Throughout my travels the majority of journeys I made were taken by bus, train or plane. The one exception was my trip from Luang Prabang in Laos to the border with Thailand, which I did by boat. I spent two days on the long boat, about nine hours each day, and broke up the journey by staying overnight with local families in a village on the banks of the Mekong.
If you’re limited on time, or don’t like the idea of spending two full days on a boat, then you might want to consider a different option. But, if you want to take your time enjoying the beauty of the Mekong, this is a great way to do it and a chance to experience rural village life.
We were told to expect a “leisurely” journey and it definitely was. The boat was motorised, but still moved pretty slowly along the river – I guess that’s why the journey takes two days. Inside the boat, we sat on what looked like old car or bus seats arranged around tables. There was no outdoor space on the boat, but there were lots of large windows so we had plenty of fresh air and didn’t miss any of the beautiful landscape passing by. For anyone wondering, there was a toilet, which is pretty important for a two-day journey!
We spent our time enjoying the scenery, reading, playing cards, listening to music and generally relaxing. Our boat was organised as part of a tour group so the staff on board cooked us breakfast and lunch and provided drinks and snacks. We were very well looked after. If you’re planning on doing a similar trip by public boat, you’ll probably need to take your own food and drink.
Many people who do this route stop overnight at Pak Beng, which is a small village about halfway between Luang Prabang and the Thai border at Huay Xai. It’s a pretty basic stopover point, but there are some guesthouses, shops and restaurants. I didn’t stop at Pak Beng, instead I stayed in a very small village right on the riverbank, where there were no guesthouses or shops, just the homes of the villagers. This was organised as part of the tour group, but if you’re making this journey independently Pak Beng is probably the best place to find accommodation.
We left our bags on the boat and arrived at the village in the late afternoon, where we were shown around by a guide who told us all about their daily life. The locals were kind enough to give us areas to sleep in their homes, which consisted of mattresses on the floor with mosquito nets. It was very basic, we had access to a toilet but no shower facilities. The locals cooked a delicious meal for us, which we ate around a table outside.
After dinner, we went down to the banks of the river and sat around a campfire to play games with the local children. It was a really fun and special experience. The people living in the village had very, very little so it was incredible of them to provide us with such a feast, and to share their homes with us for the night. Isn’t meeting people from different walks of life and experiencing their culture what travel is all about?
We didn’t get much sleep because a cow was tied outside the window of the building we were sleeping in and he mooed all night long! We woke up early the next morning (about 5am) to head back to the boat and continue our journey. Getting to the boat was an adventure in itself because it rained overnight so we had to slip and slide our way down a slope to the riverbank in the dark.
Once we made it back to the boat, we spent another full day sailing along the Mekong. When we reached Huay Xai, we took a quick bus to the border office and then another bus to Chiang Kong, where we stopped for the night before moving on to Chiang Mai.
This boat trip and village home stay was one of the highlights of my travels in terms of experiencing different cultures. It was amazing to see how people live in a tiny village on the banks of the Mekong. If you’ve got limited time and you’d rather get from place to place quickly, or if you’re more of a 5-star accommodation traveller, then this might not be for you. But, if you’ve got two days to spare and you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-track adventure, I think this is an experience you won’t want to miss.
Top tip: If you’re travelling from the Laos/Thai border to Chiang Mai, try and stop in Chiang Rai to see the White Temple. It’s a beautiful, modern and unusual temple that is unlike anything else in Thailand.
Have you taken any slow boat journeys? Let me know about your experience in the comments. I hope you enjoyed this post. If you’d like to share on Pinterest, feel free to use the picture below. xx