The Mekong Slow Boat

We’d heard that the two-day slow boat trip from Huay Xai (Thailand) to Luang Prabang (Laos) was absolutely awful, and so we were prepared for the worst. There were two alternatives; a 12 hour bus, which I didn’t fancy, or a 6 hour speed boat, which Lonely Planet had deemed unsafe due to the number of deaths recorded on it… We didn’t fancy that option either. We paid the small fee for an agent to arrange all the transport for us, and I’m SO glad we did because we watched people get stuck at the border and have to pay $100 just for a tuk tuk (for reference, we paid about that for the entire journey for both of us)!

The morning started a little shakely, with a dodgy looking car picking us up from our hotel at 6am, and taking us to an even dodgier looking minivan. Here we were reassured to see about 20 backpackers inside, packed in like sardines. Following the uncomfortable 2 hour drive to the border, crossing the border itself was pleasantly straight forward. Then, the boat.

The boat was the bit I’d heard the horror stories about. Two days on an overcrowded long-tailed boat, with a stop over in Pakbeng, a tiny village witch had very few hotels available to book online (we decided to wing it and aim to find something on arrival). We were pleasantly surprised by the boat; although there was painfully little legroom (I was fine but Elliot not so much), it felt safe, and arrived in Pakbeng two hours earlier than expected.

Pakbeng itself was absolutely beautiful, but getting off the boat was chaotic and stressful. Clearly the locals live off this boat arriving every day, and it was overwhelming to say the least; numerous people offering to carry our bags, give us lifts, find guesthouse rooms for us and children begging for food. We bypassed all offers, sorted our stuff out, and set off up the hill by foot. At this point I feel we were extremely lucky. We walked into the first guesthouse that I’d read reviews for online, and they had a room available. It was clean, spacious, and had great views.

Our evening in Pakbeng was also glorious; we sat in an Indian/Lao restaurant looking out at the views over the Mekong, ate delicious curries and drank Lao whiskey (Elliot drank beer obvs). There was a HUGE storm in the middle of the night, which was pretty terrifying, but we woke up to beautifully clear skies, AND the sound of elephants from across the river ahh!

The second day on the boat was equally as pleasant. The water was a little choppy from the storm, but the incredibly clear views we had from the boat were definitely worth it. I finished my audio book (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, great book), and watched Laos go by.

Overall, I would happily do the boat trip again, and would definitely recommend it over the 12 hour bus if you’ve got the time; you definitely wouldn’t get anywhere near as good views from a bus.

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