Arriving in Luang Prabang having spent two very leisurely days on what is commonly referred to as the “slow boat” meant we arrived in Luang Prabang in a very mellow mood. This may influence my impression of both Luang Prabang and the whole slow boat experience, but honestly we really enjoyed this and highly recommend it.
I should clarify, we did not take the “public” slow boat, the one many backpackers write posts about. The over-crowded, uncomfortable experience where you may or may not get a seat for the two day ride from Huay Xai on the Northern Thai border to Luang Prabang along the Mekong River. We took the more refined version, probably the luxury one in comparison. On our trip, you have a proper seat and lunch was served on the boat each day. (You overnight at the halfway point in the town of Pakbeng and stay in one of the local guesthouses/hotels.)
What to Expect on the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang
A slow relaxing journey down the Mekong River. The boat travels at a slow enough pace you can watch the world go by. You can see people on the banks working, pass farms and villages and see the mahouts bring their elephants down to the river for a drink and a bath.
Bring a good book, a camera and get to know your fellow passengers. The trip is about 15 hours or so of travel along the river over the two days.
In the morning of day two, it is surprisingly cool on the river and it is shrouded in fog. Luckily the boat has blankets handy and you can use one until the day warms up and the fog burns off.
Meet the Local Villagers
We made several stops along the way at local villages. This offers both a chance to get off the boat and stretch your legs and the opportunity to see a traditional village. You can see their housing, how they live and their economic activities. We saw women making bricks, weaving grass roofing panels, weaving, and farming. A lot of peanuts are grown along the banks of the Mekong River.
There are lot of children in the villages and even the school stops so the kids can come and see the visitors.
Pak Ou Cave
Our last stop on our journey was Pak Ou Cave. Located about 25 kilometers upstream from Luang Prabang where the Mekong River and the Ou River meet. The cave and shrine is filled with images of Buddha. (You can also visit Pak Ou Cave from Luang Prabang by road.)
And then it was over, we had arrived in Luang Prabang! It was a most enjoyable and relaxing journey. We enjoyed the leisurely pace and the company of our fellow passengers. We even met up with several of them for dinner in Luang Prabang.
How to Book the Slow Boat
There are several companies offering the slow boat Nagi of Mekong, Shampoo Cruises and Luangsay Lodges. The last company uses their own luxury lodge in Pakbeng, the half way point. We traveled with Nagi and can recommend them. Check the travel dates; the boats don’t operate every day. You can also travel north from Luang Prabang to Thailand. Plan ahead and make a booking as soon as you know your travel dates as they do sell out some times of the year. And enjoy your trip!
That’s one great way to experience Luang Prabang from a different point of view. Traveling by slow boat does give us a local’s perspective on daily life as they rely on the river for transport and sustenance.
It’s a little surreal watching life go by on the Mekong. The washing of elephants, the kids playing on the banks of the river. And the scenery. Spectacular