Why is it worth to take a slow boat from Luang Prabang to Thailand
When I was leaving Laos for Thailand I had two options for transportation: take a bus that would take me from Luang Prabang to the Thai border within the whole day or go for a 2-day boat ride on the Mekong River. I didn’t really considered the first option. I was tired of endless rides in rammed buses with horrible drivers. Especially that the roads are not in the best condition and I had heard about numerous accidents involving tourists. I opted for the boat which was one of the most pleasant journeys of my Southeast Asia adventure.
I booked a boat in one of the travel agencies in Luang Prabang and it cost me around 140,000 Kip ($17) including 2-day boat ride, pickup from my hostel and transportation to the pier. The boat leaves every morning at 8.30AM, but you need to get there half an hour before departure. Tickets can be also purchased at the pier (110,000 Kip, $13.5), but then you need to organize a transportation to the pier, but it shouldn’t be more than 50,000 Kip. This price doesn’t include an accommodation in Pakbeng, where the boat stops overnight. However, it is easy to get a room there and they are really cheap.
The boat is pretty big and have plenty of seats. I traveled in a low season (end of May), so everyone had two seats for themselves. One of the biggest advantage over the bus is that you can always stand up, walk around and stretch your legs. The seats are not the most comfortable, but they do the job. I could easily take a nap after few hours of sleep. On the first boat we had a small shop with snacks, instant soups and drinks. However, the prices were 50% higher than regular. On the second boat we didn’t have the store at all, so it’s better to supply with some food beforehand. Especially, don’t forget to take water.
Around 4-5PM the boat arrives in Pakbeng, where dozens of hotel owners wait for tourists to sell them rooms. I paid 50,000 Kip ($6) for a double and shared it with a cool girl that I met on a boat (25k each). Rooms are pretty basic, but decent. The guesthouses have restaurants, showers with hot water, WiFi and mosquito nets. There are more places than visitors so you are in good position to haggle. Before you opt for a room ask about facilities to make sure you have a nice place to stay. Restaurants in hotels prepare takeaway food for you for the next day, so you don’t have to worry you starve on the second day of the journey.
The coolest thing about the boat ride is that you get the chance to admire beautiful landscapes along the Mekong River. The valley is intact. There are only a few villages along the way, but mostly virgin jungle, hills, buffalos and fishermen popping up every now and then. It is quiet and peaceful journey where you can catch up with your book and meet other travelers.
Actually, this is another advantage over a bus ride – it’s easy to get to know other people. You can walk around the boat, sit by the table, play games and do all the other things that wouldn’t be possible on a bus. On top of that, boats serve as a transportation for locals as well, so you can hang out with them too.
The next day the boat leaves at 8.30AM, you can have breakfast before or just take some sandwiches for the way. Again it takes about 8 hours to get to Huay Xai where you cross the border. Our boat had a small accident – problem with the engine so we got there by 6PM. So take that in consideration too.
Once you arrive in Huay Xai you can take a tuk-tuk to the border. For a group of 7 we paid around 30,000 Kip ($4.5) per person. Before I took this trip I had heard different stories about what time the border was closed. However, as it turned out it was open until 10PM, so we could easily cross it the same day. In the evening it was not busy there. Actually, there were so few people crossing the border that the guards did a small barbecue and grilled fish caught in a small pond in front of the visa section. As we had to wait for the bus ($1) that takes travelers across the bridge from one border to another, they invited us to join a little feast.
Once we crossed the Thai border we were left to only one option of transportation to the city that had fixed and high prices. After 8PM it was 150 Baht ($4) for only 3-4 kilometers. As long as I remember it is 100 Baht during day time. They drop you off to your hotel and if you don’t have any reservation they can take you to recommended places, but then you don’t know what you’re going to get.
From Thailand to Luang Prabang it works pretty much the same. You can take transportation to the border in Chiang Khong (Thailand) from most of the cities in the north (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Pai) and buy boat tickets there. Also travel agencies from mentioned cities organize tours that take you from there straight to the border and then to Luang Prabang.
If you plan to take the same route don’t pick a bus and go for a slow boat instead. Why?
- It is relatively cheap.
- You get to see stunning landscapes along the Mekong River.
- You can hang out with other travelers.
- You meet local people.
- It is much more comfortable than any buses in Southeast Asia.
- It is safer.
Have I convinced you? If not yet leave a question in comment!