Can I get a Lao visa at the border?
It is possible to get a visa on arrival at all airports and most international borders including Houei Say. The visa is valid for 30 days and the fee varies depending on nationality. Every country has a different charge, which can be found on this list.The Laos government is very strict on the following two things:
1) there must be at least one full blank page in your passport.
2) there must be at least 6 months validity on the passport. They have turned many people away because of these two things.Please carry at least two passport photos to be safe and a copy of your passport.
What time does the border at Houei Say open and close?
The Lao and Thai immigration checkpoints at Houei Say and Chiang Khong both open at 8am, and close at 6pm. If you are cruising down from Houei Say, you should have plenty of time to complete all the formalities (including making a visa) before your cruise departs. If you are cruising up from Luang Prabang, you will easily reach the border in time to cross over into Thailand if you wish. We have staff on both sides to assist you with your crossing on the day of your cruise, but its a fairly simple procedure if you wish to do it by yourself at any other time.
Is crossing the border easy?
Crossing between Thailand and Laos is very easy. The immigration check points are on either side of the Mekong river, so you have to process out of one country, then take a small boat across the river to the other side (which costs 20 baht) before processing into the other. We have staff at the border to assist you with this process on the days of the cruise departure/arrival, but it can easily be done without assistance at your leisure.
Do I need a Thai visa?
Officially most foreigners from western countries can enter Thailand on a 30 day visa free stay. This means they stamp your passport and you can enter, but you dont need to pay or buy a visa. To do this you need to have an onward flight ticket out of Thailand within one month. If you do not have a flight ticket, you may be refused entry without a visa, particularly if flying into one of the international airports.
For more information, see visa page on amazing-thailand.com
What is the best currency to bring to Laos, are there ATM machines ?
There are ATM machines in Luang Prabang and Vientiane only, though they only give you money in Lao kip and cannot always be guaranteed to be working. Most of the more expensive hotels, restaurants and shops will let you pay using your credit card, though some still add on a commission. US dollars and Thai baht are interchangeable with Lao kip you can pay in dollars or baht and get the change in either Dollars, Baht or Kip. Euros, Australian dollars and Japanese yen are also able to be changed at banks. Travellers cheques are able to be exchanged at most banks in Laos.
What time does the boat leave?
The boat departs Houei Say at 9am to travel down stream. Please be at the boat pier by 8.45am to allow enough time to board and get settled.Our upstream cruise departs Luang Prabang at 7.00am. Please be at the boat pier by 6.45am at the latest. For this cruise, a continental breakfast is served on board.
How long do we spend on the boat each day?
Travelling upstream to Houei Say from Luang Prabang takes longer than travelling downstream from Houei Say to Luang Prabang. Each of the two days are full days on the boat. With comfortable seating and plenty of room to wander freely, combined with stunning scenery to absorb, you will not be uncomfortable.
What time do we arrive at Pakbeng/Luang Prabang/Houei Say?
Travelling times depend on the levels of the water, conditions on the river, the number of people on the boat (larger groups are slower) and other factors. As a general rule, you should arrive at each destination at between 4-5pm, but this of course can vary widely.
How many people fit on the boat?
The boat comfortably seats 40 passengers (with walking and standing room to spare), and is insured for 45.
What do we do with our big bags & luggage?
Do not worry about your bigger bags and suitcases. We advise you to pack an overnight bag for your one night stay at the Luangsay Lodge. We store the larger bags on the boat, they are safely locked away and the staff sleep on the boat. Please bring all your valuables with you, do not leave them on the boat overnight.
Does the boat have safety equipment?
The boat is equipped with fire extinguishers and life jackets in adult and childrens sizes. A boat mechanic travels on every cruise.
What are the accommodation options in Houei Say and Chiang Khong?
Both Houei Say and Chiang Khong are small towns with fairly basic, guesthouse style accommodation. If you are looking for some more deluxe or hotel style accommodation, you might like to stay in Chiang Rai. For a small extra cost we can organise a private transfer between Chiang Rai and the border on the day of your cruise (or at your convenience).
To see some reviews of guesthouses and hotels, go to travelfish.org
How do I get to the cruise departure point?
Our cruise upstream departs Luang Prabang from the boat pier opposite Le Calao Inn a distinctively yellow hotel on the Mekong River. For clearer directions you can drop in to our Luang Prabang office before you depart: 50/4 Sakkarine Road, Ban Wat Sene, Luang Prabang. Tel: +856 (0)71 252 553.
The downstream cruise departs Houei Say from the slow boat pier which is a short distance out of town. You will need to get a tuk tuk if you are staying in town the night before your departure. If you are coming from Thailand on the morning of your cruise, our representatives will be waiting to meet you at the Chiang Khong Thai border post from 8am. They will assist you with your crossing and help you get to the boat. For a small extra cost we can organise a private transfer from Chiang Rai to the border. The journey takes one and a half hours. You can be met at the airport at any time, or picked up from a hotel at 06.30am on the morning of your departure, which will give you enough time to get to the border, process through and transfer to the boat. Chiang Rai is very easily accessible by land or air from Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
The upstream cruise Luang departs Luang Prabang from the pier opposite Le Calao Inn on the Mekong River Road.
From 1 April until 31 October, our departure time is 7.30am and we ask you to be at the boat pier by 7.15am
From 1 November until 31 March, our departure time is 7.00am and we ask you to be at the boat pier by 6.45am
How can I get from the border to...?
You will arrive in Houei Say after your cruise at around 4-5pm.
If you plan to stay in Laos you can fly to Vientiane, or head up to northern Laos and visit towns such as Luang Nam Tha and Muang Sing. It is also possible to turn around and take the cruise back down to Luang Prabang again !
If you plan to cross the border into Thailand, you will have plenty of time to complete the formalities on arrival before the border closes. We will have staff waiting to help you with your transfer. You can then stay in Chiang Khong, or move on to your next destination.
For Chiang Rai: public buses depart all day until 5pm. These take 2-3 hours. You will most likely not be able to catch the last departure. For a small extra fee we can organise a private transfer to Chiang Rai on arrival at the Thai border. This takes one and a half hours, and you should be in Chiang Rai by about 7.30pm. From here it is simple to move on to Chiang Mai or, catch a flight to Bangkok.
For Chiang Mai: it takes approximately 5-7 hours to get to Chiang Mai, depending on the mode of transport. Public buses run three times per day and minivans run twice per day. These can easily be organised from your guesthouse or a travel agent in Chiang Khong. Alternatively you can take a private transfer to Chiang Rai directly after arrival, and make your way to Chiang Mai the next morning.
For Bangkok: buses take 13 hours to get to Bangkok, and depart several times throughout the day, the last departing at 4pm. There are several daily flights to Bangkok from Chiang Rai. If you take a private transfer to Chiang Rai on arrival at the border, you will make it there in time to catch the last flight to Bangkok (at 8.25pm). See the Thai Airways website for more information thaiair.com. For public bus information, see travelfish.org.
Do the water levels change on the Mekong, and how will this affect our cruise?
Obviously as rain falls, the river levels rise. Even if it is not raining in Laos, heavy rainfalls in China can also affect the river. On the Mekong the difference between the dry season and the wet season is quite pronounced. When the water is high, going downstream the boat will travel faster, sometimes arriving up to two hours early. Conversely, going upstream takes longer, as the water current is stronger. You will still arrive at the border in time to make it through to Thailand.Very occasionally, the river levels dry up to the point that the boats can not travel, at least for certain sections. Should this happen, you will be notified as soon as possible. Sometimes it is just a short stretch of the river that our boats can not pass, in which case you will be transferred by shuttle boat or in the worst cases by speedboat. This does not happen very often.
Do we have porters for our bags ?
Yes we do have porters.Please note also that due to changes in water levels of the Mekong between seasons, (as much as 25m !), in case of low waters at your arrival at the lodge, we would ask you to pack a small overnight bag so porters wont need to carry your larger suitcases up to the Lodge. These luggages can be stored safely onboard overnight.
Is malaria a problem?
Malaria cases do occur occasionally, and it is always wise to take preventative measures. Wear long loose clothing which covers your arms and legs, and wear mosquito repellent, particularly in the evenings. The LuangSay Lodge rooms have well maintained mosquito nets over the beds as well as electric mosquito coils. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of the many malaria medications available if you wish to take precautions.
What is the weather like?
Laos has three seasons.
From March to May is the hot season. It is generally hot and very dry. The water levels in the rivers sink.
From June to November is the rainy season. It may rain for a few hours during the day, and most of the night. The weather is still quite warm, and often hot and sunny.
From November to February it is the cold season.Visitors from colder climates will probably not find it too cold, but temperatures can drop to around 15 degrees during the day, and even lower overnight. A jumper or jacket is recommended for the evenings at the Lodge and while the boat is moving during any season, but particularly from November to February.
Im coming during the rainy season. Will rain ruin my trip?
It is obviously impossible to predict the weather. However, there are a few patterns that rainfall tends to take at this time. It may not rain at all, and be warm and sunny for days at a time. If it does rain, it is often in a very heavy downpour for a fairly short period of time, perhaps for a couple of hours in the afternoons. It quite often rains a lot at night.Our boats have open sides. When it rains, we unfurl clear plastic sheets that cover the sides of the boat and act like windows. You are protected from the rain, but can still see out. We do not think that rain ruins the trip. In fact it means that the scenery is even more beautiful and atmospheric than ever!
When is the best time of year to travel?
There is no best time of year to come to Laos; every season has pros and cons. The rainy season obviously has rain fall to contend with, but the scenery is lush and green, the rivers high, and the local produce is fresh and abundant. There are often fewer tourists, which means that prices are lower and restaurants, hotels and tourist activities and sites are less busy. As the rain subsides and the swollen river levels drop, crops are planted along the river banks.
What should I wear?
You should wear light, loose-fitting, cotton clothing for your cruise. Short-sleeved shirts and light-weight trousers are ideal. Long, light trousers are a good idea since shorts leave your legs exposed to insect bites. Halter tops (necks) and hot pants are discouraged. Lao and mountain people are offended by tight and overly revealing clothing.The best footwear are sports shoes or walking boots, especially in rainy season when village visits can be slippery. A hat is advised for the tropical sun, and sunglasses are certainly a good idea.Evenings and early mornings can be surprisingly chilly in winter - even sometimes close to freezing (or at least feeling that way) in December and January, so bring a sweater, socks, and a casual jacket, windbreaker (cheater), or anorak.
Do I need my own Insurance?
Even if Luang Say journeys are fully insured for accident or misadventure. We do strongly advise our customers to have their own insurance as well, since claims can be complex and time consuming.
What separates you from other tour operators in the region?
Travelers who take a Mekong Cruises journey are catered to every step of the way, and in every manner. We have an intuitive understanding of our guest's needs and desires. We realize that every traveler is unique, with different personalities, comfort levels, demands, and expectations.Therefore we always present our clients with a pleasing array of choices which they can select from to best suit their mood at the moment. It's that special understanding of each individual traveler that separates Luangsay Cruise from the rest.
Can you suggest an itinerary that involves both the LuangSay Cruise and Vat Phou?
It is easy to include both the LuangSay and Vat Phou Cruises in a trip to Laos. Following is a suggested itinerary that can be used as a base, and expanded or moulded to fit your plans. For the purposes of this itinerary we have suggested travelling from North to South, but the trip can easily be done in the other direction.
Days 1-2: Enter at Houei Say and take the Luang Say Cruise via the LuangSay Lodge to Luang Prabang. Days 3-4: Explore Luang Prabang. Days 5-6. Make your way to Vientiane, either by air or by land via Vang Vieng. Explore Vientiane. Day 7-9. Make your way down to Pakse.This can be done by overnight VIP bus, or by flight from Vientiane.Take the Vat Phou Cruise. After the cruise, make your way from Pakse across the border to Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand, and across to Bangkok. It is also possible to disembark at the end of the cruise, at the Cambodian border and travel overland to Phnom Penh.
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