I was emailing a friend about the next leg of my journey: Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang, Laos, while thinking to myself I wish someone else could organise this for me.
After 6 weeks in Chiang Mai I wasn’t ready for backpacking mode again. It turns out that the Universe was listening because half an hour into researching the trip I came across someone writing about a tour they had taken from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. Of course! The Thais are great at making businesses from tourist needs; it was just that I’d forgotten to check.
My research now redirected, I found a standard tour that covered where I wanted to go. A minivan via Chiang Rai to see the White Temple, then onto Chiang Khong. A border crossing into Laos then 2 days on a slow boat down the Mekong River, with a night in Pag Beng to break up the journey. Perfect! You can also go by road which is quicker and cheaper but I’d heard from other travelers that it was a very uncomfortable way to go.
The trip was a wonderful experience…
I’m so glad that we stopped at the White Temple as it was spectacular; like nothing I’d seen before.
The rest of the day was uneventful until we arrived in Chiang Khong. It is a small village and there isn’t a lot do. I took a walk down by the river. There are little shops to stock up on food and water although I found the prices were 2 to 3 times as much as in Chiang Mai so I’d suggest stocking up on nibbles before you leave.
The first nights’ accommodation was very basic and not all that clean. Be prepared.
The border crossing takes a while so remember to pack your patience. Once through the Thai border there is a bus (20 baht) to take you to the visa control. There are also money changes here so you can get some kip. After all the paperwork is done you are squished into minivans to take you to where the boats leave. By the time the boat left I felt like I’d already done a full days travel.
The journey down the Mekong River was beautiful.
I’m also glad that I took a couple of books as 7 to 8 hours on a boat can be a long time.
Finding a guest house at PB was easy; simply wander up the street (left or right) and you will see them lined up. You’ll pay between 300 and 400 baht. You can use US$ or baht along the way but don’t expect to get a good exchange rate.
- I used Aya Travel. The cost was 1500 baht excluding accommodation in Pag Beng. A breakfast (very basic and too small if you were very hungry), a lunch (never happened) and a dinner (huge plate of delicious pad thai) are included in the price.
- Pag Beng had a surprisingly good range of food for a small village. You can buy your lunch for the second day on the river for 10,000 kip for a baguette sandwich.
- Take food and water on the boar as you can’t buy it on board. Each day is about 7 to 8 hours on the river. There is a toilet on board.
- Sit at the front of the boat as a very loud engine is down the back.
- Make sure you know when your boat leaves on the second day. People on our boat were told different times. I got on the boat at 7.30am (to get a good seat) expecting to leave at 8.30am but we didn’t leave until 9.30am. Others arrived at 9.20am and forgot to get food so it was a long day for them.
- The arrival point in Luang Prabang has now moved. It used to be a 5 minute walk from the old town but is now a 20 minute tuk tuk ride. There is a set price of 20,000 kip and you’ll be organised by the drivers once you get off the boat.