We got into Luang Prabang last night after an interesting two days on the slow boat from Chiang Khong.
A few things I noticed that should be kept in mind when venturing down the Mekong into Laos.
Firstly, after Laos customs they may try to tell you that Pak Bang (the overnight stop between day one and two) doesn't accept anything except Kip (so no Thai Baht, no US $). this is untrue, they give youa horrible exchange rate (about 6300 kip to $1US, when actually the exchange is about 8000 kip to $1 US). They actually do take US $ and Thai Baht in Pakbang so don't worry overly.
Secondly (I'm not sure if this happens year round or just because the river is really low right now) about half way through on the first day they pulled the boat over and said that they could not continue because the water was too low. They explained it in the must un-trustworthy way ever though, starting by offering speed boat rides for 800 baht (they didnt say where to though). they then tried to convince us all to walk to another waiting slow boat about 20 minutes down the river. We couldn't see the slow boat though and they wanted us to put our rucksacks into the speed boat and walk. most people wound up walking down the river with their rucksacks on their backs, (about 85 people) 6 of us stayed on the boat and wound up getting a free ride with the drivers to the waiting slow boat.
I would suggest for this if it does happen to you, negotiating with the speed boat drivers and having as many people as possible load their rucksacks onto the speed boat with one person (one tourist) to make sure they get their safely, and the rest walking down the river. The drivers know very little english and have a hard time getting across what they actually want to. I would suggest having a translation book for Laos to try and get more information.
the other thing, Pak Bang is a very small town, smaller then Chiang Khong from what I saw. Take your time looking for a guesthouse for the night, we picked one of the first along the road and it turned out to have bed bugs AND ticks in the room. we sort of checked the mattress, but it was a really cheap hotel (400 baht for two rooms). I wound up sleeping on the floor (luckily we brought air mattresses) and woke up with bed bug bites in a line all down my face and the side of my arm.
- The best time of year do to this would be november to janruary, much more to see and more water in the river.
- bring a blanket (and if you want an air matress). it gets quite chilly on the boat during the day (the matress is nice as the benches are horrible and most people wound up napping on the wooden floor)
- bring a translation book for Laos
- don't change your money until you get into Luang Prabang, you'll wind up getting royally ripped off.
- in Pak Bang, cheap is the way to go for a hotel room!
- bring food and water on the boat as the charge almost double for drinks and offer little to no food for sale.
- get onto the boat early tog et a good seat (at least an hour before scheduled departure)
Hope this helps!!
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