Luang Prabang Transport.
Lao Airlines (tel: 212172; Th Pha Mahapatsaman) operates three daily flights between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. During the high season, flights to/from Phonsavan (Xieng Khuang) may be added.
The Luang Prabang International Airport (tel: 212173), 4km (2.5mi) from the city centre, is modern with good facilities.
Ferries are a major form of transport between Luang Prabang and Huay Xai on the Thai border, but are much less so to other towns. In Luang Prabang the main landing for long-distance Mekong River boats, at the northwestern end of Th Chao Phanya Kang, is called Tha Heua Meh (literally, mail boat pier; ferry pier on our map). A blackboard at the Navigation Office announces long-distance boat departures, eg to Nong Khiaw and Vientiane - it's all in Lao.
Speedboats use a landing at Ban Don, 6km (3.7mi) north of Luang Prabang. To charter a speedboat the pilots usually ask that you pay the equivalent of six passenger fares but they'll usually accept payment for four spaces - often they have paid cargo to carry, too. If you want to share the cost of hiring a speedboat with other passengers it's best to show up at the pier the day before you want to leave and see what your prospects are, then return around 06:00 the morning of your intended departure to queue up. Speedboat fares can be paid in Thai baht, kip or US dollars. Passengers are required to wear life vests and helmets but the helmets are very often substandard.
As there is no direct road between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang, the river is the most popular route between the Thai border and Luang Prabang.
Pak Beng, on the Mekong roughly halfway between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang, is a common starting point for road trips northeast to Udomxai. If you're heading to Hongsa in northern Sainyabuli Province, coming from Luang Prabang, take the slow boat from the ferry pier as far as Tha Suang (half day), where you can continue on to Hongsa by bus. Smaller, faster speedboats from the pier in Ban Don pound up the Mekong to Tha Suang (2hr), Pak Beng (3hr) and Huay Xai in double the time.
Most passengers and cargo going to Nong Khiaw travel by road nowadays as it's much quicker than by boat, although slow boats still head up the Nam Ou (4.5hr) a couple of times a month from the ferry pier. The same situation applies to Muang Khua, further up the Nam Ou - it's more quickly reached by road than by slow boat. Slow boats do travel there on posted dates. When there are sufficient passengers, speedboats travel from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw (2hr) and Muang Khua (4hr). Be sure to investigate river conditions thoroughly before embarking on a Nam Ou trip; from mid-February on it's not unusual for speedboat pilots to get stranded in Nong Khiaw, unable to bring their boats back until the rains arrive in May or June.
Several times a month slow cargo boats travel between Luang Prabang and Vientiane (4 days upriver, 3 days down) via Tha Deua (6hr downriver, one day upriver). Passenger travel on these boats is rare now that Rte 13 is sealed and fast. When there are sufficient passengers, or more commonly when chartered, speedboats travel downriver to Vientiane (8 or 9hr).
Interprovincial buses and trucks - large săwngthăew - operate out of three bus terminals in Luang Prabang. In general, vehicles going to destinations north of Luang Prabang leave from the northern bus terminal (on Rte 13 about 4km (2.5mi) north of the town centre) while those going south normally leave from the southern bus terminal (a few kilometres south of the town centre near the Luang Prabang Provincial Stadium). A third terminal, south of town on the road to Tat Kuang Si, serves buses going to Sainyabuli Province.
Buses to Vientiane (11hr, 6 daily) leave from Luang Prabang's southern terminal. The same buses stop in Vang Vieng (6-7hr). For quicker and more comfortable transport, try the travel agents in town, who can also arrange minivan transport (8hr) and VIP bus (9hr) to Vientiane.
Luang Prabang is linked with Udomxai and Luang Nam Tha Province via paved roads. Passenger trucks and buses to Udomxai leave once a morning (5hr) from both the southern and northern terminals. Buses bound for Luang Nam Tha (8hr) leave once a day from both the southern and northern terminals. Buses or passenger trucks to Huay Xai (8hr in dry weather) leave every evening from the northern terminal. Much of the road between Luang Nam Tha and Huay Xai is unsealed, so during the rainy season it's best to take a Mekong River boat if you need to reach Huay Xai in two days or less.
These travel times are only estimates - in Laos such factors as number of passengers, number of stops, the weather, and road conditions affect travel times.
Săwngthăew head north to Nong Khiaw (4hr) and northeast to Vieng Kham (6hr), departing from the northern bus terminal. Buses leave for Phonsavan (10 hr) and for Sam Neua (10hr) from the southern terminal.
Buses bound for Pak Khon (3hr), the Mekong River crossing for Sainyabuli Province, depart from a separate bus terminal off the road south to Tat Kuang Si. After crossing the Mekong by ferry to Tha Deua, buses on the other side continue on to Sainyabuli.