The Slow Boat Experience (Thailand to Laos)

The slow boat experience really was very unique for us in our travels. We were lucky enough to avoid the long bus journey and instead took the relaxing slow boat journey. Emphasis on slow, while it is relaxing, time seems to stand still, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We met some friends for life on the slow boat journey and ended up spending the rest of our travels with them.

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Get yourself a drink, sit back and take it easy as you read through our slow boat experience!

The Experience:

Day One:

We took the trip from Pai in Thailand to Luang Prabang in Laos that spanned over the course of 3 days. The first day involved a lot of buses and ended up being very long, starting at 5:30am (yuck!) and ending at 7pm. in which we arrived in Chiang Khong. There wasn’t much of note on the first day so we won’t dwell too long on it! However, we did stop (only for an hour sadly) at the Temple of the White Buddha, which was breathtaking.

Chiang Khong itself had absolutely nothing going on, at least around where we stayed so not much to note of that either. The only standout thing was that the hostel beds had mattresses like bricks (our backs are honestly still sore).

Day Two:

We took time for some much needed stretching when we woke, ready for our chilled-out trip down the Mekong River. It was another early start, having to be ready for 7:30am to make our short journey over the Friendship Bridge between Thailand & Laos and through the border.

*TOP TIP* – If you plan on going through a land border crossing into Laos, you better make sure you have some U.S Dollars with you! 30 to be precise, 40 if you’re trying to be careful. Make sure the dollars have absolutely no rips or tears (not even tiny ones) or you’ll be turned away from the border. Seriously, this happened to both of us and it was the scariest thing as we had to run to the ATM at the border crossing and get some new dollars all while the time limit to get over the border and back on to the bus was looming over us (it really felt like being in a video game where the clock appears on the screen!).

Once our panic had subsided and we had managed to cross the border with our immaculately crisp dollar bills being safely in the Laotian border guards hands, we were taken over the bridge and down to the side of the Mekong and the slow boat was in sight! There are little stalls set up where you can get some lunch, drinks and snacks. Make sure you stock up here as the slow boat only accepts dollars which we didn’t have enough of.

The first day in which we got on the slow boat, the day was dreary but soon brightened up

It’ll be about 11am when you board the slow boat and begin your cruise down the river (hopefully with snacks and beers in tow)! We encourage you to embrace the experience as it really is what you make it. Looking at it, the journey seems mundane as it’s pretty much the same surroundings the entire way down the Mekong. Travelling is full on though so we loved kicking back and getting chatty with lots of new faces. We really appreciated that the slow boat itself was a family home (the crew, who were amazing, friendly people).

Pak Beng:

After spending most of the day on the boat, you’ll get to Pak Beng, a charming little mountain village. Everyone is super friendly in the village and many people will approach you trying to get you to stay in their hostel/guesthouse. Deciding to stick with our group, we all opted for the same hostel which made the experience a lot more fun! We stayed at Monsavanh Guesthouse, link below:

By the time you get to Pak Beng, you’ll only have enough time to grab some eats (and maybe drinks)! Let us warn you though, it’s another early start the next day! The Hive Bar is a great place (located around a 2 minute walk from our hostel recommendation above) to unwind after the long slow boat trip! Serving great cocktails and even better Indian food, we made a good night of it with our new mates! Link below:

Pak Beng is a unique place in that they accept Baht, Dollars and Laotian Kips! So don’t worry if you still have some Baht left over from Thailand!

The view as we were about to arrive at Pak Beng
Day Three:

Starting the day off without a hangover would’ve been a wise choice but unfortunately, we’re not wise! Another 7am start leaves you just enough time to grab some breakfast before getting onto the slow boat again. You’ll be able to grab breakfast and snacks on your way down to the dock, there’s few stalls right near it! Make sure you stock up on beers and snacks (if you’re not too hungover!) as the boat is expensive. It’s another long day on the boat but just be social and meet new people, there’s literally nothing else to do! You’ll arrive just outside of Luang Prabang at 6pm-ish where you’ll have to get a taxi to the town centre. We definitely recommend getting a taxi as it was a 2 hour walk which let’s be honest, no one needs at that time.

How Much Does It Cost?

The tickets from Pai to Luang Prabang cost us 2,000 Baht total (about £25 each) which is amazing value for money! Please note that this total also included the 1 night stay in Chiang Khong! Adding on the 30/40 dollars for border crossing to that (roughly £24/32) brings it to let’s day £50 so far. But then you need to factor in accommodation in Pak Beng (£8 each for 1 night). Don’t forget to add on drinks and meals too, we’d add ours but of course it’ll be different for each individual so not much purpose in that! Overall, it was a pretty cheap trip considering it took 3 days, totalling (without drinks and meals) £58 or £66 per person (if you choose to bring the extra dollars!

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