One of the most popular things to do in Laos is to take a slow boat down the Mekong River. The boat starts at the Thai-Laos border in the Laos town Huay-Xai, and winds its way down the river on a two-day trip to Luang Prabang, with an overnight stop in a one-road town, Pak Beng. If you like, you can do it in reverse order too.
I’m on a boat!
The boat itself is not huge, but is big enough for a small bar, a toilet and a collection of van seats that have been bolted to planks of wood, but not to the floor. This means you can arrange them as you please – most often a group of four, facing each other.
If you’re bringing luggage it will be stowed either below the deck, or in the bck of the boat. This can make getting off a little time consuming as everyone searches for their lugage.
Finally, the driver is at the front and the (loud) motor is at the back. If noise is a problem for you, a set of headphones or some ear plugs will be handy.
Slow boat, huh?
A slow boat, by any other name would still be slow. They’re not painfully slow (the seats can be pretty uncomfortable though) but they dont zoom at the rate of knots that the fast boats move. The people on the slowboats don’t have to wear helmets or feel permanently worried about an impending accident….
While you’re waiting to arrive in Lunag Prabang, most of the entertainment comes in three forms:
- Watching the fastboats going by full of scared faces or random household items. We saw a fridge being transported like that wasn’t a weird thing to do.
- Watching the boat stop to offload the Lao travellers. The boat pulls up to a random sandbar, rock, or shallow water spot. The locals get off and just disappear into the bush, climb the hills or slip quietly onto a houseboat.
- Reading a book, playing cards, hiding in the shade and having a nap. You’ll want to make sure you bring a book or a pack of cards if you fancy getting involved. Beyond that, there’s not a lot else to do.
The river is scenic, the landscape is beautiful and the boat ride is pretty relaxing. Bring a packed lunch, buy a beer and enjoy.