Laos Country Guide

Getting Around


By Boat

Boats along the Mekong and its tributaries are useful shortcuts for the horrible roads, although as the roads improve, river services are slowly drying up. Many of the remaining services only run in the wet season, when the Mekong River floods and becomes more navigable. Huay Xai (on the border with Thailand) to Luang Prabang and the travel south of Pakse are the main river routes still in use. Bring a coat in the cold season, the strong wind can make you feel cold, even at temperatures of 25ºC (77ºF), and bring earplugs. 
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There are the so-called slow boats and speedboats - the latter being tiny lightweight craft equipped with powerful motors:

Slow Boat
Many people go from Chiang Khong in Thailand to the Laotian border town of Huay Xai, and then down the Mekong to the marvellous city (if you can call a town of 50,000 a city) of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The journey takes 2 days and is very scenic. Apart from that, it can be a torturous journey with no good food (so bring your own), sitting on hard wooden benches (bring something soft to sit), cramped and considerably hot. Some boats have considerably improved with soft used car seats and serve pre-cooked food, not great but certainly sufficient.

Slow boat on the Mekong River by Allie Caulfield

An attractive choice for some is the 6 hour journey by speedboat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. Though faster than the slow boat, it is not for the faint of heart. Expect to be crammed into a modified boat made for 4-8 people but often overloaded, along with all the luggage packed in. Expect to sit on the floor of the boat with your knees against your chin for the full 6 hours. Also expect loud engine noise behind your head and the engine to break causing the boat to stop, resulting in delays to fix it. 

Stories of overloaded speedboats sinking or hitting driftwood are common but if you are a good swimmer, take comfort in the fact that you can see both shores throughout the entire trip. The choice between the slow boat and the speedboat is largely based on your required comfort level - a slow unpleasant trip or a faster but more dangerous trip. Either way, the scenery along the way is gorgeous and unexploited, and Luang Prabang is an incredible city that is worth a thousand of these journeys.

Speedboat on the Mekong River by Bill Bradley

Country Guide

Laos Hotels
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Huay Xai
Louang Namtha
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