During our 6 months of travelling we had taken many different methods of transport. We had flew a plane to get here, sat on trains a few times in the cities, but mostly we had travelled on buses/mini-vans to get from place to place.
Buses usually take from around 2-12 hours from one city to another (depending on where you are going). We won’t lie, they are usually mind-numbingly boring and we have to occupy ourselves by binge watching series on my iPad (which I actually left on a bus not so long ago, RIP dear iPad), writing blogs, creating vlogs, reading books - you get the gist.
Sometimes the buses are a little cramped and can be quite stuffy if the air con isn’t all that great, so you can imagine how long journeys such as Luang Prabang (Laos) to Chiang Mai (Thailand) can be a bit of an crazy experience. Well.. we’ll let you in on a little not-so-secret secret that lots of people have done and absolutely every one of them loooooved. To make the trip over the boarder from Laos to Thailand this time - we took a SLOW BOAT!
The slow boat along the Mekong Delta from Luang Prabang to Chiang Khong takes 2 days (one more day to Chiang Rai/ Chiang Mai by bus as you'll need to stay a night in Chiang Khong) and of course, is the slowest option for crossing the boarder that there is, but after actually doing it ourselves, we think it’s the best option too!
You can buy tickets for the slow boat from the slow boat dock pier in Luang Prabang (we haven’t got an exact address but it’s on maps.me, screenshot is below). We would recommend you also buying this direct and not buying from the many ticket touts in town that will try and sell you the ticket for double the price. The ticket for the first boat cost 105,000 kip p/p (£9.50). This will take you to Pak Beng where you will stay the night. The ticket for the second boat from Pak Beng to Huay Xai on day two can be purchased on the boat for 110,000 Kip p/p (£9.90). On arriving at Huay Xai, the next step is to take a tuk tuk the boat port to the immigration office, officially leave Laos, catch a minibus over the friendship bridge and finally settle in the town of Chiang Khong until the morning.
We purchased our tickets from the slow boat dock one day in advance (which wasn’t necessary but we wanted to be sure). We also purchased hotel pick up from the docking station (50,000Kip). We were picked up by a tuk tuk at 7:30am the next morning and taken back to the pier to start the first 10 hour journey.
The boat was absolutely huge! I don’t know what we were both expecting but we definitely weren’t expecting it to be as spacious and comfortable as it actually was. It was completely open plan so there was never the feeling of being cramped. There was so much room that there were children playing, running up and down the middle of isle and at other times, there were people dotted around on the floor in different groups playing cards.
(Top Tip - Do not sit near the back of the boat as the engine is incredibly loud)
There was also never the issue of it being too hot either, the wind was constantly blowing in your face the whole journey, it was so nice. People were sitting along the sides of the boat, reading books, chatting and watching the scenery go by. That scenery in fact, was some of the best sights we’d ever seen. Travelling along the Mekong Delta, we saw endless towering mountains, gorgeous little villages on the edge of the river and little fisherman boats who would all wave as we passed by. It was so beautiful, not once did we get bored of looking out on it all.
You have to bring your own food onto the boat as it doesn’t stop and there aren’t any meals provided. There are refreshments at the back of the boat however, which include tea, coffee, pot noodles and endless amounts of cookies, crisps and chocolate. We stuck to being good with our food but looked dreamily at the table full of goodies every time we passed it to go to the toilet! For anyone wanting the keep it healthy like me and Jac - we took 2 tins of tuna, some pre-boiled noodles, 2 carrots and 2 cucumbers with us and then just drank coffee like it was going out of fashion. We got a few odd stares as we ate tuna from the tin on the edge of the boat but if you pop the tins over your eyes afterwards you can block out all the haters, no problem.
(Top Tip - If you want to save money, bring your own coffee, the boat staff were always happy to give us free boiling water)
After 10 hours on the boat, we were dropped off at Pak Beng for the night. We hadn’t booked any accommodation as we’d heard it’s incredibly cheap to just walk-in to hostels here instead. When we got off the boat, we were swarmed by a bunch of hostel owners offering cheap rooms and beds by holding up posters. The first lady that approached us seemed really nice and offered us a room for 50,000 Kip for 2 people. That’s £4.50 for two people! How amazing! We walked with her up to the top of the road to a really nice guesthouse. The room was huge with a fan and there was even 2 free bottles of water, what more could you want for £4.50!
There are loads of little restaurants and bars on the strip of road that leads up from the peer, mainly Indian and Lao cuisine. You can keep meals super cheap here if you need to, we paid 15,000 Kip for some chicken and rice (£1.35).
At 7:30 the next morning, we walked around 5 ministers to the peer and bought our new tickets from a lady on the boat. The boat left at 8am and we started a new day on the glorious Mekong Delta.
We arrived to Huay Xai at around 7pm that evening. We all departed the boat and got onto one of the many tuk tuk’s that will be waiting to take you to the immigration office. It was 15,000 Kip (£1.35) each, when shared with 6 people per tuk tuk.
At the immigration office, we had our visas checked and stamped and were given the 30 day tourist visa for Thailand. We had to pay 10,000 Kip (90p) exit fee from Laos and a 40THB (£1) entrance fee to Thailand (it actually said 25TBH on the wall but the lady charged us 40 each ‘because of the time of night’, we’re pretty sure she was telling porky pies on this occasion) When we were all finished with immigration, we all piled on to a bus that took us across the friendship bridge between Thailand and Laos. The bus dropped us off at the other side, where we all got onto another tuk tuk that took us to our accommodation for that night. Funnily enough, Jac and I were the only two who had actually booked anywhere to stay, so every single person from the boat (about 20 people) followed us to the hostel we had booked and asked for a room there too. Luckily the hostel had enough rooms for everyone! (we still think we should have earned some commission off of that, haha!)
We all went out for dinner that night, it was actually really nice that we were all still together after spending 2 days on a boat together so far!
The Guesthouse was unreal, it had a pool and was $6 per night (£4.50) for a double room! We would definitely recommend booking with them if you are going to make this journey too - Nam Khong Guesthouse and Resort
In the morning, we got a local bus to Chiang Rai for 65 THB each (£1.50) which took around 3 hours. The local bus was really cool, it had disco lights all over the ceiling and had no windows or doors, so I guess you could say it had 10/10 air con too.
In Chiang Rai, we booked a bus to Chiang Mai with the Green Bus Company for 166 THB each (£3.80). We had a few hours to kill before the bus came so we went to see the white temple, which is an absolute must see if you are in Chiang Rai!
We hopped on the bus for the last time in 3 days and spent 3 hours on there until we finally reached Chiang Mai. Yes... you read that bit right. We had reached Chiang Mai, wooooooo!
Now, this sounds like a long journey doesn’t it. But we can assure you, it’s been our favourite travelling journey so far on our travels and we would cross every land boarder by slow boat if we could! The whole slow boat trip, including all the buses, boarder crossing fees, tuk tuk’s and hostels (excluding food) cost £38.80 for 3 days. So on top of being an incredible experience, it was also unbelievably cheap!
If you have any questions, please let us know in the comments below. We would love to hear from you if you have done this journey too! And if you read this blog and now plan to do it, have an awesome time, you’ve made a good decision!