Re: The North
1. Cheapest is to take the bus from Huay Xai to Luang Namtha and the following morning take a songthaew to Muang Sing, a couple hours away. Fastest is probably to take the speed boats up the Mekong to Xieng Kok but it's expensvie. When taking the bus, buy the ticket from the bus station outside of Huay Xai since guesthouses and travel agencies sell the bus ticket at inflated 50% MORE cost.
2. From Muang Sing catch the earliest songthaew to LNT or better yet get to LNT the night before because the first bus from LNT departs at 8am for Oudomxai. Then transfer at Oudomxai bus station (where the bus stops) to the next bus to Luang Prabang or any other bus headed past LP (for example, a Vientiane bus, but make sure they only charge you for only the LP distance). If you were to take the L. Namtha bus to L. Prabang, you'll get there later than transferring at Oudomxai because it's a local bus and stops all along the way which makes you're arrival in LP around 8-10PM!
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