From Thailand to Laos :

A Slow Boat Down the Mekong River

by | Mar 17, 2017 | 1 comment

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Hi Beautiful People ! Indré and Loïc here ! A couple addicted to travel and experiencing anything our incredible world has to offer ...

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Not seeing any Songthaew (pick-up ammenaged taxi) or getting ridiculous price for the ride, we walked to the pier with the suitcases and arrived a litle after 9AM as organised.

There was still plenty of place on the boat and went to buy the tickets for 950B / 220KKips / 27$ each to Vientiane (half price for kids). The counter is up the stairs, opposite to the one leading to the boat.  We put our luggage into the fish hold, found 2 seats anticipating which side the sun will be and waited for departure. Seats are assigned for you but nobody will respect it.

A South East Asia classic.

A 2 days Mekong River cruise from Thailand to Laos.

 

The last time i went to Laos was 20 years ago with my family, when the government opened the borders to tourism. My dad have a cousin which went there while in the Army and never left. I kept some good memory from this trip enjoying Songkran instead of being in primary school for a month.

When we end up in Chiang Mai with Indre, taking a Slow Boat seems like the normal thing to do.

From Chiang Rai we choosed to go as far as possible from Thailand the same day, to not rush the following one. You can find the First Part of the journey from CHiang Rai here.

After crossing the Friendship Bridge, we all had to take a van for 100 Bahts per person to reach Huay Xai “city center”, the locals know you do not have any other options and you cannot bargain.

We dropped our bags, and walked roughly 15 minutes to the Pier, to finally get our first of many, many, Beer Lao (12 000 Kips). We met children, who knew better than us how to use our phones, and decide to be at the pier at 9AM the next day to secure some good seats.

And then a storm came, it was pouring rain, everything went dark as the City’s light went out, wind picked up, branches and leaves start flying around. Time to find shelter !! Kongvap Pingpet1, candle dinner was just what we needed until the storm calm down.

Kopjai Guesthouse

Kongvap Pingpet1 Restaurant

After a short walk on the main street we decided to stay at Kop Chai Guesthouse for 400B / 100 KK / 11$ a night.

You will find plenty of choice, the “high end” one being next to the pier.

Day 1 : Huay Xai to Pak Beng

By 11 AM the boat had not left, we were waiting for a large group. When the Slow Boat depart from Houay Xai 30 minutes later, it was full, and some people didn’t have any place for them suitcases. We did prefer to cross the Thailand/Laos border the day before to be more relax. But many peoples dont mind rushing and risking to have a significant waiting time at the border, and may miss the only daily boat.

No food is served on board so you better came prepared, only some instant soup and expensive drink. Wooden benches have been replaced by bus seats in every boat over the year, it is rustic but effective.

We read about it before, and we met the exact situation, the gang was unfortunately one of those groups on the Banana Panake Trail. Noisy, and well to equiped, with dozens of beers and large cooler. One of their main topic of discussion was to try to make as accurate as possible the list of the drugs taken during their trip…

That being said, let yourself go, enjoy the next 6/7 hours down the legendary Mekong and admire the landscapes around you. Wild jungle, rice paddies, sandy beaches, here are some of what you will see beyond the two banks of the river. The peaceful natural environment only disturbed sometimes by the Speed Boat’s noise.

By 18 PM we reach Pak Beng, city that would not exist if it wasn’t due to the daily arrival of tourist. The first thing everybody will tell you:

  • Don’t show any valuable belongings
  • Do not drink to much here or other weak position
  • Be carefull of “somebody” with a big scar on the left cheek.

It feels like Pirates of the Caribbean isn’t it ?

Just take regular precautions and everything will be fine. No need to follow one of the stout at the pier that will offer SUV drop off and amazing value. Walk up the single street and find a bed for the night according to your standard, as Huay Xai, the more you walk from the pier, the cheapeast the guesthouse get.

Donevilasak Guesthouse, for 70 KK / 300 B / 8.5 $, was probably one of the most basic room we had in our trip. But, we were so tired from the boat ride, i dont think after a litle Bug-Check it made any difference. We eared good things about Monsovanh Guesthouse as well.

Pak Beng Guesthouse

Donevilasak Guesthouse

After exploring the full length of the unique street, we settled on dinner at Pak Beng Guesthouse, it is the first GH on the left as you climb the hill from the dock. We enjoyed some fried rice, a rice soup, and a chicken soup with  2 biers for 320B.

Why not to take a Speed Boat :

Ok you will cut your travelling time in half, but is the 6-7 hours journey worth it ?

Mostly locals and Asian tourists take it. It is dangerous, really cold/hot, noisy, and your butt will remember it. And definitely not eco friendly.

People are being killed every years, when Fast Boats hit rocks or logs in the river. If the Mekong is low depending on the season, the danger increases.

If really you have to take one for some reasons take ear plugs and make sure they are providing lifejackets and helmets (not sure it will make a big difference) !!!

 


We didn’t told you that: Do not book a guesthouse with the person who claim to be a guide on the boat, he is just another stout. You could have cheaper, or the same price with AC and WIFI.

Your choice …


 

Day 2 : Pak Beng to Luang Prabeng

Ater breakfast we started the second day the same way and stocked up some food before the 9 AM departure (15 bananas, water, coffee and 2 sandwich for 46KK).

The Boat was bigger this time and all the luggage had to be put in the engine room at the back. Some Elephants across the rivers started trumpeting while the motor start roaming.

The second day, the scenary was even more spectacular and the stops to pick or drop villagers more common.

Forty minutes before reaching Luang Prabang, get your camera ready as you will sail in front of the Pak Ou Caves where hundreds of very small and mostly damaged wooden Buddha figures are laid out over the rocks. Not sure you will want to take a boat in the near future to come back here.

The boat finally made it back to civilisation, they are meant to go all the way to the historical center like the King used to do. But, severals years ago, one stopped, and ever since they don’t go as far, at least for the foreigners. The “Tuk-tuk Mafia” took over, and installed an “official” counter 10 Kms upstream.

After two full days on the boat, we were happy to arrive at the end of our river journey. We enjoyed our time on the Slow Boat. If you have the time to organise and get good seats, you really should try this trip !!

Luang Prabang was the ancient royal capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom until King Phothisarat moved the administrative seat to Vientiane in 1545.

The last king of Luang Prabang was deposed in 1975, after the communist revolution. He would visit and perform the washing ceremony at Pii Ma.


We didn’t told you that: As you go up from the pier on your final stop, do not book the regular 20 KK tickets managed by the “Tuk-Tuk Mafia” and start walking on the only possible street. In 50 meters they will passed by you and you can start bargaining. Not to save 1$ or just for the sake of it (maybe). But as a small method to protest over the way they start treating tourism as cash cow recently.

We end up paying 15 KK for two.

Your choice …


 

In a nutshell:

Transport from the Thai Border to Luang Prabang : (find here the Thai part of this trip)

  • Take the bus over the Friendship bridge : 25 B
  • Process your visa at the Lao border, 30 USD for french citizens and 2 ID photos. You have to add an extra 10 KK / 1 $, for week-end, overtime, and almost any other case (more info about any other nationality)
  • Then take the mandatory 100 B Songthaew to Huay Xai.

 

  • When you arrive in Huay Xai, book a room for a night or go buy your Boat ticket depending on your shedule. Around 10 $ for a night.
  • The Slow Boat ticket is 950B / 220KKips / 27$ per person, all the way to Luang Prabang.
  • At the end of your first day, book one of the many guesthouse in Pak Beng for roughly 10 $, relax and have some dinner.

 

  • For the last leg of your trip, simply enjoy the scenary all the way to Luang Prabang and don’t miss Pak Ou Cave on the right bank, 40 minutes before arrival.
  • Buy the “costly” Tuk-Tuk ticket for 20 KK or begin a strike until they don’t treat you as a gold mine.

TADAM !!! Welcome to Luang Prabang !!

To organise it yourself it only cost you under 4000 B / 940 KK / 115 $ (without visas) to go from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang. For 2 people, including food, the Slow Boat ride and hotels !!!

Hotels :

  • Kaupjai Guesthouse / Huay Xai

Address : Huay Xai

Telephone : +856 20 55 683 164

  • Donevilasak Guesthouse / Pak Beng
 Address : Pak Beng main street
Telephone : +856 20 5578 1192

1 Comment

  1. Acke

    I did this trip, but was not a big fan of the crowd, too many young “party people”. But it is a great way to the amazing scenery.

    Reply

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