Cruising the Mekong river on a slow boat in Laos

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Cruising the Mekong river in Laos

Cruising the Mekong on a slow boat in Laos. The Travel Log of a boat trip from Huay Xai (location Lao Gibbon Experience) to Luang Prabang (docking point). With slow, we mean very, very slow. The journey takes two days. But when you know this in advance, why not sit back and relax and look around. The surrounding nature is truly breathtaking. The first day on the boat takes you from Huay Xai to Pak Beng and the second day from Pak Beng towards Luang Prabang.


Departing from Huay Xai

Huay Xai as a destination with about 1,000 inhabitants does not offer many activities on site except for taking a massage or going to the sauna with the locals. As mentioned before, Huay Xai is also where the starting point and head office of the Gibbon Experience is situated. There are some small places to spend the night, but don’t expect luxury in this small village center (But perhaps that has its charm too). Huay Xai is the most Northern place to cross the border between Thailand and Laos. Many backpackers and travelers want to catch this boat towards Luang Prabang from the Northern Thai cities of Chiang Mai or Pai. This is doable by arranging a bus ticket from Chiang Mai to Huay Xai center. There are several (Slow) boats leaving Huay Xai daily, nevertheless, as the roads are not perfect if you first need to travel to Huay Xai, you might want to play it safe and spend the night in Huay Xai (that way you can help the locals out too with making a living).

When choosing a seat when you buy a ticket, try to get a seat at the front of the boat. The motor of the boat in the back can get pretty noisy. When sitting in the back, that can be very annoying. If you have to spend the night in Huay Xai, it is likely that you will get one of the (best) front Seats as the bus with passengers from Thailand usually arrives later than boarding time. The boat has a middle isle and a two-seater bench on each side. In the front is some room too for people to sit at the sides. If you are feeling social, the front of the boat is the place to sit. The docking station is about 0,5 km away from the center. You can walk there yourself from the ticket counter.

Picture: Slow boat Mekong Picture: Slow boat Mekong

The boat ride itself is pretty relaxing. You can spend hours just looking at jungle shores going by and spotting wildlife and local fisherman.


Spending the night in Pak Beng

At the end of day one, the boat docks in this tiny local village called Pak Beng. Head into the one main road village to arrange your hotel for the night. There are sufficient small hotels and hostels where you can stay, and lovely small restaurants/ bar’s to spend the evening hours and have a drink with your fellow boat travelers. For the night, our experience was that you do not need to book a room in advance; there are plenty of guesthouses to choose from on site.

Picture: Location Pak Beng village Picture: Pak Beng village up close

The next morning, the boat departures for the second and last part of the journey. From Pak Beng towards Luang Prabang. Note that this day, you do not have a designated seat anymore. Consequently, it is first come first served in getting one of the front seats. When everyone is onboard, you will have another day of relaxing on the water.

Picture: The Mekong River Laos Picture: The Mekong River Laos

The color of the water may not be that much inviting for a swim, but the scenic nature makes up for a lot! Also, the current may be quite strong, especially in the rain season.


Arriving at Luang Prabang

Arriving at Luang Prabang late afternoon, you will not arrive at the foot of the village. Instead, the docking point is a few km’s away from the village center. This end location was chosen deliberately so that the locals can earn a few bucks too by taking the passengers to the city in their cars or Tuk Tuk’s. Remember that the locals can use every dime for the basic things in life like food.

After a 20 minutes ride (10km), you will arrive in the quiet and tranquil hippy-atmosphere village of Luang Prabang. Buddhism is a big part of the Luang Prabang lifestyle. A village definitely worth visiting.


Need to know

  • You can buy your boat tickets in the Huay Xai center
  • A slow boat trip ticket from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang costs KIP 240,000
  • You can also choose for a fast boat taking you from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang within 8 Hours. However, it is said that these journeys are much more dangerous.

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