalls.
I rented a bike from Pinekham Services as it was near my guesthouse. It was the standard 100cc Wave with 71,000 km on the clock and Heaven knows how many more not. It had brakes as soggy as an Irish February and had obviously seen much better days. However, it sufficed for my needs.
It cost 100,000 kip per day and, as is usual, you had to deposit your passport with them. You are required to leave the machine back full and there is a convenient Caltex filling station just along at the other end of Visounarath Road.
It is located on the (only) roundabout on Kisarth Settathirat Road, at the junction with Visounarath Road.
Bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane
From Luang Prabang you can take the bus to Laos capital of Vientiane. The trip takes about 6h with an amazing ride through the beautifull hills covered by jungle with local villages along the road from time to time.
There is a break for some food and refreshment and you will pass Vang Vieng somewhere in the middle. It is a really nice ride.
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From Huay Xai to Luang Prabang by boat
Coming from northern Thailand, you have to cross the border from Chiang Khong early in the morning to Hiay Xai. Do it early cause it is a first come first serve system there, and it can get crowded. People told me that it can happen that you loose a day if you dont make it early enough to the other side. Dont forget to check out at the Thai border post. For Laos you get a visa on arrival after lining up and paying 30 USD (if I remember correctly...was 2007) - and bring passportpics, of course. On your walk up to Huay Xai you pass plenty of offices for cruise tickets. Buying an additional cushion/pillow, thinking you wil spend two full days on the woodbenches of the slowboat.
Tourists get packed on the backs of pickups and are brought to the slowboats finally.
And the slow boat cruise begins along the Mekong river and hills panorama!!! Passing small villages from time to time with stops for people who come and go. Speedboat announce their coming with their loud car engines packed on small boats long before you can see them. It seems like a noisy, rough bumpy ride - but this way cuts down the travel time to Luang Prabang to just six hours....though I dont know how you feel after that ;-)
In the early evening of your first day you will arrive at Pak Beng - a small village, whose reason of being is the lumber industry and - slowboat tourists, of course. There is not much to do, except a small market in the mornings. Though a small tiny tourism industry was already growing when the first shop just opened offering jungle treks....who knows what will happen here in a few years.
The next day continues until you pass the Buddha caves and arriving in Lunag Prabang the next afternoon, early morning - just in time to witness the sunset.
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ferry across the Mekong
To get to the other side for visiting local villages, temple hills and getting a nice view over Luang Prabang you have to take a ferry - actually really small, more like a dug-out, one perosn at a time sitting behind each other.
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VIP bus to Vang Vieng
If you go to the southern busstation, you can buy bustickets to Vang Vieng or Vientiane in advance. The bus station is somewhat out of town, but easily to reach by bike or tuktuk.
They sell 3 types of tickets; local transport without airco, local transport with airco, vip bus with airco.
The diffrence between the last two is that you get an extra bottle of water included in the price.
We got discount for the bustickets of the kids, the two youngest could travel together on one ticket.
A ticket from LP to VV costs 85.000 kip. The wohole trip took us 6,5 hours.
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Fly if you can
After experiencing 10 hours on the road from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, I decided to spend more money and less time travelling back to Vientiane. The ride was just too long for me. If you plan ahead, you can book your air ticket online and it's slightly cheaper than getting them from the travel agents in Laos.
VIP bus to LP
If you buy the ticket from agents in town then the prices don't vary too much. To save the hassle, I'd recommend buying from your guesthouse as I did after surveying the prices outside. They picked me up directly from my guesthouse.
All the operators will tell you that it takes only 5-6 hours by VIP bus. The fact is that it took 10 hours! The ticket is USD16 plus lunch. Bus left Vientiane at 8am and arrived at Luang Prabang approximately 10 hours later. Once you reach the bus depot in LP, there are plenty of tuk tuk touts to get you into town. Best to share with other travellers so start making friends on the bus!
Oh, the bus has AC, TV (luckily not too loud) and toilet.
Car Rental Service
Car rental + driver. The rate (as of May 2008) is 80 USD/Day + gas. The driver picked me up from Nong Khai Train Station on Thailand's side and drove us all the way to Luang Prabang. It was a relatively new 10-seater Hyundai van. The rental company's owner is Mr Surat JAMPANA, and our driver was Mr Vinai. Overall, the service was convenient and impressive.
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Motor and manuel bikes.
Let me state first that I had a broken leg. It was simply hard to get around. I'm on a year long trip so I can't go blowing all my money on taxis if I want to go 10 blocks. However I CAN afford to rent a motorbike or a bicycle in this country because it's so cheap. The problem with that is, Luang Prabang stopped letting travelers rent these modes of transport 2 months ago, because as one local said "some people fell down." This to me was ridiculous. Luckily I was there on a Sunday and brined a man to let me rent a bicycle for a day because that's the day police officers have off. Please take note however, that if your caught with a bicycle you must have an excuse that you bought it off another traveler, or else you can get a hefty fine or spend some time in jail, along with the person you rented you the bike.
Moving around town: Walk or Tuk Tuk
Luang Prabang is a compact enough town so if you are not intending to stray further beyond the Peninsula and surrounds (the old part of the town), you can cover almost everywhere on foot.
It's a mere 30-40 minutes walk from the Post Office to Wat Pak Heng at the end of the peninsula and it can be a most joyful stroll as long as the temperature is not too high and the humidity not too muggy.
If you think walking is detestable, you can always hail and jump into a Tut Tut. Most journey around the old part of town is about 5000 Kips but if you're going further out (like beyond the old part of town), it can go up to 10000 Kips.
Tuk Tuk can also be hired to bring you to the Pak Ou Caves, Tad Se and Tad Kwang Si but make sure you bargain out a price first before you hop into 1 and be on your merry way!
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