Southeast Asia Trip Report: Slow Boat to Laos on the Mekong River
We finally started rehashing our three-week Southeast Asia trip that happened about three months ago. Last week we shared about our three days in Chiang Mai, and today we’re talking about our experience on the Mekong River slow boat. Stay tuned for more from our days in Asia — including our time in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
If Southeast Asia tourist activities were graduating high school, the Mekong River slow boat would definitely not be named most likely to succeed. It would not be awarded most popular, or most ambitious.
But on our long list of trip experiences, slow boating the Mekong was probably the most pleasantly surprising. (Is that a senior superlative? Probably not, oh well…)
Traveling from Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos via a slow boat was a late addition to our three-week Southeast Asia itinerary, but we are so glad we did it.
When researching information about visiting Southeast Asia, we stumbled upon a unique way to travel from Thailand to Laos along the Mekong River. We are all for unique ways to get from here to there.
Originally, we planned to skip over Laos and head straight from Thailand to Cambodia. We are so grateful we decided to thrown Laos into the mix.
We couldn’t find much information about the slow boat ahead of time, but we banked on being able to figure things out once we arrived to Chiang Mai. As soon as we arrived, we headed straight to a travel agency (located on almost every block) to check out our options.
We decided to book our transportation out of Chiang Mai to ensure a smooth border crossing and to secure accommodations along the border of Thailand and Laos. I’m sure there is a cheaper way to travel from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang, but we felt happy with paying $120 (for both of us), which included a “minibus” (van) from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong (even stopping at the famous White Temple in Chiang Rai), overnight accommodations and two great meals at a guesthouse, a shuttle through the border crossing into Laos, and tickets for two days on the slow boat. The only extra cost we had was food for the boat and one overnight in Pak Beng after a day on the boat.
The entire process was extremely smooth. We had read mixed reviews, but we had zero issues with any part of the transportation. The van had air conditioning (much welcomed during the hot season), our guest house in Chiang Rai was one of the most beautiful we stayed in, we had cushioned repurposed car seats on the boat, and the entire slow boat experience may have been the highlight of our entire three weeks in Southeast Asia.
One thing to note: this option is considered transportation only. Do not expect a guided tour or any kind of luxury. (You only paid $60 per person after all!)
Read more details below about our specific trip to Laos on the slow boat.
Where we stayed:
As part of the transportation package, our first night was spent at a modest guesthouse with an amazing view of the Mekong River and Laos across the way. We opted to save money and book a room with no air conditioning, but the fan worked well and we were comfortable. (And we spent most of our time on the deck anyway!) The specific guesthouses will vary from package to package.
After one day on the river, the slow boat stopped overnight in the small village of Pak Beng. These accommodations were not included in the price of the entire package, so we negotiated once arriving in the town. (There were plenty of people vying for our money) The adorable luxurious wooden bungalow we found, right on the river with an amazing view, was just $15 for the night. (You can find it here on AirBNB, with more amenities and meals, for $70 per night) I’d highly suggest waiting until you arrive in Pak Beng to book a room for the night.
What we Spent:
$120 for two transportation packages from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang via the slow boat. $15 for overnight accommodations in Pak Beng. $70 ($35 each in U.S. cash) for two Laos visas. For three days of transportation lodging, food, drinks, activities, visas, and miscellaneous supplies, we spent a total of $215.
Stay tuned for the rest of our time in Southeast Asia: Luang Prabang, Cambodia, and Vietnam!