Luang Prabang, Laos

Getting In


By Boat

Boats ply the Mekong River to and from Huay Xai (near the Thai border), stopping in Pakbeng before continuing to Luang Prabang. The trip takes two days (both days about nine hours) by slow boat or six bone-rattling hours by speedboat. Expect to spend the night in Pakbeng if taking a slow boat or arrive in Luang Prabang on a speedboat deaf, shaken and exhausted. For those with a fat wallet, there is also a two-day "luxury" cruise, which costs significantly higher.

Save on your hotel -
Slow Boat
Slow boats leave everyday and the whole trip costs around 230,000 kip per person. From Huay Xai to Pakbeng, the cost is around 110,000 kip. 
Make sure you stock up on food and drinks before travelling as the on board prices are practically double (20,000 kip as opposed to 10,000 at a restaurant). Many guesthouses in Pakbeng sell small but somewhat pricey, packed lunches for the onward journey. You can purchase your tickets at the boat landing as well as tour agents, who charge a commission. It is common to switch to a different boat in Pakbeng, so you may end up in a boat of higher or lower quality for the continuing journey. 

The slow boats generally have nice comfortable car seats. It is generally packed, that there may not be enough seats - plastic chairs may be added for the unlucky late-comers. Arriving early will mean a longer day, but will likely get better seats - sitting in front gets you away from the loud engine noise. The boats travel at a pleasant 20-30 km per hour, offering nice views of nature and village life along the river. Most of the passengers are foreign tourists. Occasional locals take the boat only for short hops between the riverside villages, preferring to take the bus for the full distance from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang.

Slow Boat on the Mekong by 松岡明芳

Tickets on a speedboat cost 320,000-370,000 kip per person. The journey to Huay Xai can be reduced from six to four hours in the wet season (when the water level in the Mekong River is higher), with a lunch stop at Pakbeng. However, some consider this means of transportation less safe, especially in the dry season (when the water level is lower) with boats travelling at high speeds of 80 km come comming within a few metres of exposed rocks and boulders.

If travelling on a speedboat, a crash helmet and life-jacket will be provided. It is recommended that you make your bags waterproof or resistant as far as possible and wear a rain jacket. Earplugs are also strongly recommended. The boat can generate quite a bit of spray, plus any showers you might encounter along the way will sting like needles against any exposed skin. On sunny days, sunscreen is invaluable as there is no roof or shade on these speedboats. 

Luxury Cruise
The third option is to take a "luxury" cruise. The major operators are Luang Say ( and Nagi of Mekong ( Both operate two-day cruises between Hauy Xai and Luang Prabang with a stopover for the night in Pakbeng. Although the journey takes as long as taking the slow boat, these operators offer vastly superior facilities and equipment than public slow boats and you should be prepared to pay a premium for it. Tickets can be purchased from the travel agents and cost around 3,000,000 kip.

Mekong River in Luang Prabang by Wendy Harman

Guide to
Luang Prabang

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