Lao Airlines (tel. 021/212-057 or 214-427 for reservations; www.laoairlines.com) has daily flights from Vientiane to Luang Prabang for $76 one-way. Their routes to Thailand are to Bangkok (one flight a day there and back), Chiang Mai (one flight a day there and back) and Udon Thani (two flights a week). To Cambodia they fly only to Siem Reap (two flights a day there and back). To Hanoi in Vietnam (one flight a day there and back). Domestic connections from Luang Prabang are to Vientiane (at least three flights a day) and Pakse (two flights a week). There are also infrequent flights to Phongsali and Xieng Khuang. There are no direct flights to the far north; for that, you'll need to fly directly from Vientiane.
Bangkok Airways (57/6 Sisavangvong Rd.; tel. 071/253-334 or 253-253; www.bangkokair.com) also flies twice daily between Bangkok and Luang Prabang. You can book online at their website. Vietnam Airlines (Luang Prabang International Airport; tel. 071/213-048; www.vietnamairlines.com) flies to and from Luang Prabang from both Hanoi and Siem Reap five times a week.
The Luang Prabang International Airport (tel. 071/212-173) handles international flights from Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Hanoi, and Siem Reap. Visas are available on arrival at the airport. The airport is about 4km (2 1/2 miles) from town, and transport is best arranged through any hotel. Otherwise, you can hire a tuk-tuk for $5. Going the other way, get your guesthouse or hotel to organize a tuk-tuk. It should cost about $3.
The overland route to Luang Prabang from Vientiane's Northern bus terminal takes about 10 hours by public bus, assuming there are no difficulties (breakdowns are common). There are international warnings about travel on this stretch, and though it has been quiet in recent years, you should ask around before hitting the road. The trip is bumpy and winds interminably, and local buses are often packed. If you suffer from travel sickness then be sure to bring the right pills or you are in line for 10 hours of pure, unremitting, queasy, hell. However, the jaw-dropping scenery, past the mountains and limestone formations at Vang Vieng and several Hmong hill villages, is well worth it. The bus costs 150,000 kip and has a few morning departures from Vientiane's Northern Bus Station. Go early to get a seat. Luang Prabang's Naluang (Southern) Bus Station is a 10,000 kip per person shared tuk-tuk ride from the town center. There are also daily connections to Phonsavan (90,000 kip) and the far north.
There are two main bus stations in Luang Prabang. One for traffic to and from the south called Naluang, the other for traffic to and from the north called Kiew Lot Sai Nuan. To get from one station to another, take a tuk-tuk for around 10,000 kip per person. Double that fare at night.
A faster alternative to a public bus is to take a minibus. You can buy a ticket from most travel agents and some guesthouses. The journey on a minibus is faster but they can also be pretty cramped. A minibus from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng takes 5 hours and costs 60,000 kip. To Vientiane takes about 7 hours and costs $18. In terms of travel sickness the minibuses may well be worse than the regular buses since the drivers swing them round the bends at full speed.
One of the nicest and most popular ways to get to Luang Prabang is to cross the border at Chiang Khong in Thailand to Huay Xai and take a boat up or down the Mekong through spectacular and scenic countryside. If you take the slow boat (recommended) then it will take 2 days, with an overnight in the small town of Pakbeng, a village with basic accommodations, before arriving in Luang Prabang on the afternoon of the next day (assuming no engine trouble or other delays). In Huay Xai the slow boats leave from a pier just next to Immigration and the 2-day journey costs $20. Slow boats to Huay Xai going the other way leave from the pier at the end of Thanon Khitsarat in the center of town. Arrive early at the riverside quay. There have been complaints in the past of boat operators overloading these passenger boats. If you feel that the boat is overloaded then ask for your money back and find one that isn't. Be prepared for all kinds of discomfort, though you'll have many tales to tell afterward. The chug upriver from Luang Prabang takes up to 3 days and is not recommended.
If you want to spend considerably more money, but enjoy considerably more comfort, you can take a trip with Luang Say Cruises (50/4 Sakkarine Rd.; tel. 071/252-553; fax 071/252-304; www.luangsay.com), which offers a 2-day or 3-day luxury Mekong jaunt going in both directions. The 2-day cruise leaves Luang Prabang on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays in the high season and only Wednesdays and Saturdays in low season (May -- Sept). There is an overnight at the company's own Luangsay Lodge just near Pakbeng. This package costs $243 to $394, depending on the season. The 3-day option departs every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday in the high season, and on Tuesdays and Fridays in low season. It follows the same route with an extra overnight stop at the Khamu Lodge near an ethnic Khamu village. It costs between $343 and $525. The Luang Say Lodge and Kamu Lodge are both charming, rustic ecolodges on the banks of the Mekong. Meals are included as is wine and coffee. The boat has a fully equipped bar, but drinks apart from tea and coffee are not included in the price.
The Lao/German company Mekong Sun Cruise (2/2 Sakkarine Rd.; tel. 071/254-768; www.cruisemekong.com) also runs high-end river trips on all navigable stretches of the Mekong and indeed the Nam Ou.
Lao Speedboat Risks -- Alternatively you can take a Lao speedboat. These are flat-bottom skiffs with an outsize outboard motor attached that propel you at alarming speed over both calm water and rapids, avoiding (with any luck) some of the needle-sharp rocks that occasionally break the surface. You have to wear a helmet on these trips, which is indicative of just how wise it is to get in one of these vessels in the first place. They are best avoided because they are, quite simply, very dangerous indeed. Tickets can be bought at all travel agents and cost 400,000 kip to Huay Xai and 250,000 kip to Pakbeng only. Going from Luang Prabang speedboats leave from the pier at Ban Don, a 15-minute tuk-tuk ride from the center of town. Going to Luang Prabang from Huay Xai they leave from a pier about 2km (1 1/4 miles) south of Immigration.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.