Have some time to kill? Don’t want to spend money flying to Laos? Or hell, just like the idea of enjoying the journey? Well then this is your read! We’re here to tell you all about the slow boat to Luang Prabang. All aboard (corny line that had to absolutely be inserted)!
The Start/Getting to Chiang Rai:
We started our journey from Bangkok. After just getting back from Nepal, the next country on our Southeast Asian adventure list was Laos. Sure, we could have flown from Nepal to Luang Prabang but we’ve heard so many awesome things about Chiang Rai and the Slow Boat journey that we rearranged our plans to make both work.
So from Bangkok, we set off on a several day journey to reach Laos soil.
We took an overnight bus from Bangkok to Chiang Rai. In Chiang Rai, we planned to spend 1 day/1night. We thought this would give us a decent amount of time to site see the highlights and also book our boat ride to Laos. (Side Note: for those that like to wing it and just show up and buy Laos boat tickets on site, be warned, this trip is packed and a handful of backpackers were left on the banks as the boat was full. They had to catch the boat the next day.) So again, we liked the idea of having that 1 buffer day to book what we needed and see the highlights of Chiang Rai.
The night bus to Chiang Rai was really comfortable and we were able to book our tickets a day prior to departure with no problems. We’d absolutely take this trip again – really easy and got us there on time and in good shape.
We pulled into Chiang Rai early that morning and caught a tuk tuk to our hostel, Mercy Hostel. From here, the front desk was able to not only book our 2-day slow boat ride to Laos, but also setup our transfer to the boat. The 2-day slow boat with transfer was about $40 USD per person (April 2017) plus this included our one night’s stay.
Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang – Day 1:
After a day well spent in Chiang Rai, we were picked up early from our hostel and so began our 2-day journey to Luang Prabang. After a 1.5 – 2-hour ride, we arrived in Chiang Khong, the Thai border town.
- Tips before arriving to Chiang Khong: Make sure you have snacks, cash, water and alcohol (if so dersired) with you. Both days are long and lunch is not provided on the boat. Buying items in Chiang Rai is significantly cheaper than buying them in Chiang Khong (Thai Side) or in Huay Xai (Laos Side). Also, make sure you have $35 USD for your Laos Visa ($35 was the price in April 2017). Border officials may give you a hard time about taking Thai Bhat so to avoid any hassle at the border, be sure to have your US Dollars ready to go. Also, try and have the exact amount, you’d be surprised that people seem to miraculously run out of change J. We got screwed out of a few dollars when we crossed the border, so happily learn from our mistakes!
After you’ve made it to Chiang Khong, you’ll get stamped out of Thailand and you’ll board a bus that will drive you over “Friendship Bridge.” Once you cross the bridge, give yourself a big pat on the back, Welcome to Laos!
- Word to the wise: KEEP TRACK OF YOUR BAGS! We had a few friends get into a little argument with the locals. A few local guys offered to carry our friends bags – and by carrying them we mean carrying them a mere 15 feet – and expected money for “their hard work”. In all the chaos of bordering crossings, just be mindful of your things and know that if anyone offers help, they are looking for money.
You’ll get off the bus in Huay Xai, fill out some visa paperwork, pay for your Visa (in US Dollars) and get stamped into the country. It was a fairly seamless process, if we do say so ourselves. From here, the company we booked with picked us up and guided us through to the waiting tuk tuk trucks.
We loaded into tuk tuk trucks and were brought to the “docks” where our river boat was awaiting us. The boat was basic, no AC or fans, but the seats themselves (old car seats) were fairly comfortable. Not too much leg room but all in all, a comfortable fit. And if you really needed more room, the seats aren’t bolted down so you can adjust accordingly!
- SEATING TIP: By no circumstances should you willing sit by the engine. You will get smoked out and fumigated to death. Get to the boats as early as you can and claim your seat. Fight to the death if you must – but do not sit by the engine room.
Our first day, we sailed along the Mekong with awesome views for about 8 hours. We reached our destination for the night, Pakbeng, at about 5:00pm that evening. Pakbeng is a small Laos village that caters to the overnighters from the Mekong River Cruise.
We settled into our accommodation and had an awesome meal alongside the river.
Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang – Day 2:
Set your alarm to give you plenty of time to eat breakfast and get to the docks early to again, get your seat as far away from the engine as possible, FYI, you don’t have reserved seats, so if you sleep in you may be stuck with a “3rd class seat”! Day 2 is pretty much just like Day 1. You sail for about 8 hours and are offered great views of the river. It’s super chill and can get boring at times. Make sure you have your podcasts updated, a good book ready or a group of friends who like to drink and play cards to help you pass the time.
You see a lot of stunning views like these…
Around 5:30pm, you arrive in Luang Prabang. You’ll quickly learn the port is far from the city center and a taxi ride is really your only option unless you want to walk a good walk (an hour if not more).
Everyone that gets off the boat, climbs a bit of a hill and heads to the taxi stand where you all will pay the same price to get a ticket into town. These tickets are non-negotiable, believe us we tried. You wait for your tuk tuk to fill up and off you go! It’s about a 20 minute ride or so till the tuk tuk drops you off in the city center, not at your own hotel. So, try to plan your accommodation as close to the city center as possible so you can walk versus having to get another cab to take you to your place.
Travel days have their ups and downs but we must say, we were really glad we did this trip. It’s a great way to relax and see river life unfold in front of you. If you have the time, we would really suggest the slow boat to Luang Prabang.
Questions or comments? As always let us know in the comment section.
– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)