Slow Boat Laos

Taking the Slow Boat Down the Mekong River

Julie Laos 17 Comments

The Mekong River is the lifeline of Laos.  This river originates in the Yunnan Province of China, travels south, forming the boundary between Laos and other countries such as Myanmar and Thailand.  The path of the Mekong crosses Cambodia and then ends in southern Vietnam, forming the famous Mekong Delta. One of the most popular things to do in Laos is to take a slow boat down a portion of the Mekong River.

The usual trip starts at the Thai-Laos border in the Laos town Huay-Xai, and from here it is a two day trip, ending in Luang Prabang, Laos (which I think is the coolest name ever for a town!). Knowing my family and how we can’t sit still for long periods of time, I wasn’t sure if I should include this in our itinerary. Still, it seemed like one of those “must do” activities in Laos and if we skipped it, we would be missing out on something.  So, the slow boat down the Mekong River got added to the itinerary.

This post was updated December 2016.

Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong

Our day started very early on a Sunday morning.  We hired a driver to take us the two hours northeast from Chiang Rai, Thailand to Chiang Khong on the Thai-Laos border.  Here, we stamped out of Thailand, easily obtained our Laos visas on arrival, and then entered another new country for the Earth Trekkers.  Hello, Laos!

Kara Rivenbark

Huay Xai

Our Experience on the Mekong River

 

Slow Boats LaosFor our slow boat tour we used the tour operator Nagi of Mekong and we had a fabulous experience.  In Huay-Xai, we boarded our boat with approximately ten other travelers.  The advantage of using Nagi was that we were able to make the journey in a much more comfortable boat, hot lunch was served both days, and they booked our accommodations in Pakbeng, Laos, the halfway point down the river.  Many slow boats, especially during peak season (December through February), can get very crowded and uncomfortable.  We wanted a quieter, more enjoyable experience, so we spent a little extra for comfort and nicer accommodations.

So, What Is a Slow Boat?

A slow boat is a very long, narrow boat that floats right on the surface of the water.  The driver sits up in the front and the engine is in the back.  Bench seating from vehicles are attached to the boat, with seating for four centered around a small, wooden table.  There was plenty of seating for our small group of people, and since the boat was not filled to capacity, we had plenty of room to spread out.

Slow Boat

Tea, coffee, water, and fruit were served.  We also had a relatively clean bathroom on board.  We were ready to travel down the Mekong River in comfort!  I am so glad we did this!

Views from our boat

It was a beautiful day.  The skies were partly cloudy and the temperatures were only in the high 60’s.  A cool front had recently moved in, making the air much cooler than normal.  Once we got moving, it was quite chilly.

Mekong

At 10 am we started our journey down the Mekong River.  This part of the world is so gorgeous.  On either side of the large, lazy river were small mountains covered with lush vegetation.  We saw lots of palm trees, banana trees, and even corn.  For the first hour, Thailand was off to our right and Laos was to our left.  Then, the river turned east and we were heading directly into Laos.

Tim and I were so happy to be doing this!  One of the activities that we were dreading turned out to be one of our favorite experiences in Southeast Asia.

As we drifted down the river, Tyler and Kara did a lesson of homeschooling.  I drank cup after cup of 3-in-1 instant coffee, which has been very popular since arriving in Myanmar.  Tim and I enjoyed the amazing views.  I took tons of photos, wanting to capture these views so that I could see them forever.

Slow Boat Laos

Slow Boat Mekong River Laos

Mekong River Laos



A Visit to a Laos Village

At noon, we made a short stop at a local village.  Normally, we dislike visiting villages.  I feel a little voyeuristic and intrusive.  It was no different this time, but the people seemed to enjoy having us here.  Plus, I felt like I was looking at a National Geographic magazine, with barefoot kids playing in the streets, chickens clucking, and thatched houses on stilts everywhere.

In the village, we saw a group of kids playing volleyball.  Instead of a volleyball they were using a piece of plastic that had been wound up to make a ball.  More kids were running around playing and some were riding bicycles.  These children were able to be happy and to entertain themselves without TV’s, computers, or other gadgets…or even a real ball, for that matter.  This was great for Tyler and Kara to see.  For many more photos of our village visit, click here.

Laos Village

Lao Kids

After our village visit, we boarded the slow boat and then were served lunch.  Rice, vegetables, and soup…it was warm and delicious.

Lunch

See Also:  What Traveling Through Asia Has Taught Us

Afternoon on the Slow Boat

We rode for approximately four more hours.  As the day stretched on, the cloud cover became thicker, causing the temperatures to drop.  The constant breeze on the boat made us all very chilly.  We started huddling under the provided blankets, searching out places to sit to keep the wind off of our heads.  It wasn’t so bad; the amazing views made being a little cold worth it.  Later, we will forget about how cold we were, but hopefully we will always remember these views.

Fast Boat

Kara Rivenbark Laos

Tyler homeschooling

Pakbeng, Laos

It was close to 5 pm when we docked in Pakbeng.  This is a tiny town on the Mekong River.  Loaded down with our backpacks and bags of snack food, we scrambled up the sandy steps into town.

Pakbeng

We spent one night at the Mekong Riverside Lodge.  This was a very cool place.  We had two bungalows with large decks overlooking the river.  The views were awesome and the rooms were fairly clean.  Tonight we would be sleeping under mosquito nets.  We ate dinner at the hotel’s restaurant and then went to bed early.

Tim

It was a chilly night, with temperatures dipping down into the low 50’s.  We did not have heat in our rooms so it was very chilly getting dressed the next morning.  After breakfast at the hotel, we boarded the slow boat, and at 7:30 our journey down the Mekong River resumed.

Pakbeng Street

Slow Boats

Day 2 on the Slow Boat

The skies were very overcast and once the boat got moving we got even colder.  We all huddled under blankets and tried to position ourselves out of the wind as much as possible.  I drank lots of coffee, which helped, too.

Kara and Tim

For hours we drifted down the river, enjoying almost identical scenery as yesterday.  The biggest change is that the closer we got to Luang Prabang, the taller the mountains became.  Around lunchtime the sun began peeking out from around the clouds, warming things up for us.

Lunch Two

Lunch on the boat was not as good as yesterday’s.  We ate a dish made from lemongrass, more vegetables, and more soup.  After lunch we ate dessert, eating our stash of Nutella on bread.

The captain of our boat was a tiny Laotian man who would sit up on his stool, with a pillow at his back, steering us down the Mekong River.  I was amazed at how well he negotiated this long boat to shore, pulling into a tight spot amidst the other long boats.  He was also intrigued by us, walking by and smiling at Tyler and Kara, talking to us in Laotian with a huge smile on his face.  We, of course, did not understand him at all, but Tyler and Kara enjoyed the attention.

Tim in Laos

Slow Boat to Luang Prabang

Pak Ou Cave

At 1 pm we arrived at Pak Ou Cave. This is a large cave, located on the Mekong River, that has been converted into a Buddhist temple.  We stared at more Buddhist shrines as well as hundreds of dusty Buddha statues.

Pak Ou Cave

Pak Ou Buddhas

Arrival in Luang Prabang

One hour later we were in Luang Prabang.  Our slow boat trip turned out to be an amazing two days.  It was an incredibly scenic trip.  I loved the laziness of floating down the river, reading my Kindle, and just relaxing.  The two days were better than I expected and were not boring at all.

Luang Prabang “dock”

Luang Prabang dock

Taking the slow boat down the Mekong River really is a “must do” activity in Laos and it also makes for very convenient transportation for anyone traveling overland from Thailand into Laos.

Slow Boat Mekong

See Also:  Ten Fun Things To Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand

More Information

We used Nagi of Mekong for the slow boat trip.  They make the trip three times a week, connecting Huay-Xai with Luang Prabang.  The journey can be made in either direction, although the Huay-Xai to Luang Prabang trip is much more popular.  In the boats traveling to Huay-Xai, there were very few people on board.  If you want the boat to yourselves, start in Luang Prabang.

In Pakbeng we spent one night at the Mekong Riverside Lodge.  This looked to be one of the nicer places to stay in town and the views of the Mekong River can’t be beat from here.  All four us really liked our stay here and it was much better than we were expecting from a small Laotian town.

Tyler’s Video, Day 1 of the Mekong River:


Want to learn more about traveling in Laos? Check out our Laos Travel Guide.

 

Read Next: Je t’aime Luang Prabang, Laos

 

Slow Boat Mekong River

 

Comments 17

  1. Beautiful, while it’s rainy + cold, w/ some lumps of snow left, in Catonsville! I have a better idea, when you come home, instead of coming to my fire pit . To help Tyler + Kara get through all the 30 more temples, I would like to invite your family sometime in the last 2 weeks of October, to a Halloween luncheon. I totally forgot that I have the “Halloween House of the Neighborhood”. It’s over the top, creative + very original. Tyler + Kara could each bring a friend! Just keep this in mind + I’ll stay in touch.

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  2. Hi,

    This cruise sounds amazing. My boyfriend and I are definitely interested in taking this trip. Did you book the tour by emailing them? They want our passport numbers, and I can’t help feel a little weird emailing someone my passport number. Just want to make sure that it’s legitimate.

    Thanks!

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      Hello,

      We had our home stay book our cruise for us. This was done from Chiang Rai so I think it was handled just as a telephone call although I really am not sure. The company is legit, we were very happy with them. If you are concerned about emailing your passport number, why don’t you email all but the last 4 numbers and text those to them (if they’ll do that). At least breaking your number up into pieces makes it harder for someone to steal.

      Julie

  3. This sounds great! How much was it? I checked out the link for Nagi of Mekong and I’m not sure about if the price includes the stay at Pakbeng.

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      We paid $137 USD per adult and half of that per child. This included transport from Chiang Rai to Laos, the boat ride for two days, food on the boat, our hotel in Pak Beng, the visit to the village and to the cave, and transport to our hotel in Luang Prabang. It did not include dinner in Pak Beng. We negotiated this price through our hotel in Chiang Rai. You might be able to get it cheaper if you book directly with Nagi of Mekong.

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      Hello. We loved this journey down the Mekong River. It was so much better than we were expecting. Definitely look into the weather. August it can be very warm and rainy. I read that August is the wettest month of the year in Laos. We made the journey in January, a great month to be in Laos (cooler with no rain). Cheers, Julie

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