Published: July 22nd 2012July 21st 2012
The slow boat from thailand to Laos has been a popular journey for backpackers for a while and recently has also become really popular amongst all travelers. It consists of a two day journey down the Mekong river in long but narrow wooden boats that, from what i could tell, are owned by families who live on the boats and take passengers up and down the river. If you kept going on the river, you would eventually end up in Vietnam. The boat ride is long (about 6 hours each day) and depending on whether you get a seat or not, can be a little uncomfortable (the seats are just old car seats bolted down). While the boats could probably hold 70 to 80 people, they tend to cram closer to a hundred on them. There are stories of people who kind of rebel and demand another boat when it gets really full, but our boats both were not overpacked but definitely full.
The boat ride is half of the journey. Getting there is also a bit of journey. I had booked my arrangements through an agency and again overpaid but the ease of everything was worth it.
A five hour bus ride from Chiang Mai gets you to the border where we spent the night in Chiang Kong with a riverfront room but they had also crammed three of us into the room with two beds without giving much of an option. Luckily one of the beds was a queen and one of the guys was a British guy I had met in Sukhothai so it wasn't so awkward. The border crossing and boat across the river into Laos was a typical slow and incredibly inefficient process. Lots of lines, waiting and more waiting and we finally were on the boat ready for the next two days.
We were not luckily enough to get a seat the first day, so we found a nice spot on the ground and hunkered down. I came prepared with a cushion as I had a feeling we would be without a seat, but I still ended up standing or just laying down a lot of the trip as the wood floors can only provide so much comfort sitting down. The views though were stunning and it was fun to pass by untouched villages with kids playing on the
Crossing the river from Thailand to Laos
Feels like you are being smuggled across the border haha
banks of the river, huge cattle grazing, lots of fisherman navigating the river and manning their nets, as well as watching the little guy driving the boat expertly handle a pretty dangerous river with lots of huge rocks, whirlpools and strong cross currents. Us in the back of the boat on the floor also bonded quite well (misery brings people together) and we passed the time chatting and playing endless games of "asshole" which is a variation of a game called "13" that my friends and I used to play at lunch in junior high (yes we were that cool playing cards at lunch).
We stayed the night in a village on the river that I think exist solely to house the people traveling on the boat. Nonetheless we found a place that quoted us the room price along with the price of his weed (in case their was any doubt we were in Laos - it is quite common to see weed along with "happy shakes" explicitly offered on menus) and we took the room but not the weed (3 dollars a night). We are thankful we stayed on the top floor though as the people
staying on the bottom floor had their stuff stolen from people reaching in the windows and grabbing what they could. It was something we were warned about and were really careful with.
Another day on the boat (with seats this time) with lots of sun and big rainstorms in the same hour (we even had to pull over and wait 20 minutes for a storm to pass). We finally got to Luang Prabang where we learned the Internet was not working in the entire town and might be in the next day if there was no rain... Typical developing nation.
There are more photos below