I had heard from many other travelers about the slow boat to Luang Prabang. I had been in Chiang Mai for a few weeks and was looking for my next adventure. So I decided I would head to Luang Prabang, Laos which is a completely landlocked country with stunning scenery and a much slower than average pace.
I could have flown, which would have been the quickest, easiest and most expensive route.
I had the option of a bus, where I would have had to switch buses halfway through, and the journey would have taken about 24 hours.
There’s a speedboat that I had read is extremely dangerous, and there have been some fatalities in the past. So, no thank you.
My last and final option was a
I went for the slow boat to Luang Prabang, and in this article, I’m going to tell you all about this little adventure. Because who doesn’t like a good boat ride?
I was picked up from my hostel in the early AM in a minivan. I was the last one in and there were 13 of us all together.
I sat next to a very handsome English gay guy named Chris who I instantly liked. We chatted about our adventures and swapped stories.
He was a reader as well, so after chatting for a bit, we sat quietly reading our books. It’s nice sitting with another reader because they get it and don’t bug you.
The ride, thankfully, wasn’t a bad one. We stopped once at a little coffee house for a short 40-minute break. I got a coffee and found myself next to a pond that had 3 turtles that I might have been talking to.
Surprisingly, one of the guys from the van came and sat with me. His name was Sebastian from Argentina. When we got back in the van I swapped seats so we could keep chatting.
He was a full-time traveler like myself and I really enjoyed him. He was seriously attractive and I was bummed when I realized he was taking the bus and not the slow boat.
I would have happily been stuck on a slow boat with him for two days!
White Temple in Chiang Rai
Next stop was the famous white temple in Chiang Rai. I use the word “temple” very lightly here because it’s more just a tourist attraction built for that reason.
It’s extremely unique with tons of abstract, slightly creepy art and extravagant details.
We only had 20 minutes to rush through the temple, which was not enough. We had been given 40 minutes at a coffee shop but only 20 minutes at a major attraction that cost me money to enter. I paid for this and had to rush, not my favorite!
We made one last stop at a gas station 20 minutes from our final destination, which obviously irritated me. We didn’t get gas so why stop? No answers for that.
first Night at a run down old guesthouse
When we finally arrived at our guesthouse I was surprised at how empty it was, must be the slow season.
I had a room with 3 beds for myself. Typically I would be happy about this but the room was horrible. There was no mattress and I basically slept on the equivalent of a box spring. I have never felt so old as I did the next morning trying to pry my sore body off of the bed.
When I showered I was accompanied by a large worm, as well as, other critters that looked like crickets or cockroaches.
The bathroom smelled like an outhouse that had been baking in the desert for 10 years. The room had so much moisture in it that everything felt damp.
There was no AC, but there was an overhead fan, thank the lord!
After they served dinner I walked to the local 7-11. I needed to stock up on food and drinks for the following days on the boat. I had read that everything on the boat is at a 150% mark up and I’m not down with that.
I got a supply of unhealthy snacks and a small bottle of whiskey. Don’t judge me.
When I got back from the store I sat upstairs alone and drank a beer. No one joined me so I decided to just head to bed. I read my book and then fell asleep relatively early.
Unfortunately, I woke up at 4:15 am because it had become so damp inside my room that I thought I was inside a steamer.
Seeing as there was nothing for me to do, I just sat and read until it was time for breakfast to be served.
Day 2-Border crossing and slow boats
After breakfast, we checked out and headed for the border. The process to cross the border was easy and straightforward.
Once we crossed through the Thai border we loaded a bus that drove us to the Laos side. Here we had to fill out entry forms and pay $35 USD with bills that must be in pristine condition. They actually inspect them, I kid you not.
When I got through the Laos border I walked to the sidewalk and found a tuk-tuk waiting. So I loaded into the back with 3 others.
A few minutes later 8 more travelers and their backpacks hopped in followed by 14 more people and their backpacks. I can’t even begin to explain what this looked like or how dangerous it was.
I had backpacks stacked on top of me and by the time we got to the slow boat pier, I couldn’t feel my lower half. I couldn’t even see the people sitting across from me because there was a wall of stacked backpacks.
I had someone’s muddy shoes flapping in my face and it was raining so I was soaked. I had to be “dug out” for lack of better words.
We had a total of 17 people in the back of the truck and 25 backpacks, as well as, other luggage bags. There were 3 people in the front seat with 5 more backpacks.
I, unfortunately, have no photo documentation of this.
Loading the boat and finding seats
At the pier, we had time to sit and order lunch. There was a little convenience store to get food and beers for the boat.
I bought a SIM card here. However, I realized later that I paid double the price of an actual SIM.
After standing in the rain for ten minutes we finally loaded the boat. It was a long wooden boat with no actual seats built into it. They had taken bench seats out of vehicles and screwed them to small slabs of wood. The seats weren’t actually connected to the boat.
When the boat hit a wave, you and your seat would end up on the other side of the boat. This definitely added a fun element to the adventure.
I was sat behind 4 Brit’s who I knew would be loud, obnoxious and had two bottles of whiskey each. My kind of people. Just kidding.
I had a small bottle of whiskey and I’m glad I did because if you can’t beat em, join em. And I did just that. We were definitely disturbing the peace by playing drinking games and loud music. What are you going to do though? It’s a long ride.
I stopped drinking after my little bottle of whiskey was gone. The Brit’s, however, finished their 2 bottles each and were completely wasted. They were even annoying me by the time we got to Pakbeng where we would be staying for the night.
One of them almost fell off the ramp while exiting the boat and needless to say I didn’t see them again until we loaded the boat the next morning.
PakBeng- An adorable little town
Pakbeng is a tiny town with only one street. Their livelihood revolves solely around the nightly slow boats. As soon as the boat pulled up we were swarmed by locals trying to get us to come to their guesthouses.
I opted out of having the accommodation for this night set up through the tour. I know from experience that it’s always cheaper to just walk away until you find something in your price range.
I had been sitting next to a young guy from Ireland name Stephane and he hadn’t gotten accommodation either. We decided to split a double room to make it cheaper.
Walking into town we were able to find a room for $3 each. In the main room of the hotel, there were creepy, old stuffed bears on a shelf and a strange spider that terrified me on the picture hanging on the wall.
The room was covered in pink and looked like hello kitty had thrown up in there. It had 2 twin beds so we took it.
After showering in the most disgusting bathroom, we decided to get some dinner at a nearby restaurant. We were joined by a couple from our boat and had a lovely dinner chatting with them!
After dinner, we were exhausted and went straight to bed.
Sleepless night with creatures
In the middle of the night, I woke up because I could hear Stephane tossing and turning for what seemed like an hour. I finally fully woke up to him flashing his light on his phone all around the room.
I asked him if he was ok and he said no. He had woken an hour ago when a large critter crawled across his back. I think he thought it was a rat because we had seen one outside our door before we had gone to bed.
I told him to turn the light on so he could inspect and hopefully be able to get back to sleep. We hardly slept for the rest of the night and were both up early.
There was a viewpoint nearby that we decided to climb before heading down to the boat. It had rained during the night so the road up was washed out and very muddy.
We were in a hurry because we didn’t want to miss the boat, which made the ascent uphill particularly challenging. The view was beautiful and worth the early AM workout and we made it back down the hill without taking a mud bath. Success.
Day 3 on the slow boat to Luang Prabang
We were crunched for time and stressed getting back to the boat and didn’t have time to sit down for breakfast. They had warned us that if you’re late, they will leave without you.
So we stopped by a little bakery to get a couple ham and cheese croissants and some bottled waters and hustled down to the pier. We had hurried just to sit and wait for an hour because they were fixing some technical issues.
This boat was far more spacious than the previous
It was a much clearer day with breaks in the clouds which made for great photos and videos. I loved watching the local kids come down to greet the boat at each stop.
Actually, it seemed as if the whole village would come to greet us. Stephane and I both quietly did some reading and writing passing the 8 hours fairly quickly.
Arriving in Luang Prabang
When we arrived in Luang Prabang, Stephane and I hopped in a tuk-tuk that drove us the 15 minutes into town where we parted ways. He was meeting up with some friends and I already had reservations for a hostel.
My walk to the hostel took me through the setup of the night market which always excites me. I love markets but had been avoiding them. I always want to buy EVERYTHING, so I steer clear of the temptation.
Laos has their own handicrafts, as well as, many of the same that you can find all over Asia. They have a large variety of silk goods that people had told me to check out.
I really enjoyed watching the set up of such a production, these people work so efficiently! However, then it started raining, actually I mean pouring.
By the time I made it to my hostel, my backpacks and their entire contents were completely soaked. Awesome.
The slow boat experience was amazing and I would do it all over again. The accommodations sucked, traveling for three days straight was exhausting, and I was hungry for a decent meal.
However, in the end, it’s all about the journey. The boat ride offered amazing scenery, I met some fun people and I wouldn’t want to do it any other way!
I hope if given the chance you will also take the slow boat to Luang Prabang.
As always, if you enjoyed this article share with your travel-loving friends because…
SHARING IS CARING
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