The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Slow Boat from Laos to Thailand

Days 396-398, December 28-30, 2011

When you’re in Northern Laos, or Northern Thailand for that matter, and you want to move to the next country, the method of transport you are most likely to take, because it’s a journey everyone raves about, is the slow boat down(or up) the Mekong. Sure, you can take the speedboat(it cuts the journey down to 6 hours) but the slow boat is a much more amazing experience I would imagine.

And while most people do the journey going from Thailand to Laos, Lucy, Janine, and I did it the less common, less busy way. Laos to Thailand.

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I am going to assume that prices and ease of booking is the same, regardless of which way you go. When I was doing research on this topic though, there was little to no information on the journey as you go from Luang Prabang, Laos to Chiang Mai, Thailand. This owing to the fact that it’s just more popular to go from Thailand to Laos.

While you can do the journey step-by-step, the three of us decided to have three days of not needing to think so just booked the whole journey through a tour agent located on the road parallel to the Mekong in Luang Prabang. From wandering around the town, any tour company can book this particular trip and there looks to be absolutely no difference in price(400,000 kip or ~CDN$50). This includes the two days on the boat, the ferry boat transfer across the border, taxi to the mini bus, and the mini bus all the way to Chiang Mai. I did my best to glance at the prices as I went along to see how much we were “overcharged” and I’ll do my best to remember them and mention them here.

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First things first, the “two-day” trip to Thailand takes three days. It’s only two days on the boat, but that only gets you to the border. Whether you’re heading to Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai, you will have to spend the night at the border to catch a bus the next morning onwards. And while the boat from Thailand to Laos is packed to the brim and subject to passenger “mutiny’s” to demand a second boat, the boat from Laos to Thailand is quite empty. With room for probably 60 people, there were only about 25 or 30 on the first days journey.

At the boat docks, if you’re wanting to do it on your own, arrive early, probably around 7:30am and wait for the ticket office to open up. The first boat, from Luang Prabang to Pakbeng, costs roughly 130,000kip(~CDN$17). You hop down the embankment, and settle into whichever seat you want. The seats are actually quite comfortable(old car seats attached to the bottom of the boat). As there were so few people on the boat, we were able to stretch out over two or three seats each.

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I’ve talked to a few people who have done journeys either one way or the other and it seems that everyone has a different experience based on who is on the boat. On one, it’s days filled with chilling in circles and drinking beer and playing drinking games. For others its that, minus the beers. Full days of chatting and laughing and enjoying the people around you. For me and my boat, it was the epitome of Zen and relaxation. With so few people on the boat, and so much room to spread out, everyone seemed to disappear into their own little worlds. Naps were common, just staring over the water at the scenery, and getting lost in your own thoughts. There was little conversation on the boat. Everyone seemed completely and utterly at peace in their surroundings.

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At the end of Day 1, the boats from both directions stop in a tiny town called Pakbeng. After the initial scramble up the hill to the town, everyone splits off to find accommodation for the evening. No one, it seems, ever intends to stay for more than that one night. You can get dirt cheap rooms, or something a bit more comfortable. It doesn’t matter. It’s all there.

Drinks at Hive Bar: “The Only Bar in Town”IMG_8460

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The next morning, if you don’t already have your ticket, you just wander back to the boats and find out which ones are going in which direction. You then buy your ticket right on the boat(130,000kip once again). Another full day of cruising down the river and up to the border towns of Huay Xai and Chiang Khon(Laos and Thailand respectively). Depending on what time your boat arrives at the docks, you may be able to get to the border before it closes at 6:30pm. Either way though, you’re staying the night here, just a matter of which country. From the slow boat dock to the immigration dock, it’s about 5,000kip(CDN$0.64). Once again, it’s just a matter of finding a place to stay for your last night in Laos.

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For the three of us, this was a sad moment.

The border opens up at 8am it seems. Once your checked out of Laos, you pay 10,000kip(CDN$1.27) to take a boat across the river to the Thai side. fill out some health forms, get stamped in and you’re done. The whole process, from Lao side to Thai side, stamp to stamp, probably takes half an hour or so. At the border, there are many signs offering Minibus tickets to Chiang Mai for 250 baht(~CDN$8). I’m not entirely sure if they leave right from the border or you get a taxi from there to where the mini bus is.

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For us, after getting the taxi to the minibus, we had two hours to kill before it actually left. The journey from the border to Chiang Mai takes about six or seven hours, with  one or two stops along the way for lunch and the bathroom. Some minibuses may also stop briefly at the White Temple in Chiang Rai but sadly ours didn’t. Where you get dropped off in Chiang Mai also highly depends on who you get the minibus with and who they’re affiliated with.

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The entire journey was a major highlight of my trip in Asia. The scenery on the slow boat is breathtaking and the children in the little towns you pass are absolutely adorable as they wave to you. I was unlucky enough to be napping when we passed the wild elephants bathing in the river though. Guess there are cons to being so Zen and relaxed!

5 comments:

  1. This brings me back! I did the slow boat from Thailand to Laos and really enjoyed it. It was a pretty peaceful journey but got really cold on the second day on the boat.

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  2. Actually, that's one thing I forgot to mention. We noticed the temperature change too, though obviously the opposite of what you experienced. That first day on the boat was chilly but the closer we got to Thailand, the warmer it got. It was strange.

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. I am planning to do this trip in February.Thank you for this article.Some great advice here.

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  5. Hi this is a good blog
    My company also run Mekong River Cruise on the Mekong River from Huay Xai ,Pakbeng to Luang Prabang ,

    http://www.mekongsmilecruise.com/

    ReplyDelete