Laos: The Other Entrance


At Easia Active, we are always looking for experiences that incorporate key elements of active travel: adventure, leisure, culture, and sustainability. While on inspection in the summertime, we undoubtedly came across one such experience: the backdoor border crossing into northern Laos from Thailand.

Laos is an increasingly popular destination in Southeast Asia. Its breathtaking landscapes, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and eclectic cuisine are increasingly entering the consciousness of the modern active traveler. However, with no direct flights from Western airport hubs, it has a reputation for being a bit more awkward to reach.

That’s why we do as much as possible to explore alternative routes for entering the Kingdom of a Million Elephants. Current options include flying in from Bangkok or Hanoi, or crossing the land border from Thailand into the capital, Vientiane. One of the best options for entering Laos is by slow cruise down the mighty Mekong River, through Pakbeng, and into the majestic former royal capital of Luang Prabang. It’s both breathtaking and serene, giving travelers a chance to disconnect and, quite literally, to go with the flow for a couple of days. This transfer is the ideal connection for travelers coming in from northern Thailand or anyone interested in a sustainable and relaxing travel experience into one of Southeast Asia’s most exciting destinations.

Crossing the border at Houay Xai

Houay Xai is a small border town in Laos on the banks of the Mekong River. Located about two hours from the northern Thai city of Chiang Rai, this is the starting point of the cruise.

Crossing the border is a smooth and easy process. With the availability of the e-visa, it is simply a matter of meeting the guide, filling in an entry card, and getting your passport stamped. Most nationalities can also buy a visa at the border for a nominal fee. This is a minor border post, which is rarely busy, so most passengers should be through within about 30 minutes, tops. Once on the other side, a bus will be waiting to take travelers to the pier in Huay Xai.

A slow, off-the-grid, cruise

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The way we arrive at a destination can have an impact on how we experience it. Rushing from Point A to Point B in a car, a bus, or a plane is never relaxing. Cruising down the Mekong is quite the opposite of this and is the ultimate introduction to the serene tranquility of Luang Prabang.

Over two days, with an overnight stop in Pakbeng, the boat glides down the mighty Mekong, giving travelers a sense of escape and tranquility that is becoming harder to experience in our modern and connected world. Phone reception doesn’t cover every inch of this waterway, so a digital detox is guaranteed.

During these two days, your travelers will get a crash course in Laos culture and history while bearing witness to authentic ways of rural living, with many stops meant to provide insight into the fabric of Laos society.

 Are you looking for a relaxing and insightful way to enter Laos? Get in touch with our Sales Team now!

A night in Pakbeng

Pakbeng, a charming river town in Laos, is the perfect stopover for travelers cruising the Mekong, offering stunning scenery, serene temples, and a glimpse into local life. A short walk through this remote little town is guaranteed to put a smile on your guests’ faces and the friendly locals who are always delighted to see people visiting their country.

Pakbeng isn’t just a stopover. Those curious to explore the area can stay an extra night and catch the next boat down the river. Hikes through tea plantations or an ethical Elephant encounter are some of the options on the menu.

The journey continues the next day with several more local stops before pulling into Luang Prabang in the late afternoon, just in time to check in and catch the majestic sunset over the green mountains that line the river.

Here are some of our favorite travel products in Pakbeng:

An introduction to Laos’ cultural diversity

What we love the most about this way of entering Laos is the cultural immersion and opportunity to observe local life from the vantage point of the river.

Stopping in an ethnic Khmu village

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The modern nation of Laos gets its name from its largest ethnic group, the Lao people. However, they make up just over half of the country’s population, and in the North of Laos, the Khmu people make up one of the country’s largest ethnic groups after Lao. One of the first stops on this cruise is a Khmu village on the banks of the Mekong. Accompanied by a guide, travelers will learn first-hand about some of the customs and cottage industries that shape the daily lives of Khmu communities living in remote areas along the Mekong. The Khmu language is from a different language group than the Lao language. While many Khmu villages are Buddhists, many retain animist religious practices that are thousands of years old.

Another day, another stop

During the second half of the cruise, guests can visit another village before reaching Luang Prabang: Ban Baw village. Here, guests learn about local whiskey production, known as Lao Lao, and sample some of the different varieties of the potent local beverage. This stop is also a great introduction to the ethnic diversity of northern Laos, as Ban Baw village is home to three ethnicities: Lao Loum, Shan, and Tai Lue.

Pak Ou Cave

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The last stop on this cruise is Pak Ou Cave, some 35 kilometers upriver from Luang Prabang. The Pak Ou Caves are a testament to the country’s rich religious heritage and are profoundly significant in Lao spirituality. For centuries, devout pilgrims have flocked to these caverns to pay homage to the thousands of Buddha statues that adorn their walls. These statues, ranging in size and material, represent the unwavering faith and devotion of the Lao people to Buddhist culture and religion.

Arrival in Luang Prabang

After a couple of relaxing days on the Mekong, the sight of the quaint and enchanting Luang Prabang is a welcome reward. Guests disembarking in the late afternoon will get their first views of the charming UNESCO town by daylight, and experience it’s sunset as a warm greeting.
A slow cruise down the Mekong River is a beautiful and relaxing way to enter Laos, giving travelers time to disconnect and go with the flow. This option connects well with travelers in the North of Thailand but can also be customized to different durations for travelers wanting to explore more of Northern Laos.


 Are you looking for a relaxing and insightful way to enter Laos? Get in touch with our Sales Team now!

Matteo Galeazzi

Easia Active Manager

Matteo not only has extensive academic background in tourism, but has also gained valuable insight while living and working in multiple destinations around the world. His energy and enthusiasm for active as well as sustainable travel are what make him a strong driving force within the Easia Active team.


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