The Slow Boat To Luang Prabang

Slow Boat To Luang Prabang
The Mekong River

Sprawled out on an old bus chair, watching the world go by, I struggled to think of anything more scenic and relaxing as floating down the Mekong river, catching the slow boat to Luang Prabang. Forested hills, rocky outcrops and sandy beaches reached out from the shores of the meandering waterway, forming an entrancing backdrop to accompany our slow-paced transport. Passengers slept, read, played card games and drank rum; in no particular rush to reach our destination. With nowhere to go but upstream, confined to our open-aired vessel, we admired the beauty of the Laotian landscape with patient awe.

Our journey’s end was Luang Prabang, the sleepy town in Northern Laos. While there were a few different options of exiting Thailand on our way to this South East Asian nation, the two-day slow boat ride held a sense of intrigue and allurement in our minds. We had heard stories from many backpackers that this was the most appealing way to enter Laos, and the tales proved to be true.

Slow Boat To Luang Prabang
Slow boats lined up in Huay Xia

We boarded the long, narrow boat in Huay Xia, Laos, armed with supplies that ranged from fruit and snacks to beer and rum. Fully charged music players and a few good books and we were well-prepared for the voyage. We took our seats and got comfortable for the first days mission. Keeping in harmony with the pace of our expedition, we were late to leave the dock, but no one seemed to mind. An air of calm was already drifting up from the commuters.

Once underway, we began to make friends with those around us, and before too long we were trading traveller stories and tips, enjoying our new company. As is to be expected of backpackers, it also took very little time before the beers were cracked open and the liquor began flowing. As the first day wore on, the relaxed chatter became more excited and inhibitions were abandoned. Bounded by the surrounding river, friendships grew and stories were exchanged.

After 7 hours of travel, we arrived in the small village of Pakbeng, edging on the shore of the Mekong. A short search for accommodation found us a spacious and cheap lodging option with a spectacular view, and we hit the town for dinner and drinks. Matching the mood inspired by the trip, the nightlife was relaxed and we found ourselves in bed before midnight.

Slow Boat To Luang Prabang
Our view down the Mekong River from our accommodation in Pakbeng
Slow Boat To Luang Prabang

Awakening well-rested, the second day started in much the same as the first; Gliding along the river admiring the stunning views of mountaintops and waterside villages. The vibe on board was even more leisured, and many spent the morning hours napping and gazing out at the scenery, enjoying the tranquility. By the afternoon, the alcoholic beverages made another appearance and life on the river picked up where it had left off the previous day.

With our final destination of Luang Prabang steadily closing in, many of the locals disembarked at small rustic towns set in the attractive countryside. Our new-found friends began to rally together to make plans on where to meet once we had found accommodation. Passing around a final bend in the river, we caught sight of the dock where we would alight from our slow boat. Card games were halted abruptly, beers were finished in quick succession and belongings were gathered. In a moment we gently touched up against the jetty, and we smiled.

All that was left to do now was make our way downtown via one of the waiting tuk-tuks. We hoisted our backpacks over our shoulders, climbed the steep stairs and paused to look back at the flowing Mekong. A final glimpse of our boat naturally drew our eyes up the length of river, and onwards towards the hills. The landscape was majestic and mysterious, and we wondered what lay around the next bend.

Smiling, we turned and continued walking away from our waterborne highway. More than a simple mode of transport, the ride had become a journey, and that journey had sparked something inside of us. We could not imagine taking another alternative instead of the slow boat to Luang Prabang. The joys of choosing the leisurely route had been enticing. Now when the option allows, we shall always rush to take the slower passage.

Slow Boat To Luang Prabang
Local children waiting by the shores of the Mekong.
Slow Boat To Luang Prabang
The inside of the slow boat.
Slow Boat To Luang Prabang
Typical scenery.
Alesha and Jarryd

Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award-winning writers and professional photographers behind this blog. We have been travelling the world together since 2008, with a passion for adventure travel and sustainable tourism. Through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. As one of the world's leading travel journalists, our content and adventures have been featured by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, CNN, BBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Washington Post, Yahoo!, BuzzFeed, Channel 7, Channel 10, ABC, The Guardian, and plenty other publications. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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10 thoughts on “The Slow Boat To Luang Prabang”

  1. Do you have a recommendation for a slow boat company? Or are they all pretty much the same?

    • No recommendation unfortunately. I think they are all more or less the same. Have fun on the slow boat Emily!

  2. Oh this brings back so many great memories, I was there almost 10 years ago but it looks exactly the same. I remember that was a long boat ride but so beautiful when you eventually get there =)

    • It still is a long boat ride, but one of our favourite journeys we have done. I bet a lot has changed in 10 years though. Must have been incredible.

  3. Hi,

    This all looks amazing. I’m going to SEA in 7 weeks for 3 months of travelling and will be taking this route. I was wondering whether you booked this cruise in advance or whether you simply turned up early in the morning and picked a boat?

    Not sure whether to wing it and see what’s there in the morning or to book in advance? The journey is quite long so I wanted to make sure I chose something relatively comfortable.


    • We booked the trip the day before in Chiang Rai. You can definitely just show up and hope for the best. I don’t think the slow boat really ever “fills up”. If you’ve got the time, just wing it. Always a lot more fun that way. Happy travels.

  4. Love those seats. They were wooden benches when I did the trip in 2006.

    • Haha, comfort is of the most utmost importance in Laos, hey John 😉

  5. Oh the lovely slow boat. We did this trip in March of this year. We went up stream heading to Chiang Mai. Can’t believe they literally are old car seats! It was fine, just after 2 days on a boat that 3rd day of going to immigration and long shuttle drive to Chiang Mai was not needed….

    • Heading to Chiang Khong and Chiang Mai would have been awesome! By the end of it though, you definitely would just want to hang out, get some khao soi and relax after the 3 day journey! Thanks for reading, Hannah!

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