Laos: Our spectacular introduction to the Mekong via slow boat

Laos! Oh how skeptical yet curious we were in the beginning. We were still in Thailand when trying to decide our best mode of transport to bring us into Laos. Many conversations with dorm roommates had us changing our minds time and time again whether to take the “easy” option and fly in using some very dilapidated old Laotian plane or by taking the longer slow boat option from Chiang Khong in North Thailand down the river Mekong and into Luang Prabang.

We ended up taking option B: The slow boat. We were staying in Pai, North Thailand, when we decided that this would be our route into Laos. At a local travel agent (your usual street set up one) we were able to book our packaged ticket that included the following; mini-bus to Chiang Khong, one night stop over in Chiang Khong, mini-bus to Thai/Lao border, coach to the river, 2 day slow-boat trip into Laos and mini-bus transfer into the main market area of Luang Prabang, Laos. By my vague memory this package cost us 1,400 to 1,600 Thai baht which is equivalent to around $60 for a 3 day, over 800km journey across a border.

To begin with the winding journey from Pai to Chiang Khong was a long one. We left at 6pm to arrive in Chiang Khong by 1am and stop the night. While the lodging was a little dodgy with holes in the floor so you see through to the ground making it a cold night a positive was that breakfast was included! We had eggs on toast and coffee. Here we were also offered to exchange money from Thai baht to Lao kip by one of the guys from the company taking us through. We opted not to. It was only a 40 minute drive to the Thai/Lao border and once we had crossed there was a legit exchange place there. We definitely got the better rate once across the border!

Once we crossed the border we took another bus to where the slow boats were docked. Here we were asked if we wanted to pre-book our accommodation at Paksong for the one night stop over during the slow boat journey. We were told that there is limited accommodation in Paksong. We, again, opted not to take the pre booking deal. NEVER TAKE THE FIRST OPTION.We got our boat tickets as soon as we could and ran down to the boat with our bags. We did this upon advice we received from other travelers telling us to bag a seat at the front of the slow boat. Far away from the noise of the motor at the rear of the boat.

After a stunning and cruisy boat ride for 8 hours where we napped, listened to music, watched on as locals joined us on the boat and jumped off transporting things back to their family (one had a huge old box TV!) and viewed the amazing scenery we arrived at Paksong at sunset. As the boat was docking we watched as the sunset over the Mekong. It was indescribable. One of my favourite, it just happened that way, moments while traveling.

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Sunset over the Mekong. The slow-boat journey was bringing the goods.

As we suspected, upon arrival at Paksong we had an abundance of accommodation opportunities! Dozens of locals lined the shore to help us with bags and offer us a bed for the night with transport back. The lowest offer here for 1 night was 80,000 kip. We decided to go for a walk and find our own accommodation in the end and only paid 60,000 kip! Bargain. We were told not to tell anyone else of the deal we got but there you go. They seemed annoyed that we got it this cheap so just please be wary when you do bargain. This time it ended up being good for all involved as we ate at the place we stayed to keep the owners happy.

The next day we awoke nice and early to grab some breakfast before heading off on the slow boat again for our 8 hour journey! The river must’ve been flowing well as it only ended up being something like 6 hours which was good but bittersweet as the scenery on the journey was gorgeous. I absolutely loved putting my headphones in and watching on as the boat drifted along the Mekong river offering what I know will be some of the most epic scenery I will ever see.

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Not only is the nature wonderful to behold but you also get to observe what life is like in Laos for the many locals you see along the river. Men fishing in their boats or on the riverside and children playing. Families welcoming home their loved ones who departed from our slow-boat every now and again. It was definitely one of my favourite experiences whilst traveling South-east Asia and one I would do again if I ever was back in North Thailand heading for Laos.

Our overall tips for the slow-boat journey

  1. Take mosquito repellent and have travel sickness tablets there just incase. We found the boat ride to be so calm and we didn’t feel sick at any point but you never know.
  2. NEVER take the first option for money exchange, accommodation, snacks for the boat ride etc. I know it sounds bad but don’t trust the locals! There is a huge number of people on the slow-boat and they will do their best to make their extra money from them. Don’t let yourself be one of the suckers. We were lied to at almost every milestone of the trip and it wasn’t until later that we realized. Trust us!
  3. As above take plenty of foods/snacks for yourself and if you wish the local children you see. Instead of money donate them food. The money may end up going to local men who use children for their own profit.
  4. Take entertainment such as a good book or headphones to listen to music. There is only so much time you can sit and stare at the scenery no matter how beautiful.
  5. Talk to fellow travelers. It’s funny how many people we recognized and met up with again throughout Laos! Slow-boat crew!

If you are considering traveling by slow-boat into Laos we say… DO IT. You will not regret it one single bit. We ourselves were worried and skeptical but it is, as far as we are concerned, the only way to get from North Thailand and into Laos. So easy with the package we booked in Pai and so cheap for the distance we traveled, sights we saw and peace of mind we had. Viva la slow-boat! Khawp Jai!

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