Taking the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang
I tried to avoid the slow boat ride to Laos from Chiang Mai, Thailand for as long as I could, but I had to eventually make a decision and let Cody know what I had chosen.
It was either a 12 hour mini van ride to Vientiane which we have been to 3 times,
that didn’t make a lot of sense as we would have had to make our way up to Luang Prabang in another overnight mini van ride. Or, the three day, two night journey mostly on a slow boat from Chiang Mai, then finally arriving in Luang Prabang.
This past July Cody and I boarded a bus from Toronto to Saskatoon that took us 42 hours in total. I figured if I could survive that, I might as well experience the slow boat journey to Luang Prabang that according to other travelers was a gorgeous voyage.
We booked our travels from a Chiang Mai travel office for 3200 Baht ($107 CDN).
DAY ONE (6-7 hours)
A mini van picked us up at 10:30am from our hotel, and we proceeded on our way to our acommodation for the night. After about a 2 hour drive we stopped for 15 minutes for a washroom/snack break. Once back on the road we traveled another 2 hours, arrived in Chiang Rai and took a 20 minute break at the white temple. It is a nice place to stop regardless of whether you have visited the white temple or not.
Another 2 hours or so we arrived in Chiang Khong at our hotel. It left something to be desired, but we didn’t expect anything more. Dinner was included, as well as breakfast. That also left something to be desired, but we are vegan, so cold fried eggs and white bread was not an option. We recommend heading to the 7-11 in town and picking up some snacks for the next 2 days, whether you are vegan or not.
DAY TWO (7 hour boat ride)
Breakfast was served at 7am (we enjoyed our vegan jok from 7-11) We departed at 8am for the slow boat about 10 minutes from the hotel. Arriving at the mekong we quickly shuffled to get our passports stamped on the Thai side of the river, then boarded a small river boat and headed across the mekong to Laos. Once in Laos we filled out a visa form (passport photo required) payed our $42, and waited until our names were called to collect our passports.
When all the other travelers were ready to go we walked a few meters and hopped on a song tao to get dropped off at a simple restaurant (last chance to buy snacks for the 7 hour ride) the man who took us there encouraged us to book a hotel from him, and tried to scare everyone with mafia stories of theft and opium. Guess it worked because we booked through him (less hassle)
We then were asigned seat numbers, and waited about an hour.
We boarded the slow boat at 10:30am and departed at 11am. We were concerned about getting certain seats, (too close to the stinky boat motor, too close to the stinky bathroom) but all of the seats were great and comfortable.
The seats seem to be old car seats, so they were padded and reclined.
We overheard two travelers complaining about the bathroom on the boat, but we thought it was pretty impressive, especially having experienced (with many of our senses) bathrooms that were far worst. The bathroom was clean, included a toilet seat, toilet paper, and did not smell foul.
Unlike the two blogs we read about previous to booking our slow boat tickets, one traveler wrote about a woman dying on the boat, and another wrote about a woman giving birth (full circle of life right there) our slow boat experience was pretty uneventful. It rained, it stopped, then it rained again, then it stopped.
Oh!! And I saved a cute little snail from certain death after the wind blew him in my lap. I placed him back on the boats ledge and watched him slime his way up the ledge. That killed about an hour.
After the 7 hour ride we stepped foot on land and checked into our 2nd hotel in Pak Beng (400 Baht not included in the price)
We checked in, had a nice hot shower and dinner, explored a little, and then passed out for our 8 hour boat ride in the morning.
Day 3 (8 hour boat ride)
Day 3 was another lovely day on the mekong river with many stops a long the way to drop locals off in the middle of the jungle. We enjoyed the slow travel and breathtaking views of lush peacock greens everywhere we turned and blue sky backgrounds complimented by white clouds so close you want to reach out and grab them. Even when it rained, the green rolling hills against the grey backdrop were stunning.
Once you get close to the lime stone cliffs, there will be a buddhist cave temple on your right. You will have about 40 minutes to your destination.
We had a really nice time on the slow boat to Luang Prabang. If you enjoy slow travel, and are in no rush to be anywhere, we highly recommend it. It gives you time to really take in the natural beauty of Laos.