Last Updated on February 16, 2021 by Tina
One of the most interesting experiences I had during my 6 weeks backpacking trip in 2019 was taking the slow boat from Laos to Thailand. And I think that it is something you should do if you ever go backpacking to Southeast Asia.
I have read that you can take a van from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai, the town of Laos on the border with Thailand. Travel is much faster as it only takes 11 hours but I didn’t even consider doing that. I think that doing the two-day slow boat journey along the Mekong River is an adventure worth adding to a Southeast Asian backpacking trip.
I took the slow boat journey after spending six days in Luang Prabang, Laos. My next destination was Chiang Rai, Thailand. The slow boat journey takes two days on the Mekong River, spending a night in the town of Pakbeng.
Where to Buy Ticket for the Slow Boat
You can buy the ticket for the slow boat to Pakbeng at the slow boat pier of Luang Prabang. The slow boat leaves around 8:30 in the morning so be there earlier than that so that you have time to buy the tickets. On the first day, you only buy the ticket to Pakbeng. You buy the slow boat ticket for the second part of the journey which is Pakbeng to Huay Xai at the slow boat pier in Pakbeng.
Another option is to buy your ticket in one of the travel agencies or at your hostel/hotel in Luang Prabang. That’s what my roommate in the hostel and I did. We were not aware back then that you can buy directly at the pier and it is actually cheaper. Ours was 260,000 Kip (~US$ 29.51) per person for the slow boat ticket to Pakbeng, Huay Xai, and tuk-tuk to Luang Prabang slow boat pier. It was the cheapest we found as some travel agencies sell it for 280,00 Kip.
You save 25,000 Kip (~US$2.84) if you are traveling with someone and you buy the slow boat ticket at the pier. The ticket to Pakbeng costs 100,000 Kip (~US$ 11.35) while the ticket to Huay Xai costs 110,000 Kip (~US$ 12.49). The fare of the tuk-tuk from your hostel/hotel in Luang Prabang to the slow boat pier costs 50,000 Kip (~US$ 5.68) and that’s for two people already.
Slow Boat Journey from Luang Prabang to Pakbeng
We were picked up at the hostel around 7:00 in the morning. Travel time to the slow boat pier was around 20-30 minutes. At the pier, we went to the ticketing office to show the tickets given to us by the travel agency. They wrote something on the ticket, then we went down to board the boat.
You need to take off your shoes when you get inside the boat. They will give you a plastic bag where you can keep your shoes while you are inside the boat.
The seats of the boat were comfortable (for me at least. I come from the Philippines so I don’t have very high standards when it comes to that). The seats are from a van and fixed on the boat. Below is a picture so you have an idea of how it looks like.
Most of the passengers in the boat are locals. That day there were only three of us who are foreigners- my roommate and I and a Spanish girl who was also traveling solo. The Huay Xai to Luang Prabang route is the more popular route for backpackers (backpackers coming from Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, or Pai and going to Luang Prabang) so there are more foreign passengers for that route.
In case you get hungry you can buy biscuits, cup noodles and chips at the boat. They also sell cold drinks in cans (I was able to buy Coke 🙂 ) and instant coffee.
There is a toilet inside the boat and it was actually clean. No need to worry that your feet might get wet when you use the toilet because slippers for use inside are provided.
During the journey, you’ll see the beautiful scenery around the Mekong River. The boat makes several stops to drop off and pick-up passengers. The journey from Luang Prabang to Pakbeng is around nine hours.
Spending the Night in Pakbeng
As soon as we got off the boat in Pakbeng, we were approached by people offering accommodation. We didn’t book one so we went with someone who told us theirs is just near the pier and that they have a vehicle to take us there.
The room wasn’t fancy at all but it was fine as we only needed a place to sleep and to shower. The room for two costs 50,000 Kip (~US$ 5.67) and we need to pay an extra 50,000 Kip if we want to use the aircon. We thought it costs too much so we said we’re fine with the fan. It wasn’t hot anyway.
After leaving our things in the room, we went out to check the town and to look for a place to eat. It was such a quiet town and there’s not much to see. We bought some pastries to eat at the boat for the following day and had dinner in one of the restaurants with the view of the river.
Slow Boat Journey from Pakbeng to Huay Xai
The slow boat journey to Huay Xai was almost the same as the first day. The seats on the boat though are made of wood with thin foam. Again it was comfortable for my standards.
While we were waiting for the boat to leave, I saw elephants bathing on the other side of the river.
Along the way to Huay Xai, we passed by an area where people are doing what looks like gold panning. And again more beautiful sceneries of the Mekong River and still lots of interesting outcrops.
The travel time to Huay Xai was about nine hours. When we reached Huay Xai, we rode on a mini truck to get to the border. It was already almost 6:00 PM so I was worried because I read in one of the blogs that the Laos/Thai border closes at 6:00 PM. But it wasn’t. We had to pay US$ 1 though for the overtime fee. I don’t remember anymore if the overtime is for beyond 4:00 PM or 6:00 PM.
From the Laos border, we had to cross the Friendship Bridge to get to the Thailand border. It was actually just a 5-minute journey on a bus. The fare costs 10,000 Kip (~US$ 1.14). You buy the bus ticket at the counter right after you pass by the immigration.
When we rode on the bus, it was just me and Josephine inside the big bus. The bus leaves immediately. It doesn’t wait for other passengers anymore. At the Thailand immigration, Josephine had to get a visa on arrival. I had to wait for her because I could enter Thailand visa-free as long as I stay there for less than 30 days.
The process at immigration when entering Thailand was basically the same. You hand your passport and the immigration card, have your picture and fingerprint taken and then wait for the immigration officer to stamp on your passport.
When we finished, we took a public taxi to downtown Chiang Khong. The fare costs 100 Baht (~US$ 3.27) per person.
Spending the Night in Chiang Khong
Since there are no more buses to Chiang Rai when we arrived at downtown Chiang Khong, we had to spend a night there. We told the driver to just drop us off in a hotel near the bus station to Chiang Rai. He took us to Green Inn. The room we stayed at is good for two and costs 100 Baht (~US$ 3.27) per person.
Traveling to Chiang Rai on a Mini Bus
In the morning, we went out to check what’s in Chiang Khong and had an early lunch before going to the bus station. We took the 12 noon trip to Chiang Rai. Travel time to Chiang Rai is 2 hours and 30 minutes and the fare is 65 Baht (~US$ 2.12).
The bus is not airconditioned and it’s a minibus. It was hot that day but there are fans inside the bus. (See picture below).
That’s it for my slow boat experience. I hope this was useful to you. If you have any questions regarding this trip, feel free to leave a comment. Subscribe to my blog if you don’t want to miss any of my posts. And please follow my Facebook page @iwentanyways and like my Instagram accounts @iwentanyways and @tnadeperalta for updates. You can also check out my backpacking highlights in my IG @tnadeperalta. You’ll see there more pictures from the slow boat journey.