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To enter Laos via this border crossing, you take a ferry from Chiang Khong (20 baht, or U.S. 50 cents). First, in Chiang Khong, you must go to the customs window, which is right by the ferry, and get your departure stamp from Thailand. This is free. The ferries leave frequently throughout the day, basically whenever someone needs one. It is by longboat with a motor attached. On the Laos side, you can get your Laos visa (up to 15 days--30 days visas take longer and cost more) on the spot for about U.S. $30 and a stamp saying when you entered Laos. From Huay Xai, you can either take a boat down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang, or you can take a bus to destinations farther North. If you choose the boat option, you can either take a "slow" boat, which leaves only once a day in the morning by about 10:30, or a "speed" boat, which also leaves in the morning. By about 11:00 you can no longer catch any boats south and will have to spend the night in Huay Xai. If you enter Huay Xai the day before you plan to take the trip down the Mekong, it's helpful to buy your boat ticket the day before, particularly in the high season. There are many different slow boat options, some of which are more comfortable than others, so it pays to look at the boat the day before and choose a good one. The slow boat takes two days to get to Luang Prabang, and stops overnight. If you take a speed boat, the trip to Luang Prabang takes only 6 hours (stopping along the way for bathroom breaks and a lunch break for an hour or two, depending on your driver). You should not pay more than 1,100 baht for a speedboat (if you buy it at the speedboat departure dock, it's only 1,000 baht, unless you charter your own boat with a group of people, in which case they divide the total cost by the number of people in your group. The speed boats can be quite cramped, and apparently there are speedboat accidents weekly (they provide motor cycle helmuts, which helps keep the wind out of your eyes and shields the sound of the boat's motor, so be sure to get one) but the ride is beautiful, and in my opinion this option beats staying on a slow boat for 2 days. All of the speedboats are the same, so you do not need to shop around for type of boat, as with the slow boat, but only for price. The slow boat can cost up to 700 baht.
April 26, 2005 change by giorgio
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