Slow Boat Down the Mekong

Longtail ferry at the border

Ferry carrying large trucks

On the very last day that our Thai visa was valid, we got our exit stamps and ferried across the Mekong River to the border town of Huay Xay, Laos.  We loaded up on essential boat supplies: water, Pringles, chicken sandwiches wrapped in banana leaves, mandarin oranges, oddly flavored sunflower seeds, butt cushions.  We needed some local currency, too, and became millionaires when we found what might have been the only ATM in town and withdrew 1 miiiillion kip (about $125).

Alicia all ready to go

Boat supplies

Chicken sandwiches

Choco-bacon seeds

Maggot in love

Juicy friend animal land

We found the pier and bought our tickets for Luang Prabang.  There are three public transportation options to get to Luang Prabang from the Thai/Laos border.  The cheapest option is a 12 hour bus ride.  The fastest and most expensive (and potentially lethal) option is putting on a helmet and crouching in a wooden speedboat for six hours.  The other, much more appealing option is a two day boat journey down the Mekong River.

Huay Xai pier

Green boat at Huay Xai pier


Two days on a boat is perfect for reading.  One of my favorite quotes from Thor Heyerdahl’s Fatu-Hiva, related Thor’s feelings as he and his wife were caught in a rainstorm while hiking through the jungle on a South Pacific island.  “[We were] uncertain of whether we were suffering or whether we were having a grand time.”  That is a perfect way to explain some of our days this year, but the boat trip was definitely much more of the latter.

Fatu-Hiva quote

small burn

Mood smoke

Mood smoke + rocks

Looking back upriver

Loading rice

Riverside settlement

Fading light

Side of boat

People on sandbar

Rock silhouette

After the first day, we unloaded at Pakbeng.  Here we are having dinner with a bunch of our boat buddies.  Our group was from Sydney, Brisbane, Toronto, Alabama, California, Amsterdam, and Thailand (via New Zealand).  You may recognize the fellow with the moustache.  It’s our friend Kevin from Chiang Mai!  He decided to join us for the trip and we were glad to see him again so soon.

Boat buddies


There is not much to Pakbeng other than restaurants and guest houses ready to receive people halfway through their boat trips, so we were more than ready to go when 9 a.m. rolled around.

My wife is a very good cook

Alicia and Kevin at Pakbeng

Pakbeng pier

While we were waiting for our boat to be loaded, we saw some elephants working on the far bank.

Elephants at Pakbeng

We also saw a Pakbeng resident giving his goat a bath.  How sweet!

Pakbeng goat bath?

Pakbeng goat bath? 2

Not a bath

Day two on the boat was much like the first.  More jungle, more villages, more giant sandbars and goats and water buffalo.  Someone brought out a guitar and two Australian sisters, Jemma and Ruby, serenaded us.


massive sandbar

Cliff near LPB

Boat interior

Boat engine


back of the boat

green and brown



Late in the afternoon, Luang Prabang’s pier came into view and we were ready to look for dinner and a place to sleep.  We later met other travelers who had been placed on boats with bad seats, loud engines and twice the amount of passengers.  We were fortunate to have a perfect two days on the river and to have made many new friends along the way.

LPB pier

colorful boats at LPB pier

Our pretty boat

LPB pier

(Watch our short video of taking the slow boat down the Mekong and motorbiking in Northern Thailand.)

Jan 2013