Explore the bustling city of Bangkok, then hop on a night train up to the lush, green north of Thailand to visit the stunning temples of Chiang Mai. Drive the winding, scenic road to Pai and spend a few days eating delicious street food, watching the sunset, and swimming under waterfalls. Make your way to Laos and travel through the north of the country taking trips along the Mekong river, hiking to stunning peaks, and soaking in the beautiful landscape. Here’s the best 3-week itinerary through Northern Thailand and Laos!
Before you go:
- Read this post to find out about visa requirements in both Laos and Thailand
- Find out what vaccinations you need to get here
- Learn about common scams in Thailand, and how to avoid them
- Make sure you’ve packed the right stuff!
- 2 Nights in Bangkok
- Night train to Chiang Mai
- 3 nights in Chiang Mai
- 3 nights in Pai
- 1 night in Vientiane
- 3 nights in Vang Vieng
- 3 nights in Luang Prabang
- 2 nights in Nong Khiaw
- 2 nights in Muang Ngoi
Bangkok: 2 Nights
Daily Budget (excl accom): £20 per day per person
Accommodation: Dang Derm in the park £26 per night.
A city of culture, adventure and excitement, Bangkok has a very special place in my heart. On the surface it seems like a typical chaotic, noisy city, but if you dig a little beneath the surface there is so much more to be discovered! Most itineraries suggest one night in Bangkok, but if it’s your first time to visit I recommend staying for two – or even three if you have the time!
Things to do in Bangkok
I have written a few posts about Bangkok, which you can check out here.
- Spend your days visiting stunning temples, taking boat tours on the Chao Praya River, and haggling for souvenirs in the markets.
- Spend your nights meeting other travellers on Khaosan road, or discovering hidden bars around the city.
- Don’t miss trying out the amazing restaurants in the city!
Accommodation in Bangkok
We stayed at the Dang Derm in the Park hotel on Khaosan road, where we managed to book a deluxe king suite for just 1,140THB / £26 / €30 per night. This was our first time staying in the Dang Derm and I was really impressed! It’s right on the busy backpacker street of Khaosan road (our favourite place to stay in the city!) and features a huge rooftop pool with a bar and restaurant for when the days get too hot to explore.
Because the hotel is based right on Khaosan Road, where bars open until the small hours of the morning, the rooms at the front of the hotel can be noisy. If you’re planning to party, or you’re not disturbed by noise then opt for one of the cheaper double rooms. Otherwise stay in one of the more expensive rooms like the suite which are at the back.
If you’d rather not be so close to the nightlife then check out the Casa Vimaya Riverside Hotel. It’s a little bit more expensive than other hotels we’ve stayed in, but it’s a gorgeous hotel and you can’t hear any noise from the bars. It also has a stunning rooftop bar and beautiful riverside terrace where you can have breakfast.
For budget-friendly accommodation, check out the following hostels near the Khao San Road;
- Feel Like Home Dormitory & cafe: A chilled out, family-run guesthouse that’s a 15 minute walk from Khao San Road. The location allows you to be close to the action, but also escape the noise in the early hours of the morning. Dorm beds start from £3 a night, and continental breakfast is included.
- Mint Hostel: This modern, stylish hostel offers dorm beds from £4 per night with a free breakfast. There’s free tea and coffee all day, plus a rooftop terrace where you can socialise with other guests. Mint is a 10 minute walk from Khaosan road.
- Playground hostel: This is a party hostel, with a popular bar downstairs that fills up every night. Playground is a good place to meet other backpackers and have a few drinks before heading out to enjoy the bars on Khaosan. Beds start at £4 with no breakfast.
Night 3 : Take the Overnight train to Chiang Mai
Transport: 1092THB / £25 / €28 each for second class tickets
Food: Spent 180THB on dinner from a restaurant near the station
Night trains are a must-do in Asia, and a way to see a different side of life, away from the tourists. On your last evening in Bangkok, head to Hua Lamphong station and hop on the night train to Chiang Mai.
Book your bed in advance as beds fill up quickly, and you don’t want to get stuck in a hard seat for 13 hours! Second class beds will be in a shared carriage, and first class tickets will get you a private, lockable cabin for two. The best place to book your ticket is on 12Go.Asia, and there are three trains to choose from;
- Depart Hua Lamphong at 20:10pm and arrives in Chiang mai at 7:15am
- Depart at 19:35pm and arrives at 8:40am
- Depart at 22:00 and arrives at 12:10pm
Stay tuned on my full guide to booking your night train in Thailand.
Chiang Mai: 2 Nights
Daily Budget (excl accom): £15 per day per person.
Accommodation: La Belle Nuit House 600THB / £14 / €15.90 per night
You”ll arrive into Chiang Mai early in the morning, so go straight to your accommodation to drop off your bags (and have a shower if they’re kind enough to let you!). There will be many tuk tuk drivers waiting at the entrance to the station to bring you to your hotel, expect to pay between 50 and 100 THB per person for the trip.
Things to do in Chiang Mai
If you’re staying within the old city walls, then eat in local restaurants, markets, and food stalls to keep your costs down. If you feel like splashing out or having a few drinks, hit The UN Irish pub in town. I have a post coming up with the best things to do in Chiang Mai so subscribe below to be notified when it’s live.
Accommodation In Chiang Mai
There are a lot of budget accommodation options in Chiang Mai. If you’re a first time visitor then I would recommend staying within the old City walls as it’s easy to explore. Here are some places to check out;
- Eden Walking Street Hostel: This is a budget hostel in a great location right by Sunday walking street. Dorm beds start at £6 per night, breakfast isn’t included but there is free tea, coffee and drinking water. This place gets great reviews from backpackers due to its great location and friendly staff.
- To Bed Poshtel Hostel: 5-minute walk from Saturday Night Market at Wau Lai road, To Bed Poshtel offers a range of options for budget backpackers. Single dorm beds are £6 per night, and double dorm beds start at £8. Twin rooms are £19 per night. A free buffet breakfast is included in the room price, and the facilities are very well reviewed by guests.
- Oxotel: If you’re travelling with a partner then check out this stylish flashpacker hostel. Double rooms start at £23 with breakfast, and the property gets fantastic reviews across all booking websites. Rooms are basic, but there are some great shared spaces and a cafe on site where you can get to know other travellers.
- Lanna Tree Boutique Hotel: This three-star hotel offers cozy en-suite double rooms for £56 per night in a great location. The boutique hotel has a stunning swimming pool and breakfast is available for £3 extra per night. You can walk to popular sights, and bicycles can be rented from reception if you want to go further afield.
If you have been to Chiang Mai before and you would like to chill out for a few days away from tourists, look into staying in Nimman. This is a quiet, trendy area where most expats live and is super chilled out. It’s sort of like the Canggu of Chiang Mai – think hipster brunch, boutique stores and crossfit boxes.
You can eat well, hang out in cool bars, go to local markets and easily get a taxi to tourist spots. We stayed in La Belle Nuit guesthouse in Nimman in a private double room with shared bathroom for £14 per night.
Stay tuned for my full 2-day itinerary in Chiang Mai.
Pai: 3 Nights
Daily Budget (excl accom): £10 per day
Accommodation: £12 per night
Transport: 200thb / £4.90 / €5 per day
How to get from Chiang Mai to Pai
The road between Chiang Mai and Pai is famous for its 762 bends, twisting around through the lush, green northern Thailand landscape. The most common way to get between the two is by minibus, but the most fun way is to drive it yourself!
We heard some nightmare stories about people being sick during the journey and since I tend to get car sick, we decided to drive it ourselves instead. That way we could stop whenever we wanted, and we got to really enjoy the fantastic scenery.
The drive takes around 4 hours, with a 30 minute stop for lunch, and it really wasn’t as bad as I expected! The roads were wide, and in good condition so we found it really easy to do the journey.
We rented our bikes in Nimman, but scooters are widely available for rent around Chiang Mai. Make sure the scooter is in good condition, turn it on and make sure it starts up first time and give the brakes a test. Also ensure you are given proper helmets that will protect you well. Full head helmets with a visor are the best ones.
How to get around Pai
The best way to get around Pai is to hire a scooter as most of the attractions are quite spread out. If you don’t already have a scooter you can rent one in the town for a few pounds per day – you will see signs for rental as you walk through the town.
If you would rather not drive then every tour office, guesthouse and restaurant in town has signs offering group tours to popular sights. You don’t need to book these far in advance, you can book same day if you like.
Accommodation in Pai
We stayed in Pai Country Hut, in gorgeous little wooden bungalows for £12 per night with a good breakfast included. The room was fan-cooled, and the bed was surprisingly comfortable considering how basic the huts were.
Location-wise, this was a great find. It’s just across the Pai river from the walking street, but in a quiet spot so you couldn’t hear a thing at night. The staff were excellent and let us extend our stay without any problems.
If Country Hut is full, or you have a bigger budget, here are a few other accommodation options in Pai:
- Tribal Pai Backpackers: Dorm beds start at just £3 in this popular backpacker hostel which is loved by solo travellers. There’s a cool chill-out area and fun bar where you can meet people and chill out in between sightseeing.
- KK Hut: If you like the idea of having your own wooden hut, but are on a limited budget then check out KK Hut. Simple huts start at just £4 per night and offer a lot more privacy than dorm rooms. Bathrooms are shared and the rooms are simple, but at this price you’re getting a good deal!
- Hotel Lasai: This modern and stylish 3-star hotel offers stunning poolside double rooms for £34 per night. The heat in Pai can be sticky and humid, and there were a few times I wished for a pool! Rooms have a private balcony, sun loungers outside, and get great reviews for cleanliness.
- Tarnjedton Pai Resort: If you’d like to stay in a wooden hut but have a bigger budget, then this is the place to stay. These comfortable air-conditioned wooden huts are a lot more upscale than the ones we’re used to, and will set you back £40 per night with breakfast. They also have two-bedroom villas available for £86 per night which sleep up to 6 people. This place gets a fantastic 9.5/10 on Booking.com with great reviews from guests about the owners.
Stay tuned for my full itinerary for Pai, where I break down everything we did there – and some tips on how to get some of the best places to yourself!
Vientiane: 1 night
Daily Budget (excl accom): £10 per day
Accommodation: £10 per night at Green Box Capsule Hostel & Hotel
Transport: 3000THB / £70 / €79 for the one way flight from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani (booked the night before so it would be cheaper further in advance)
How to get from Pai to Vientiane
There are a few different ways to get from Northern Thailand to Laos. I’ve covered all of them in this post. All options involve getting back to Chiang Mai first, so you can drop off your bike if you rented one.
Our trip from Pai to Vientiane wasn’t the cheapest, but that was because we wanted to get to Laos ASAP. We drove back to Chiang Mai and caught a flight with Nok Air to Udon Thani which is close to the border between Thailand & Laos. From there we hopped on a mini bus at Udon Thani airport which took us directly to the Laos border for 200THB / £4.60 / €5.30 per person. There’s a desk right across from arrivals where you can book the bus, and it left around 20 minutes after we booked our seats.
Crossing the border from Thailand to Laos
The process at the border was fast and efficient. Head to the first desk and pick up your forms, then go to the next with the filled out forms, your passport, and your visa fee and you will be directed to a third window to wait for your visa. You can pay in Kip, Baht, Euro or USD – and the fee is different depending on where you come from. Check out my visa post to find out more about the cost.
Once we made it through the border we got a taxi to our hotel – it was late so there weren’t many options, but you can also get a bus. We had to haggle a LOT to get our fare down to a reasonable amount, so be prepared for that!
Accommodation in Vientiane
We stayed at Green Box Capsule Hostel, in a double bed capsule very close to the main sights, bars, and restaurants in the town. The hostel was basic, but for £10 per night with breakfast, it was very well priced. I’d recommend staying here if you’re on a tight budget and would like to be close to everything in Vientiane. If you have a little more cash to play with, then check out these options:
- Barn 1920s Hostel: This 20’s themed hostel offers basic dorm beds for £6 a night. They boast an exceptional 9.6 on Booking.com, and are in a fantastic location for sightseeing.
- Sailomyen Hostel: Another very popular and well-reviewed hostel in Vientiane, Sailomyen has been gaining great reviews from backpackers since 2013. Dorm beds start at £8 a night with breakfast included. Again location is great for sightseeing on foot.
- New Usouk Boutique Hotel: This charming boutique hotel offers double rooms for £24 per night. Guests loved the location, and the comfortable beds.
- S 2 Modern Boutique Hotel: Double rooms in this stylish hotel start at £30 per night, with a highly rated breakfast included. The rooms are clean, fresh and bright, as this hotel is newly opened but an instant hit with guests.
- Le Thatluang D’oR a Boutique by D Varee: How often can you stay in a four-star hotel for just £60 a night? This hotel is a little far from the center of Vientiane but easily reached by tuk tuk. I’m recommending it for anyone who wants to stay somewhere indulgent for a mid-range price. The French colonial building is breathtaking, as is the sophisticated decor and massive swimming pool. Even if you can’t afford to stay here, I recommend checking out the listing just to see how stunning it is.
Stay tuned for my post ’24 hours in Vientiane’ to find out how to see the best of Laos’ capital city in just one day!
Vang Vieng: 3 nights
Daily Budget (excl accom): £10 per day
Accommodation: £10 per night
Transport: 200thb / £4.90 / €5 per day
How to get from Vientiane to Vang Vieng
We took a minibus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng, which took around 4 hours and cost 60,000 Kip each. We booked it through our guesthouse which is how most people tend to book theirs, or you can go to the local bus station and buy a ticket there.
The journey was bumpy, and the van was cramped, but I had downloaded some shows on Netflix so it passed pretty quickly. You will be dropped off in the center of Vang Vieng and we walked to our accommodation, but there are Tuk Tuks waiting around to bring people to their hotels.
How to get around in Vang Vieng
There’s a motorbike rental company just across from where buses drop you off in the town, so you can pop across and rent one as soon as you arrive. They charge around 80,000 Kip per day, which is more expensive than we usually pay but was the average in Vang Vieng. You will definitely need a scooter to get around so it’s well worth hiring if you want to explore the area!
Accommodation in Vang Vieng
We stayed at Magic Monkey Guesthouse, in a lovely little double bed hut with an en suite for £10 per night. A very simple breakfast is included, and there is a kitchen and bar on site which are open throughout the day. The gin & tonics are huge, and lethal (You have been warned!). This was a good place to meet other people, guests used to gather around the small outfoor fire pit or bar at night.
Despite these positives I can’t recommend Magic Monkey outright as we had a few bad experiences there. The kitchen couldn’t seem to remember Tim’s allergies and served him food he was allergic to a lot. The lock on our door didn’t work so we had to leave it open and money was robbed from our room. Also the laundry service spilled bleach over our clothes and ruined them.
If you’d like to keep your money and clothes, here are a few other options for accommodation in Vang Vieng;
- Vang Vieng Rock Backpacker Hostel: This popular hostel offers dorm beds for as little as £3 per night. This is a very social hostel, so it’s great for solo travellers and those wanting to meet new people.
- Jennin Backpackers hostel: A small, basic hostel, Jennin is one of the bestsellers in Vang Vieng. This is probably because beds are just £5 and they have a swimming pool! This is much needed in the muggy heat of Vang Vieng.
- Vieng Tara Villa: Beautiful wooden villas set in the middle of a rice field, this is a stunning place to spend your time in Vang Vieng. Villas are £59 per night, with breakfast included. The resort is a 10 minute walk from Vang Vieng town, and there is a free shuttle supplied by the hotel.
- Nivana Archipel Resort: If you want to get away from the crazy parties of Vang Vieng then this is the place to go. This stunning three star resort offers two bedroom wooden villas with a private beach, garden and terrace, for £64 per night.
Stay tuned for my post ’10 things to do in Vang Vieng’!
Luang Prabang: 3 nights
Daily Budget (excl accom): £10 per day
Accommodation: £10 per night at Chitlatda Central Bila House
Transport: 200thb / £4.90 / €5 per day
How we got from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang
We booked a minibus through our hostel for 50,000 Kip per person, and this trip was a lot more enjoyable than our journey from Vang Vieng! There were just 3 other people in the minibus so we had plenty of space to stretch out and sleep on the way. The bus took 2 bathroom stops and a lunch / coffee stop – but I would bring snacks on board if I were you.
How we got around Luang Prabang
LP is a very walkable city, so for most of our time there we walked to all of the sights. To see the Kuang Si falls we hired a motorbike through our guesthouse for 70,000 kip and drove out to the falls.
Cycling is a popular way to get around Luang Prabang. We rented some from our guesthouse and took a trip across the Mekong to see the villages on the other side of the river. The bikes we rented didn’t have working brakes or gears, so it was a slog in some places – but we still managed it!
Accommodation in Luang Prabang
We stayed at Chitlatda Central Bila House in a double room with en suite for £10 per night, including free hot breakfast. The guesthouse was very central, and really close to everything we needed to see. There were bars and restaurants just steps away, and we could get to the river within a few minutes.
The rooms were basic and clean, with daily cleaning if you would like it. The guesthouse is run by a really lovely family who help you out with pretty much anything you need, from booking minibuses and hiring scooters to laundry and a cheap airport drop off. We researched prices before we committed to booking anything through them, but it was always one of the cheapest.
The accommodation we usually stay in is very budget, and this was no exception. If you have a bigger budget and would like to stay somewhere nice then check out these hotels I found.
- Chill Riverside Hostel & Cafe: This popular hostel offers dorm beds for £5 per night, which includes breakfast. There are female-only dorms which are the same price, and there’s a restaurant and bar on site where you can relax and meet other people. The hostel is close to Night Market, National Museum and Wat Xieng Thong, and the riverside setting makes it the perfect place to relax.
- Chitdara 2 Mekong: If you’d rather not stay in a hostel, double rooms at this traditional guesthouse start at £24 with breakfast. Located along the Mekong and close to the walking street market, this is walking distance from pretty much everything you need to see in Luang Prabang. Rooms are bright, comfortable, and clean – this place gets great reviews online from guests.
- Ssen Mekong Boutique Accommodation: This gorgous 2-star boutique hotel offers comfortable double rooms for £40 per night. Located along the Mekong river in the main town center, the location is fantastic. Breakfast is included, and bikes and day trips can be booked through reception.
- Maison Dalabua: Perfect if you have a bigger budget and are looking for a little luxury. This stunning 4-star hotel offers stylish ‘Grand Deluxe’ double rooms for £110 per night. Surrounded by lotus ponds and tropical gardens, with a beautiful swimming pool and spa on site – this is peaceful tranquility at its best. The hotel is just a 5 minute walk away from the town, so location-wise it gets a 10/10.
Stay tuned for my full itinerary for Luang Prabang
The following two towns were ones we didn’t make it to because of timings, but they were on our original itinerary so I’ve include them here too!
Nong Khiaw : 2 nights
Daily Budget (excl accom): £10 per day
Accommodation: From £8 per night
About Nong Khiaw
A beautiful little rustic town set on the banks of the Nam Ou river, this is a place to go if you want to chill out completely. Backpackers tend to finish up their trips in Laos with a few days in Nong Khiaw or Muang Ngoi (below). Accommodation usually comes with a private balcony and hammock so you can spend your evenings watching the sunset and reading a book.
There are lots of things to keep you busy in Nong Khiaw, if that’s what you want. Hike, trek and take boat trips to nearby villages, and visit the famous Pha Tok & Pha Kuang Caves. All activities can be arranged by your guesthouse once you check in.
How to get from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw
You can book a minibus to Nong Khiaw from any guesthouse or tour operator in Luang Prabang town. The journey takes around 3-4 hours. If you took a bus from Vang Vieng then check with your driver if he also does daily trips to Nong Khiaw – he might give you a good price! You should expect to pay 50,000 LAK per person.
If you want to save a little money, you can get there by public transport instead. Catch a local bus from the Luang Prabang bus station to Pak Mong and get a tuk tuk from there to Nong Khiaw.
How to get around in Nong Khiaw
The village is really small, so it’s possible to get around on foot. You can also rent bicycles from your guesthouse to explore the area if you prefer.
Accommodation in Nong Khiaw
There isn’t as much choice for accommodation as larger towns like Luang Prabang, so prices are a little higher. Rooms usually come with a private terrace and focus on allowing guests to chill out completely.
- Sythane Guesthouse: The cheapest accommodation I could find in Nong Khiaw , double rooms here start at £8 per night. The fan-cooled rooms have a private terrace with a hammock that has gorgeous mountain views. Rooms and facilities are simple and basic, which is expected given the price. Reviews are around the 7.5/10 mark.
- Nam Ou River Lodge: This two star lodge is set along the Nam Ou river with gorgeous views from the private balconies of each room. Double rooms start at £14 per night and are simple but clean and comfortable. There is a restaurant on site that offers Lao food overlooking the river.
- Ban Lao Sunset Bungalow: Get your own riverside bungalow for £20 per night, including breakfast. As you would expect, the private balconies offer stunning views of the sunset. This is a favourite of mine in Nong Khiaw .
- Viewpoint Resort: Located a little higher up than the rest of the properties I found, the highlight of this 3 star resort is the amazing views from the bedrooms. Queen rooms start at £43 per night with breakfast, and have floor-to-ceiling windows to allow you to take in the views. There is also a cute outdoor seating area where you can eat or have some wine in the evening while watching the sunset.
Muang Ngoi: 2 nights
Daily Budget (excl accom): £10 per day
Accommodation: From £13 per night
About Muang Ngoi
A charming village north of the river from Nong Khiaw, Muang Ngoi is even more isolated as it’s only accessible by boat. This was once a sleepy village where backpackers used to go to see traditional Laos life, but it’s firmly on the backpacker trail so things have changed a little.
Even though Muang Ngoi has gained popularity with tourists, it doesn’t appear to have lost its charm and is still a good place to escape for a few days. If you really want to see local life then head to nearby villages. There is a rich history here so if you do any hikes I’d recommend using a local guide to find out more about the place.
How to get from Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi
Muang Ngoi is a 1-hour boat ride from Nong Khiaw. Boats leave daily at 11:00 and 14:00, costing 25,000 kip per person.
Accommodation in Muang Ngoi
- Rainbow Guesthouse: This is a basic, friendly, family-run guesthouse that offers some of the cheapest rooms in Muang Ngoi. Double rooms with private terrace start at £13 with breakfast. This place is very budget so it’s a little tattered, but the staff are friendly and views are fantastic. Plus it’s cheap!
- Riverview Bungalows & Guesthouse: £16 per night will get you a simple wooden hut with a private balcony overlooking the Nam Ou River. Sit in your personal hammock and read a book, or head to the on site restaurant and bar to meet other guests. Tours and boat trips can be arranged through reception.
- Ning Ning Guesthouse: Riverside bungalows here start at £20 per night, with breakfast. Rooms have floor to ceiling windows so you can see the stunning views from your bed, which makes it worth the price alone. There’s a riverside restaurant where you can eat or drink looking out over the views. Guests found the beds to be very comfortable here.
Fly home from Luang Prabang
There you have it! I hope you found this helpful for planning your trip to Laos and Northern Thailand. If you have have comments or questions, feel free to leave them below.
Any chance that you will be posting more about Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang soon? ???? Found your other guides so amazing and useful already!!
Thanks for such a comprehensive blog on this trip which sounds amazing. if i have 9-10 days, which places would you recommend should absolutely be done, or which can be alternately scratched.