We decided to take the slow-boat to Luang Prabang from the Chiang Khong Border. It takes two days, 8 hours a day on the boat and a nights stop over at Pakbeng. The views of the Mekong River are amazing but were not too sure we would do it again. Everyone says its fantastic, it was great for about 3-4 hours and then you start to get bit restless. The first day is a bit of a party boat, everyone’s drinking and having a laugh which makes the time go quicker but the second day the boat was smaller, everyone was hungover and it was crammed. We decided to buy the trip as a package from our hostel as doing it yourself only saves you about 200 Baht per person and it seems to be a lot more hassle as if you miss the boat you have to stay an extra day in the town. Just make sure you take loads of snacks with you as there is not many on the boat!
It started off at 6am in Chiang Rai we got picked up at our hostel by a mini van. Thinking we could have a nap on the 3 hour journey, we were wrong! It was so bumpy there was no way anyone was falling back to sleep. We arrived at the Thai border control, got our exit stamp, we was then picked up the other side and put on a coach to the Laos border, about a 5 minute drive away. We filled in our visa forms, paid and then went through. We then jumped in the back of a tuk-tuk to the office of the boat company. At the boat office they try to sell you a room to stay in for the night stop over. Don’t buy it! As soon as you dock into Pakbeng there are about 20 people trying to get you into there hotel as the boat is what the village lives off.
When it was time to go we got a tuk-tuk ride to the dock and all boarded the boat. It’s a free for all when you get on the boat just choose a seat and ignore the numbers! We recommend a comfy seat as you are there for 6-8 hours and you can get up and walk to the end of the boat to enjoy the view. You stop off along the way to drop produce off in tiny villages and to pick up/drop locals off.
At about 5pm you reach Pakbeng. You get off the boat to be bombarded with local children wanting your food and local hotel owners with their children trying to get you to stay at their place! After bartering between two we found a double room for 70,000 kip, including breakfast or so we thought! When we got to the hotel we asked to pay straight away but it was busy and they told us to just go to our room, have a shower then to come down to pay. Being trusting we agreed and headed up to our room for a shower. We came down after our showers and asked to pay, we was then told the price was back up to 90,000 kip, we argued but they wouldn’t budge and due to us being settled in the room, we just gave up and paid. We then walked up the main road for dinner, afterwards we spent the evening in a bar playing pool.
When we boarded the boat the first day, we remembered the person who was giving us our tickets said to be at the boat at 8.30 the following day. So we set our alarm for 7.15 thinking it was plenty of time as the boat was about a 3 minutes walk away. We went downstairs for 7.30 and asked about breakfast, we was then told that we had to go to the boat (there goes the ‘free’ breakfast). But we were luckily we left when we did as our boat had downsized and had the same amount of people on. We managed to get two of the last seats available. Many of the people turning up at 8.15-8.30 had to stand or lay on the floor for the 8 hour journey to Luang Prabang.
Half way through the journey we stopped off at a tribal village and locals got on with their produce and a chicken! With the boat being full as it was, the locals lined their bags of rice up the aisle on the floor meaning we couldn’t move to the back of the boat anymore. A young girl with her baby brother on her back boarded and there was no where for her to sit. Her mum had her baby brother on her lap so Leila offered the little girl to sit with her and she was very happy with this. After 4 long uncomfortable hours, we finally arrived at Luang Prabang.
The boat company are very clever as the dock is about 5km out-of-town so as soon as you get off the boat you have to go to an office to get a ticket for a tuk-tuk ride into town for the price of 20,000 Kip per person (great business heads). We got onto our crammed tuk-tuk and about 5 minutes into the journey, it broke down on the round about. Soon enough another one turned up and we was on our way again.
All in all we are glad we done the slow boat but we wouldn’t rush to do it again. The views from the Mekong River were great but it is only bearable for about 3-4 hours, after that you get bored and a bit irritant.
Tip : We sat at the front of the boat on the second day as It seemed to be the best place to sit but when the boat got crammed with locals and baggage down the middle of the aisle you’ll struggle to get to the back of the boat where you will find the toilet and smoking area!