Mekong Slow Boat – Laos

Mekong Slow Boat
A 2 Day Journey Down The Mekong

Mekong Slow Boat – Laos

Mekong Slow Boat: We left Chiang Rai on a tiny bus designed for tiny people that was packed to the rafters – destination Chiang Khong and the Thai – Laos border and then onto a Mekong Slow Boat.
The bus wended its was through the valleys of far north eastern Thailand struggling to get above about 60km per hour dropping off and picking up villagers on the way. Two and a half hours later we arrived in Chiang Khong and unglued ourselves from the vinyl seats. We found a  tuk tuk driver who assured us he knew exactly where our hotel was (well he repeated the name of the hotel and said “yes please” whilst smiling and nodding, which I long ago came to understand means the chance that they understand you is slim) and then promptly took us to the docks! After several conversations with locals who all pointed in different directions and another tuk tuk ride we arrived at our hotel the Green Inn Resident.
The Green Inn Resident is perfectly fine for a night stop over – clean, air conditioned and the bathroom was newly renovated and best of all a real bargain.

For our 2 day trip down the Mekong on a Mekong Slow Boat we had chosen to travel with Nagi of Mekong – and they were absolutely brilliant!

Adisak from Nagi of Mekong met us the day before with the paperwork required for our Laos visa. On the morning of the journey we were collected from our hotel and taken to the Thai docks and departure point where there was a slight panic when it was thought one of the travellers had lost their departure card….finally it was found it the side pocket of a bag and we all breathed a sigh of relief and wandered off to get on the boat the cross the Mekong. Once on the Laos side we dove into the seething mass of humanity attempting to make it to the window to drop off passports and paperwork for a Laos visa and then to the other window to collect the processed paperwork and pay the fee. There appeared to be no system other than chaos and who could push the hardest.
For anyone planning to enter Laos at this checkpoint here is how it works.You will need a completed visa application form and immigration card + one passport photo + between 30 – 45 US dollars  (different countries are charged different amounts). Don’t attempt to pay with baht as they will make you exchange it and try to have the correct amount. Go to the window on the right and give them your passport application form, immigration card and passport photo. Then move away from the window.When processed your passport complete with visa will held up in the left hand window…someone in the crowd will call out your name or they did when we were there.Don’t forget to stop at the immigration check point half way up the hill.
UPDATE: A new bridge and customs visa check point has been built just up the road from the old crossing point, it is infinitely more efficient than how is was (although no where near as much fun). Tuk tuks can take you to the border from Chiang Khong and most buses travelling from Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai go directly to the border.
While we stood and waiting for our tuk tuks I watched a woman dressed head to toe in white (with the exception of the gold sandals) and the biggest suitcase I have ever seen run up and down the road yelling “where are the speed boats. where are the speed boats”. At the time I idly wondered 1) if she had a death wish, and 2) would her giant suitcase fit on a speed boat. After actually seeing the speed boats and how they operate I decided she did have a death wish and she no way would her giant suitcase fit on the boat.
Then is was off to the Mekong Slow Boat and our 2 day cruise down the river – the Nagi of Mekong (or blue boat number 100) surpassed all our expectations. The boat was large with heaps of room to move around and immaculately clean. We had only 12 people on our boat which was just about the perfect number, I believe the boat takes up to 30 people.Lunch was provided on both days and was delicious, they also provided drinking water, tea and coffee along with fruit. You can purchase beer Lao or soft drink.Pat our guide was fantastic giving us information about the country and villages and also provided us with great tips on restaurants and things to see.We stopped overnight in Pakbeng, a tiny village which is the only settlement with accommodation options between Huay Xai and Luang Pra Bang.The hotel we stayed in, Petsokxai Hotel  (included in the tariff) was perfectly fine for one night. We ate amazing Laos food at a restaurant recommended by Pat. I had the best spring rolls there I think I have ever eaten, I can’t remember its name but the sign out the front says “My wife is a really good cook” and she is! We also feasted on Laos Pork Curry (tasty but not spicy like Thai curry) and Laap.

The scenery along route is stunningly beautiful with km after km of mountains and jungles dotted with the occasional tiny village inhabited by one of the minority tribes that live in Laos.

We were lucky to see 3 working elephants returning home from a days work in the mountains. On the first day we stopped at a Lao Thoeng village, the Lao Thoeng live in the mid  altitude mountains and historically have the lowest standard of living of all the Lao people. On the second day we stopped at a Hmong village which was larger than the previous village.

Pat explained to us that traditionally the minority groups lead more nomadic lifestyles and grew crops via slash and burn which forced them to continually move on. The government has stopped this constant movement and has made the groups establish permanent villages where they are provided with clean water and toilet blocks which is having, I am sure, a dramatic impact on health and the standard of living. The government is also providing basic building materials along with schools and education.
We also stopped at the Pak Ou caves – 2 famous caves crammed with Buddha images. It was interesting to see as we passed by but I wouldn’t waste my time trekking all the way out there from Luang Pra Bang.
We arrived in Luang Prabang late in the afternoon all agreeing what a great experience the trip had been and what a fantastic outfit the Nagi of Mekong was. We would absolutely do it again.
Now to see what Luang PraBang is all about….
Read How To Travel On a Mekong Slow Boat Here

For Information on Travelling In Laos Read Our Laos Travel Guides