Chugging along the Mekong: the slow boat to Luang Prabang

Friday 8th January

Day one on the slow boat – Huay Xai to Pakbeng


As we exited the Friendship Guesthouse at 7.20 this morning, we found the owner, a forty-something year old man, fully clothed and fast asleep on the sofa in the reception area. Most amusingly, while we crept around, moving our bike and bags outside, he rolled over, saw what was going on and then shut his eyes and went back to sleep! (Though I think he was faking.) We had a chuckle once we were outside. 

We cycled about a kilometre to the docks, and waited until 8AM, when the ticket office opened. I had read that it’s better to get there early as it can be busy during some times of the year, but really today we could have very safely turned up two hours later. It cost us 540,000 kip (about £45) to transport the two of us and our bike down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang.

The slow boats (only one of these would be departing today. Apparently the captains take it in turns).  

We were both wondering where the bike was going to go. It turned out that it was put on the roof without much problem. 


We had a few hours to kill, which we filled by finding a packed lunch, walking around and chatting with some of the other passengers. 

We boarded at 10.15, and the boat gradually filled up. We were due to leave at 11, but unsurprisingly didn’t start until 11.35, with people arriving right up to the last minute. A nice guy called Yanan came and sat next to us, and we spent quite a lot of the boat ride talking to him, and learning a lot of interesting things about China. 

Some views from the Mekong.   


The boat ride lasted until 5.30, and was beautiful and also a bit dull at times (no matter how pretty it is, it’s still 6 hours sitting, watching the scenery go by).   


We arrived in a tiny place called Pakbeng, which more or less only existed to cater to tourists who were taking the slow boats to and from Luang Prabang. 


It is essentially a 700 metre long strip lined with guest houses and restaurants, which has apparently only had 24 hour electricity for a year or two. Laos people are there as you disembark, trying to get you to come to their guesthouse. 

We were one of the last to get off the boat as we thought they would want to take the bike off the roof last, but when we disembarked we couldn’t find it. We climbed the flight of steps up from the dock, and there it was, waiting for us at the top! Two guys were there, it looked like they had carried it up for us. 

We said thanks, and as we turned to go one of them said “Tip.” Now we understood. 

Feeling a bit flustered, I handed them each 1000 kip. As we walked away I realised how little money this was. We went back to try and find them to give them more, but they were gone. I felt really guilty. Since then I’ve realised that I keep mistaking 1000 for 10000 and vice versa. These zeros are a bit confusing. 

First world guilt aside, the rest of the evening was nice. We had dinner with Yanan in an Indian restaurant. 

Lots of people so far seem to love our bicycle horn. We returned to our guesthouse to find the owner tooting it. 

The sun setting.  

Saturday 9th January

Day two on the slow boat – Pakbeng to Luang Prabang


This morning we saw an elephant and its mahoot strolling along the river bank.

The boat started earlier today, at 8.30. The weather was overcast and chilly, and having sent our jackets back we resorted to wearing all of of our T-shirts. 

I won’t go on too much, as essentially it was 8 and a half hours on a boat. Here’s some pictures.    

We arrived between 4.30 and 5 at docking area which looked very small and unlike the dock of a city. The captain helped Eric fetch down the bike, and, with yesterday’s guilty conscience still weighing on my mind, I gave him a good tip!

Sometimes it’s useful having a strong boyfriend. Eric carried the tandem and the panniers single-handedly up a steep flight of stairs, while I followed behind, only coming in use when I yelled: “Excuse me… excuse me… EXCUSE ME!” to the dozy people blocking off the top of the stairs. 

(Before I start to sound too smug, the payoff of having a strong boyfriend is having to listen to him talk about what he did at the gym, what he plans to do next at the gym, what he can lift, what his friends can lift, his PBs, his friends’ PBs, the new exercise he learned about on YouTube, every vaguely notable event of any weightlifting competition, his ponderings on the subjects of whey, quark, creatine, eggs and “meeting your macros”, the detailed intricacies of how many sets and how many reps, talk on squats squats squats squats squats… I’m like the weightlifting equivalent of a passive smoker.)

Sorry. Anyway, so Eric carried the bike up the stairs. 

The boat actually dropped us off 8 kilometres from Luang Prabang, so we cycled the last bit. 

Crossing a bridge into the city. 

We found our guesthouse. While I was signing in, the lady at the front desk told us that her partner of eleven years had just run off with a 15-year-old girl. 

“Oh no! That’s terrible!” I exclaimed.

I then tried to leave an appropriately respectful silence before asking if I should write down my visa number.

I could feel Eric quietly attempting to stay in the background, away from the “all men are pigs” danger zone. Though once we had reached our room, he wasted no time in informing me that she should “find herself a nice farang”. Yes dear. 

We’ve got two days to see Luang Prabang before hopping on the bike and heading south. 


2 thoughts on “Chugging along the Mekong: the slow boat to Luang Prabang

  1. Just read something on Sheldon Brown that suggests you’re underplaying your rank. Seems the person on the back of a tandem isn’t merely a Captain but is more properly termed a “Rear Admiral”. Especially appropriate for all that time spent on boats lately.

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