We arrived in Luang Prabang yesterday afternoon after our 2-day Slow Boat trip.
We started in Huay Xai on the Mekong River, where we spent a night at the Saibaydee Guesthouse after getting a bus across the border from Chiang Rai. The very helpful host at the guesthouse organised our boat tickets for us and got us seats near the front of the boat. The very noisy 6-cylinder truck engine which powers the boat is towards the back, so we were keen to be as far away from that as possible! There’s also a snack bar towards the back, and smokers head to the captain’s living quarters behind the engine.
It absolutely poured with rain while we were in Huay Xai. I changed some Thai baht into Laos kip at one of the local banks and we ended up waiting on their front verandah for about 30 minutes until the torrential rain eased up. And then it rained all night. We were pretty lucky that it didn’t rain very much while we were on the boat, especially as there was a leak in the boat’s roof that dripped onto my shoulder when it did rain. Not to worry, the weather was warm and my shirt dried quickly. I had taken the precaution of wearing my lightest clothes in case they got wet, but I did stay mostly dry. I also bought a raincoat from a local seller in Huay Xai – it’s absolutely huge on me and I won’t be sad if I never get to wear it, but it would keep me dry if I need it to.
On our first day of ‘slow boating’, we spent about 5 hours on the boat, which left Huay Xai at 11.30 am and docked at Pakbeng at around 4.30 pm. Most of our fellow passengers were backpackers much younger than us, with about 20 locals and their assorted bags, bundles and boxes of stuff. We made a couple of stops along the way, but most of the passengers got off at Pakbeng. There was a bit of a scrum at the boat dock amongst locals offering various levels of accommodation. We had booked a room at the BKC Villas through Agoda and the owner met us and other guests and took us the 500m up the hill in his tuk-tuk. We were given a welcome drink (butterfly pea, lime juice, sugar & water – delicious!) in the reception area and allocated to our rooms. Ours was on the top floor and had a lovely view over the river. We would have been happy to spend an extra night there if we’d been able to work out how to break up the journey. We also ate dinner and breakfast there and enjoyed both very much. Watching a couple of elephants having their morning bath on the other side of the river while we had breakfast on the deck was a bonus!
On the second day we were on a different boat and there were heaps more locals with heaps more stuff – 2 motorbikes on the front of the boat, loads of 20 litre drums on the roof, bags and bags of rambutan, longan and other fruit, assorted other bags and people everywhere! The boat ended up very full and to be honest, if there had been any problems, it would have been an absolute disaster. But as I kept reminding myself and Greg, those boats are also the captains’ and their families’ homes, so it’s in their interest to keep them running well and not sink them.
The scenery along the Mekong was spectacular. Greg’s photos and videos will tell the story better than I ever could. We loved doing the trip as we got to see part of Laos that is only visible from the river – small villages with no road access, forests of majestic teak trees and of course the mighty Mekong River itself.
The seats on both boats were originally from passenger minivans. They were not very comfortable and both of us had sore backs after sitting in them for a couple of days, but I would much rather sit in one on a boat where I can get up and move around, than be squashed in a minivan travelling the 474kms by road from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. I haven’t been able to find out how far the boat trip is, I think it’s about 300-350kms.