From Luang Prabang, to get to Thailand I heard that it was possible to get on a slow boat. Although I had been told the trip takes 2 days with an overnight stop in Pakbeng I wanted to try it. And indeed it takes 2 full days - 9h on the boat each day - I do not regret the experience. I mean, it can't be that bad to cruise the Mekong for 2 days.
The boat leaves at 8:30 am every day. A good thing to know is that the slow boat pier is about 10 kms outside of Luang Prabang. It will cost you around 50,000 Kip by TukTuk and take 30 minutes to get there. You can either buy your tickets fro an agency in town if you're not sure to be able to get a ticket at the pier. It should cost you around 140,000 Kip - without transportation to the pier - against 110,000 Kip at the pier.
Another thing is to try to get there in advance to get the good seats. Obviously, the seats at the back are closer to the engine so it might make the trip less enjoyable but it's not unbearable. The boat I took was far from full and we basically all had 2 seats each and were able to lay for a quick nap if needed.
I left Luang Prabang at 7:30 am to get to the pier at 8:00 am, bought a ticket and boarded. There was a few other travellers but most of the people were locals. The boat left on time and we were on for a 9 hours boat cruise on the Mekong river. The trip was smooth, the noise of the engine slowly becoming a background noise as tie past. The seats were confortable, they were actual car or bus seats. But the seats can be different depending on the boat you get. Some boats have wooden seats which can make the trip tiring. Unfortunately there is no way to find out in advance since the boat are privately owned by locals and each day someone different uses his boat to take people.
|On the boat|
On the way to Pakbeng the boat made a few quick stops to drop people off. Some people seemed to be living in very remote area, some unboarded the boat in the middle of rocks and just disappeared in the jungle. 9 hours on a boat is long, very long. You can buy food on the boat but the prices are obviously outrageous so make sure you bring your own food and drinks. You also want to bring something entertaining, music, movie, books,... whatever suits you best. I read a lot during this trip, it had been a while and it was good to read a good book again. If you're lucky enough to get a nearly empty boat you might even be able to take a nap accross 2 seats.
Now onto the part that makes this trip worth doing; the scenery. And I was not disappointed, the Mekong really is a beautiful river, the water not so much but the surroudings are. We passed a few villages with kids playing in the river and waiving at the boat - talking about a nice childhood.
We arrived in Pakbeng around 5:30 pm, and as soon as we got off the boat locals jumped on us to offer us to stay in their guest house. I stayed at Meksavanh guest house. Clean room and bathroom for 50,000 Kip. Pakbeng is really small but since it is an obligatory stop on the way to Huay Xai by slow boat you will find plenty of options to sleep and eat. And it's also the stop for people taking the journey the other way, so the village gets quiet lively at night, but nothing party-like.
|The pier in Pakbeng|
|Dropping off someone in the middle of nowhere|
The next morning, departure at 8:30 am. Same people on the boat - for the travellers - so some social interaction started between people. But we still mostly read, listened to music and napped throughout the day. If you did not bring enough food with you for the 2 days, the restaurant in Pakbeng offer the option to pack you a lunch bag including a sandwich, chips and drinks. It can vary depending on the restaurant. The trip could have gone nice and smoothly for the entire 2 days but it would not have been fun; After a couple of hours cruising in the second day, the engine started to smoke a lot and the boat stopped. It took them about 20 minutes to restart it and keep going. This actually happened twice and since we were cruising against the current, while the engine was off, the boat slowly started to go back, which I found quiet funny. Just imagine if it had taken them 3 hours or more to fix the problem ;-) But they eventually put us on another boat.
|You can also do the trip by loud speed boat|
It was another beautiful day and the scenery was as enjoyable as the day before. At some point the Mekong river becomes the phisycal border between Laos and Thailand. So going against the current, looking on your right you would see Laos and on your left Thailand. I know you probably did not need a pratctical explanation but I found this quiet amusing so I wanted to emphasize.
We reached Houay Xai around 5:45pm. Even though it was nice to spend those 2 days on a boat on the Mekong river, I was really happy to reach the destination and looking forward to cross the Thailand border the next day.
|On the left Laos, on the right Thailand|