So perhaps the sound of a slow boat sounds rather…. slow? Well, there are basically two options to get from north Thailand to the lovely UNESCO city of Luang Prabang, the slow option, or the slower option. So which one do you take?
Let’s look first at the slow option. A night bus will take you anywhere from 15 – 18 hours depending on where you depart from, and whether the bus is a coach or a minivan. There is the option to sleep and miss much of the windy, bumpy, rollercoaster experience you might endure, but if you’re long-legged and not used to sleeping in a cramped space then the sounds of beeping horns and snores might keep you awake for most of the ride, leading to a grumpy arrival into the beautiful country of Laos.
Now for the slower option, which right now might not seem so bad. The 2-day slow boat will have you departing early morning from your Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai hotel to the Thai/Laos border. After customs, you’ll head to the pier and get yourself a comfy seat on one of the traditional Laos longboats. The boat will more than likely be full of tourists but you’ll get decent leg space, enough air to breath, and open windows to admire the Laos scenery for the first 6-hour leg of the journey. If you’re not reading a book, listening to your favourite song or pondering your life decisions, you’ll more than likely be admiring the limestone mountains and clear waters of the mighty Mekong, or watching as the locals live their daily lives by the banks of the river.
After the long day on the boat, you get to stop and rest in the small, remote town of Pakbeng. The town has been built around being the stopping point for the boats and you can pick yourself up some basic accommodation run by the locals here. They also do great food and prepare your breakfast and lunch for the following day’s journey.
After some rest, you’re prepared for the longer leg of the boat trip that will take you around 7 hours. Not so bad when you’re feeling refreshed after a good sleep and a hearty breakfast. Spend the day appreciating more of the pristine mountainous views that Laos has to offer and, if you’re lucky, you might get a glimpse of some wild Elephants headed down for a drink from the river.
The boat offers small snacks like noodles and biscuits, as well as tea and coffee for a small fee. You’ll find fellow adventurers who you can chat with, or just nod off for a while, as you slowly head downstream, no windy roads or beeping horns, just the sound of the river.
If I haven’t yet convinced you that the slow boat is the better option then you might want to know that it also costs around the same price for both the bus and the boat. You may also be able to get the boat cheaper if you skip the tour companies and do it on your own.
I paid 1650 baht for transport from my Chiang Rai hostel to the boat pier in Luang Prabang, then an extra 100 baht from Luang Prabang to the town centre. The night bus would have cost me 1450 baht. Not too much of a price difference for the kind of experience I got to put on my travel highlights list.
Have you travelled on the slow boat to Laos? Let us know about your experience.