Slow Boat down the Mekong

After a mayhem of temples in Northern Thailand it was time for us to head over to Laos. We had visited the landlocked country first in 2011 and like it a lot. Therefore we were quite excited to go again.

Our first stage was a two day slow boat trip from Houay Xai to Luang Prabang

From Chang Mai to Houay Xai

A half-empty public bus brought us from Chang Rai to the border town of Chiang Khong. Along the way we passed some beautiful rice paddies in pouring rain.

Perhaps it’s only me but overland border crossing always have a special feeling and a bit of excitement.

It turned out that the crossing was smooth as silk. First a tuk-tuk brought us from the bus stop to the Thai border (even the prices were nicely published). After the Thai formalities a bus took us over the boarder bridge.

Visa on arrival on the Laos side was easy as well and we even got a bar code as payment receipt which was needed to pass through the gantry. Last but not least a mini bus brought us to downtown Houay Xai. All in all it took less than 4 hours from Chang Rai.

The Riverside Hotel was our home for one night and offered a superb view of the Mekong (again we had the whole hotel to ourselves). After checking in went for a beer and some Laotian food (which similar to Thai) nearby.

While watching a heavy downpour we realized again how relaxed and slow paced Laos is even compared to already quite laid back Thailand.

Slow Boat Pier in Houay Xai
Slow Boat Pier in Houay Xai

On the Boat to Luang Prabang

The next morning we got our boat tickets across the street and boarded the slow boat bound for Luang Prabang.

There was about a 50/50 mix of foreigners and tourists and a box of ducks (they probably took the space of the non-existing life vests).

The journey on the Mekong is wonderfully relaxing and the lush green jungle left and right adds to the experience.

Our Slow Boat
Our Slow Boat (the Seats are basically from old Buses)

Once in awhile the boat would stop to pick up or offload some passengers and we were normally greeted by some kids and buffaloes.

Kids along the Mekong River
Kids along the Mekong River

After about seven hours we reached our night stop at Pak Beng. The town consists of more or less one road and some hotels for the boat passengers.

However even in this small town the food was yummy and the friendly host even ran down the road to find a watermelon for Hazel’s juice (5 start customer service I would say).

Pak Beng to Luang Prabang

Our boat left at 9 AM the next day. The second day on the Mekong was again a relaxing affair passing small settlements, swimming kids and water buffaloes.

On the Mekong
On the Mekong

A few times we also passed huge bridges in the making financed by Chinese investments (something we would come across frequently in Laos from bridges to hydro plants).

Around 5 pm we docked near Luang Prabang and left our slow boat for good. It was definitely a highly unique and relaxing experience which we can only recommend.

Practicalities

There are two ways to do it. Either you book it end to end via a travel agency in Chang Mai or Chang Rai (it’s about 50 USD) or you do just organise it yourself as we did (it’s easy enough). You can also do the trip in the other direction.

Chang Rai to Chiang Khong/Houay Xai just take the public bus from the down town station which leaves about every 30 mins and costs 65 THB/2.20 USD.

Cross the border as per description above. Best to change your THB/USD into KIP at the border station on the Laos side (very good exchange rate).

Accommodations: the Riverside Hotel in Houay Xai (next to the boat pier) and Monsavanh Guesthouse (simple and clean) were our choices.

The slow boat ticket (200 000 Kip / 23 USD) can be directly bought at the pier in Houay Xai (next to the hotel) – just show up about 1 hour before the boat leaves at 10 AM. Really very easy.

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