Hundreds of tourists make the 2 day, 1 night journey on a slow boat from Huay Xai at the border with Thailand to Luang Prabang every day. We thought we would join the masses and see what all the hype was about, that and the fact I also have a certain fondness for boats.
The boats are long wooden ferries that hold around 70 people and are fitted with seats from old buses, although watch your toes as the seats aren’t bolted down!
It is a slow scenic journey through lush jungle surroundings, although whilst the trip is relaxing and the scenery beautiful, I remain unconvinced that it’s a worthwhile 2 day trip, especially for the time strapped traveller.
Our boat left Huay Xai at 11:30am and by 3:00pm we were getting a little bored of being packed on a boat like sardines, and watching the same scenery drift past hour after hour. We had already taken lots of photos, replanned our SE Asia trip, eaten our sandwiches, crisps, and a whole of packet of Oreo’s. Now what? Game of cards anyone? We were thankful that our boat pulled into Pak Beng by 6pm.
All boats stop at Pak Beng overnight where it is easy to organise your own accommodation (although if you have booked your boat ticket through an agency they may have done this for you). Ignore the helpful man on your boat in Huay Xai who warns you that all the guesthouses in Pak Beng will be fully booked when you arrive, but then offers you a room at ‘his’ hotel for 150,000 kip. In reality, as soon as you reach Pak Beng the many guesthouse owners will be competing for your attention at the jetty. We paid 50,000 kip for a basic double room, with attached bathroom and free wi-fi.
Pak Beng is a small village that appears to be wholly based on tourism; bumper to bumper with guesthouses and restaurants, all of which offer free wi-fi, even in this remote part of Laos.
Boats depart Pak Beng the next morning at 9am and continue to make their way toward Luang Prabang. Do everyone a favour and get on the boat at 8:30am so it can leave on time, otherwise you are likely to be met with the sound of cheering as everyone celebrates your appearance.
The scenery from Pak Beng to Luang Prabang is more of the same, although on day two of the trip you are likely to be more relaxed and so may find it easier to pass the time.
If you have plenty of time on your hands then the slow boat is a worthwhile experience, but if you are a little more time strapped then I would recommend taking the bus to Luang Prabang and then spending the day you have gained getting off the tourist trail.