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.

Taking the Slow Boat down the Mekong

Taking the Slow Boat down the Mekong

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.

The White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

The White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

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.

Look, It's a Double Rainbow!!

Look, It’s a Double Rainbow!!

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.

Life on the Slow Boat

Life on the Slow Boat

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.

The views on the Slow Boat

The views on the Slow Boat

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.

Giselle and her friend the Snail

Giselle and her friend the Snail

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.

Comments To This Entry.
  1. BakoymaTravels September 20, 2013 Reply

    This looks like something I would love to do. I must admit I’m not overly positive towards transits like 12 hrs by bus etc, but this! This I could do.

    Thank you so much for sharing this, I actually “logged out” a bit from my real life for the duration of reading this post 🙂 Enjoy your travels!

    • Giselle and Cody September 22, 2013 Reply

      Hey there,
      The boat ride was extremely relaxing and the views were beautiful. We definitely recommend it if you ever travel to Laos and have the time.

  2. Cindy September 21, 2013 Reply

    Great video

  3. Elizabeth October 8, 2013 Reply

    Looks like a great opportunity to sit back and relax and enjoy the beautiful view for a few days. Awesome!

    • Giselle and Cody October 9, 2013 Reply

      It was a really nice boat ride. We recommend it instead of taking the dreaded 12 hour overnight mini van ride.

  4. Lucia October 9, 2013 Reply

    Well, I’m sure you learn alot about yourself on such a long travel
    where there is not much to do….lots of time to simply “be”….

  5. We are looking at taking it in the weeks but going from Laos to Chiang mai. Will let you know how or trip goes.

    • Giselle and Cody March 8, 2014 Reply

      Thanks Hannah. Don’t know of anyone who has gone the opposite way so keep us informed. 🙂

  6. izmed August 23, 2014 Reply

    hey this is my first time to backpack across south east asia maybe in early 2015
    i’ll take slowboat from chiangmai to luang prabang then bus to hanoi and gonna end my journey in kuala lumpur. thanks for the info. really help me to plan my travel (Y)

    • Giselle and Cody August 24, 2014 Reply

      You are very welcome Izmed. We hope you enjoy your trip. The slowboat ride is very beautiful and not as dreadful as everyone says. We really enjoyed to trip. Have a great time exploring!!

  7. Heidi Wagoner September 29, 2014 Reply

    Hey Giselle, which boat company did you go with? Or tour agency. We will be looking to do this in November as we leave Chiang Mai. We may make our way to Chiang Rai on our own, to spend a couple of days there. Then leave from there for the slow boat.

    • Giselle and Cody September 29, 2014 Reply

      Hi there Heidi. Don’t remember the exact company we went with but every tour office will offer this trip. Make sure to stock up on food for the boat because they don’t stop anywhere to eat or rest. (Except when you stop for the night) Take the local bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. It is really cheap and affordable. looking forward to hearing about you slow boat ride 🙂

  8. […] other way to do this journey is by slow boat, I was surprised by how popular it was. Mindful Wanderlust have a nice post about their trip to Luang Prabang from Chiang Rai on the slow […]

  9. Laura March 18, 2015 Reply

    We took the same journey from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang and really enjoyed it too. It was nice to see your photos & video to remind me of the experience – thank you! 🙂

    • Giselle and Cody March 29, 2015 Reply

      Thanks for checking out the blog Laura.
      We thought the journey was going to be uncomfortable and horrible, but we really loved it.
      Such a great way to see the north.

  10. Isabelle September 25, 2015 Reply

    Thank you for a very informative post.

    We are planning on flying from Bangkok to Chiang Rai, and would prefer buying a package tour (i.e. bus/shuttles and slow boat tickets). Do you know if some exist from Chiang Rai (all the ones I see seem to be from Chiang Mai). Would you have a particular travel agency to recommend?

    • Giselle and Cody September 28, 2015 Reply

      Hey Isabelle, We booked our slow boat tickets from a place in Chiang Mai. We have been to Chiang Rai but did not see very many tour companies, we are sure there are some around. Every tour agency will offer this package and we would recommend shopping around. Go to a few places and get an idea on how many the costa are and make sure to ask if everything is included (transportation to the Laos border and the boat to Luang Prabang) We also would recommend not taking the fast boat.

  11. Gina November 28, 2015 Reply

    Hiya, I’m looking into taking the slow boat with my boyfriend in a couple of days. My main concern is the toilets, are there definitely toilets on board? Thanks! ☺

    • Giselle and Cody November 28, 2015 Reply

      Hey Gina,

      Thanks for writing. Yes there are toilets, but don’t expect them to be up to par with western standards. They are fine though. As long as you can use them right? 🙂

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