Chiang Mai to Huay Xai: The Ultimate Guide

Located on the mighty Mekong river, Huay Xai is a small Laos town famous for the starting (and ending) point for the slow boat or the Gibbons Experience.

I recently traveled from Chiang Mai to Huay Xai and found the experience super easy and way less stressful than I imagined. After a few google searches, I could not find anyone who has explicitly explained what to expect out of this travel day. 

So, in this post I will show you exactly what to expect when traveling from Chiang Mai to Huay Xai! 

Let’s get started.


Table of Contents

Chiang Mai to Huay Xai 

What is Huay Xai?

Huay Xai is a small town on the border of Laos and Thailand. This Laos town is located along the mighty Mekong river, and every year many tourists stop for a night (or two) in preparation for the infamous slow boat to Luang Prabang.

Huay Xai is a sleepy little town, filled mostly with restaurants and a few bars.

Although I only stayed 1 night here, I could imagine a few days would be very relaxing. However, there is very little to do.

sunset over the mekong river
Sunset in Huay Xai over the Mekong River

How To Travel from Chiang Mai to Huay Xai

The travel day from Chiang Mai to Huay Xai is a long one, but relatively straight forward.

In Chiang Mai, you will find lots of tour companies and hostels trying to sell you a 3-day slow boat package for 2,500 baht. The worst part is, there are many expenses you still have to pay for after! It’s really not a good deal, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

The only reason you should consider booking a tour is if you want to visit Chiang Rai to see the famous White Temple, but even so, I recommend just sleeping in Chiang Rai for the night and visiting on your own. This is because your tour will have you sleep on the Thailand side of the river in Chiang Khlong, and then you will be forced to wake up super early to cross the boarder, and get the last seats on the boat.

So, it’s best to organize it yourself and sleep in Huay Xai the night before your slow boat so you get the best seat on the long 2-day journey.

Step 1: Get to the Chiang Mai Bus Station Terminal 3

The first thing you will want to do when planning your trip from Chiang Mai to Huay Xai is to get to the Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 3.

Bus Terminal 3 is located outside of town about 15-20 minutes driving, near Central Festival, the main shopping mall in Chiang Mai.

The only way to get here is by Grab/Bolt, Songtaew or Tuk Tuk.

If you are traveling alone, I recommend calling a Grab or Bolt, the equivalent of Uber, to get a taxi to the bus terminal.

If you are in a large group, a Songtaew might be the cheaper and easier option as there is lots of space and usually cheaper than a Tuk Tuk.

A Tuk Tuk is the most expensive way to travel to the bus terminal, so I would strongly advise against it.

bus terminal in thailand
Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 3

Step 2: Bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khlong (book this one)

Once you make your way to Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 3, you’ll need to get on a bus to Chiang Khlong. Chiang Khlong is the small town on the Thailand side of the border.

You can book your ticket in person, or online here. I recommend booking in person for peace of mind that you have a seat. The seat numbers are assigned so there is no need to rush onto the bus.

The bus will pick you up at parking spot 20 or 21. You can also ask the desk that you booked your ticket through to confirm.

You’ll also want to arrive at least 30 minutes before your bus to give yourself time to stock up on snacks and navigate the terminal. 

When I booked the bus, the bus was completely full and filled with other travelers heading to the border. So, you should be in good company along the way.

Step 3: Get off just before Chaing Khlong when they ask for if you are going to Laos

Just before Chiang Khlong, the bus will make a stop on the side of the road and say something along the lines of “If you are going to Laos get off here”.

The stop honestly seems pretty weird, as it is literally just on the side of the road at a little bus stop. However, once you are off the bus there are a few Tuk Tuk’s waiting to take you to the border.

In my experience, only 3 of us got off at this point, as many travelers head to Chiang Khlong. I HIGHLY recommend staying in Huay Xai over Chiang Khlong, so it’s best not to follow the crowds on this one.

tuk tuk in Thailand
Tuk Tuk in Thailand to the Friendship Bridge

Step 4: Get on a Tuk Tuk to the Friendship Bridge

Once you are off the bus, board a Tuk Tuk to the Thailand-Laos Friendship Bridge.

The Tuk Tuk costs 100 baht/person. It’s about a 15 minute drive to your next stop.

You will be dropped off at the front of Thailand immigration, where you will officially exit Thailand. It’s a pretty slow border (at least when I went) and there was no lines. It was very easy and straightforward at this point.

Thai-Laos friendship bridge
Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge

Next, you need to wait for a bus to shuttle you to the Laos immigration.

Once you are through Thailand immigration you will see a shuttle bus stop. Here, you need to wait up to 30 minutes for a bus to transport you to Laos Immigration. There are toilets here and there may also be vendors selling small snacks.

The bus costs 30 baht/person and you buy the ticket on-site.

The shuttle is a quick 5 minute drive

bus ticket.

Step 5: Laos Immigration

Next you will arrive to Laos Immigation. Here, you need to pay for your Visa. The Laos VISA requires a photo, so if you have a passport photo, that would come in handy here.

If you don’t have a photo for your VISA, no worries, they will take one for you for 80 baht.

Here, you will also be required to fill out some forms. However, depending on what country you are coming from this may look different for you.

Step 6: Get on another Tuk Tuk to the city of Huay Xai

Once you are through Laos immigrations, congratulations! Your final step is to get on a Tuk Tuk that will transport you to Huay Xai. The Tuk Tuk will only stop once in the middle of the city, but no worries, it’s a small city and you can just walk to your accommodation from here.

Your Tuk Tuk will be another 100 baht/person.

Huay Xai
Huay Xai

Final Thoughts on Chiang Mai to Huay Xai

The journey between Chiang Mai to Huay Xai may seem intimidating to a solo traveler because of the many steps and public transportation needed. However, after actually completing it and talking to many other travelers, it was very easy and straightforward. They truly make it very simple to go from one step to the next step.

I highly recommend crossing the border on your own, without a company to save money.

Slow boat in Huay Xai
Slow Boat in Huay Xai


What is the Closest Border Crossing to Chiang Mai?

The closest border crossing to Chiang Mai will be the friendship bridge near Chiang Khlong. This is a land border crossing and will work if you are just looking for a VISA run to re-enter Thailand. It’s also the best place to cross into Laos from Chiang Mai.

How Much is the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang?

The Slow Boat to Luang Prabang from Huay Xai is 400,000 Kip or about $20 USD. This is for the 2-day slow boat journey. All things considered, it’s a pretty good price considering how far you’re traveling.

Another incurred cost will be your overnight stop in Pak Bang. You’ll need to find a spot to spend the night here. The cheapest I found during my trip was for 150,000 kip per night, or about $7 USD. You can book online in advance or find somewhere when you arrive.

When you arrive to the Pak Bang Pier there will be lots of hotel workers standing there trying to sell you a room for the night.

Chiang Rai to Huay Xai

If you are wanting to travel from Chiang Rai to Huay Xai, it’s a quick 2 hour bus ride. You can book your bus online in advance or directly through the bus station. It’s only $2 USD to book this.

Once you book the bus, you will follow exactly the same path as mentioned above. You’ll take a tuk tuk to the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge and enter Laos through this way.

white buddhist temple in chiang rai thailand - beautiful places in thailand

Where to Stay in Huay Xai

Over the Moon Hostel – This budget backpacker hostel is cheap, efficient, and does the trick. Especially if you have just one night in Huay Xai, this hostel is a great option. The beds are comfortable and you will probably make friends here!

I truly don’t feel comfortable mentioning anywhere else to stay in Huay Xai, because I did not stay there and I am unfamiliar with the other hotels. There are a few nice options, but you will need to book what best suits your needs.

However, if you are looking for a cheap place to stay or hoping to make friends before your slow boat, Over the Moon Hostel was excellent.

I sincerely hope this post helped you! Before my trip, I was really nervous to travel alone from Chiang Mai to Huay Xai for my slow boat to Luang Prabang. However, it turned out to be extremely easy and nothing to stress about. I’d say anyone could figure it out, it really was that easy!

sunset over the mekong river in Huay Xai

I’m Danika! A travel obsessed, Disney adult, with a knack for budgeting.

In 2020 I was furlough from my “dream” job at Disney and have pursued my first love of travel ever since. I have traveled to 33 states and 28 countries spanning 5 continents.

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