Tag Archives: slow boat

Sss-slow boat through Laos

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Starting the journey through Laos
Getting the slow boat from the Thai/Laos border to Luang Prabang is a popular choice. I had no idea what I was expecting. Something along the lines of a ferry that we would spend the night on. It turns out it was more like a bigger version of a long tail boat. The one we had on the first day was one of the better ones as there were tables between four. Usually the owners of the boats live on them with their families.

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The brown Mekong

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Inside the slow boat

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Photo bomb

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Our slow boat crew

Myself and Orna were joined by Dutch Antoon and Cho who were travelling solo. I’d heard tell that the slow boats can be great craic, that everyone drinks together and the entire boat becomes best friends by the second day. It wasn’t quite like that. It was more about having chats along the quiet, brown Mekong river watching green hills and time pass by. There wasn’t much else to it. The Mekong flows in weird, mysterious ways. It appears to swirl in many places that the captain tries to avoid. I imagined been sucked down a whirl pool never to be seen again. The odd time I saw a water buffalo or some local people unloading a boat. It was pleasant to have a few beers and share stories with others on the five hour journey to Pakbeng, where we spent the first night.

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Sunset at Pak Beng

Pakbeng–The sleepy riverside village
The sun was starting to set as we docked in Pakbeng. There was a collection of locals and kids there to greet us. They had pictures of guesthouses and rooms to rent to us. It seemed that the small town was only there for the daily arrival of tourists from the slow boat and the kids seemed to be there out of curiosity and boredom. Myself and a slew of others followed a lady up a hill at dusk (our rucksacks had gone up in a pick up truck–I was slightly wary of this but I’d nothing to worry about). It turned out to be the best accommodation in town as two ladies had checked out a few places before settling on our choice. We walked back down the dark, unlit hill to go up another to the village for dinner. It seems we joined most of our slow boat in a nice Indian restaurant. 

Shockingly, I had my first hot shower in about a month in this random town. Asia never ceases to amaze!

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Day two on the slow boat

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Inside the slow boat

Day Two
Day two didn’t go that differently than day one. A lot of people got up earlier to try get a good seat or onto a boat with tables etc. Turns out there were no tables this time and I sat beside a Scottish guy while Orna sat beside an unsociable girl with headphones in the entire way. The other two were down the back close to the engine so they could hardly hear what the other was saying. Getting there a little earlier would have helped it seems.

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Cave near Luang Prabang

Foreigners get scammed
The boat docked at a point a kilometre or two from Luang Prabang. Apparently at one time they used to stop at the town centre but it seems they’ve devised a scam for tourists to be forced to pay a few euro extra in a tuk tuk to get to the final destination even though it’s the slow boat to Luang Prabang and not the ‘slow boat to a few kilometres down the Mekong from Luang Prabang’.

Paying a euro or two for a tuk tuk wouldn’t be the problem (if it was included in the slow boat price we wouldn’t even know about it) but paying for one that is blatantly created to scam tourists was pretty annoying.

Yes, it’s not fun to be scammed (especially when there are a few scenarios like this devised when you first enter Laos) but in the end these people are just trying to make a living. The boat will continue to stop a few kilometres away (too far to walk in my opinion with a heavy rucksack like some others did) so the tuk tuk journey needs to be factored into costs too.

I ended up loving Laos and it’s people so these tiny first impressions were thrown to the wayside.

Getting from Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand into Laos via land border and onwards to slow boat towards Luang Prabang

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I made the decision for myself and my travel buddy that we wouldn’t use the cushy way to get into Laos. We could have paid 1550 baht (41.86 euro) to a travel agent who would collect us from our hotel and organise all our transport along the way, including helping fill out our visa forms and handing in all our documents at the border. Basically being spoon fed.

Instead, I got talking to a older Australian man at our guesthouse, accompanied by Thai girlfriend of course, and decided to join them on their journey. I figured a Thai-speaker and a man who’d been to Laos many times were just as good as a tourist organised operation. I wanted the challenge rather than the easy option.

This is how the journey to the slow boat panned out:

Local bus from Chiang Rai to border town Chiang Khong – 65 baht (1.76 euro)
We were told at our guesthouse that we needed to catch the first local bus at 6 am to be sure that we’d make the slow boat at 10 am in Huay Xai. It was a five minute walk in the dark with odd sounds coming from buildings around us. In the words of my friend, the bus was quite ‘Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry’. It was a rackety old thing with no leg room and enough space for 1.5 people on the bench type seats. 

It took two hours to get to Chiang Khong, the border town.

Tuk tuk to border control – 50 baht (1.35 euro)
We got dropped off on the middle of a highway where a line of tuk tuks were waiting to bring us to the border to get stamped out of Thailand. We saw a Tuk tuk handing some money to the bus driver (probably as a way of thank you for dropping us off at their Tuk tuk establishment).

It was a few minutes journey and not worth the money but it’s how it’s done.

Bus over bridge into Laos – 25 baht (0.68 euro)
After border control there were buses waiting outside to bring us across the bridge that divides Thailand and Laos. Apparently it used to be easier a few years ago when you crossed by boat over the border further north.

Apply for Laos visa – 35 US dollars (30.80 euro)
We got into the building, rushed to get a form to fill out the ‘Arrivals’ section along with about two other similar forms and handed them into a guy at a hatch. We waited as our visas were processed by a person who never saw our faces. We had to wait for our names to be called with a fresh visa inside. It can be the luck of the draw if your passport gets to the top or bottom of the pile to process.

As far as I saw visas cost either 30 or 35 euro depending on nationality. They only took one passport photo, not two. But I’m sure this could change from day to day. I think scamming can also happen at times but I’ve found being there early in the morning helps rather than late afternoon. 

Tuk tuk to slow boat – 100 baht (2.70 euro)
The tuk tuks were lined up and waiting to take us to where we wanted. We waited a few minutes to let it fill up. We heard him quote us something different until some locals got in and the price went up.

Slow boat ticket – 950 baht (25.70 euro)
As it’s a well-used border area, bahts are still used and accepted. We thought the time for the slow boat was 10 am. It had a sign up stating 11 am and we left after 12 pm. 

Total:
1190 baht = 32.18 euro

Total saving:
360 baht = 9.83 euro

Note:
These transportation prices in baht were true as of 19 November 2014 and the euro exchange prices were correct as of 27 February 2015. The visa price was for an Irish individual travelling by land from Thailand into Laos on 19 November 2014.