There are a few ways to get to Laos from Thailand. One of them is by taking a boat ride down the Mekong River from Chiang Rai, northern Thailand, to Luang Prabang, Laos. Nicknamed the slow boat, this scenic journey will take you two days to get to your destination. The boat is usually packed with tourists, but you’ll find about a quarter of locals who board and disembark along the way.
Crossing the border into Laos
The immigration office is no longer at Chiang Khong. The new office, that opened in 2013, is a 20-minute ride from Chiang Khong. If you are taking the boat on the same day you cross the border, get there early. The shuttle bus leaves at 8:30 AM sharp, so you should plan to be there 45 - 60 minutes ahead of time. Once you get to immigration, they will stamp you out of Thailand and you can grab the shuttle for a 10-minute ride across the bridge. Once on the Laos side, go directly to the VOA (Visa On Arrival) office and apply for your 30-day visa (if required). The VOA costs 30.00 USD. It will take anywhere from 15 - 30 minutes to get your visa depending on the line.
Best seats onboard the slow boat
Once you get down to the river, there is one office to buy a ticket for the slow boats. The cost of the ticket is 220,000 KIP (27.00 USD). After your ticket is purchased, board your boat and grab a seat. The best place is near the front, as the engine is in the back and can be noisy. There is no place to buy food or drinks on the boat, so it’s best you buy everything you need ahead of time. There are plenty of places selling sandwiches for 10,000 KIP (1.25 USD) right by the boats.
Spending the night in Pakbeng
The first day of the boat ride starts from Huay Xia and stops in Pakbeng overnight. It takes about 6 hours to get there. Pakbeng is a small village that only has one street. If you didn’t book your room ahead of time, don’t fret. There will be plenty of guesthouse owners waiting at the dock waiting to sell you their place. There are a couple of restaurants in town, but most places close by 9:00 PM. There’s a market down by the river that opens at 7:00 AM for you to grab more snacks for the second leg of your journey. You will leave Pakbeng at 9:30 AM for another 6 - 7 hours before getting into Luang Prabang.
Once in a lifetime experience
The ride is beautiful with green rolling hills the whole ride. During the first two hours, you can see Laos to the North and Thailand to the South. The boat stops off along the way to pick up and drop off locals along the way. You will witness children playing in the water and running to greet their families. The boat is filled with 25% locals. If you’re lucky, you will get to sit next to a local and get to talk with them and learn about their culture. It’s an experience you won’t forget.
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