The Slow Boat to Laos

If you don’t fancy reading the post, and would rather watch the video, then scroll down to the bottom 🙂

We recently undertook the three day/two night journey from Thailand to Laos.

We had heard mixed reviews about the journey, some people were of the opinion “don’t do it-just fly,” while the majority of people that we spoke to said that the slow boat to Laos is an experience that is not to be missed out on.

Getting ready to leave Thailand

Getting ready to leave Thailand

We are not ones to miss out on an adventure, so we obviously went with the latter option!

There was a limited amount of information to be found on the internet when researching the slow boat journey to Laos.

Yes, there were a number of blog posts on the subject but very few of them gave valuable information regarding the technicalities of the trip.

The Start of the 2 day slow boat journey

The Start of the 2 day slow boat journey

And so, a little light bulb appeared above my head and I thought I should put a post together giving you guys all the information you need should you embark on a slow boat journey from Thailand to the beautiful country of Laos.

It was icy cold early in the mornings

It was icy cold early in the mornings

The following is a brief insight into our journey!

Who did we book with?                                                      

The tour company we booked with was “Wandering Star Tour,” their office is situated on the same street as the popular coffee shop “Dada Kafe” in Chiang Mai.

The total fare we paid was 1700 baht each, which included the following:

  • All transport (bus fares and slow boat fare)
  • Accommodation for the first night
  • Dinner on the first night
  • Breakfast on the first morning
  • Lunch on day 2
Gianni + Ivana from Nomadisbeautiful.com

Gianni + Ivana from Nomadisbeautiful.com

There were pros and cons to our experience with this company.

Pros:

  • The entire trip was pretty well organized. Anyone who has traveled through S.E. Asia knows that border crossings can be somewhat stressful! Getting the visa at this border was hassle-free as there was someone there to direct us and explain to us what we needed to do.
  • All of the bus drivers and tour guides had good English which made things a lot easier for us when we had any questions or concerns.
  • We got to make a quick stop at the White Temple in Chiang Rai on our way to Chiang Khong. This was a bonus for us as we had wanted to visit it but we didn’t get around to seeing it during our time in Chiang Mai.
  • The guesthouse on the first night had facilities that allowed people to get dollars and their passport pictures taken, both of which are requirements for the visa.

Cons:

  • We were told that we would be picked up from our guesthouse in Chiang Mai between 10:00 am and 10:30 am. However, the mini bus didn’t arrive until 10:55 am and it was overly cramped with people and backpacks.
  •  As stated above, the first nights’ accommodation was included in the price. We’re not fussy when it comes to accommodation, all we look for is a clean room with a clean bed and basic facilities. Well, we didn’t get what we wanted!!

The building itself was a renovated prison. Our room had hatches in the walls, mattresses that were as hard as concrete, smelly sheets, a dirty toilet, a sink in the bedroom and padlocks on the doors.

The food provided was also very poor and we choose to have dinner in the village instead.

Our prison cell for the overnight part of the trip

Our prison cell for the overnight part of the trip

Prison cell - complete with pigeon hole!

Prison cell – complete with pigeon hole!

Prisoner Cell Block A4

Prisoner Cell Block A4

  • As with a lot of tours that we’ve done here in Asia, the itinerary just didn’t materialize in reality! Most of the departure times we were given were delayed by at least an hour, and there was a lot of time wasted waiting around for the entire group to reach the pier.
  • The guide gave us false information regarding certain aspects of the trip.

The itinerary

Day one:

10:00am – 10:30am          Pick up from Hotel/Guesthouse.

12:00 noon                          Visit Wat Rongkhun (White Temple)

12:20                                     Leave the White Temple and depart for Chiang khong.

15:00                                     Arrive in Chiang khong and spend the night here.

Day two:

7:00                                        Breakfast

7:45                                        Check-out

8:00                                        Cross Border and complete the immigration process.

9:00                                        Take a mini bus to the pier.

10:30                                     Slow boat will depart for Pagbang.

17:00                                     Arrive in Pagbang and stay here overnight.

Day three:

09:00                                     The slow boat will leave for Luang Prabang.

17:00                                     Arrive in Luang Prabang.

The reality of the situation was that the time schedule that’s outlined above was way off the mark! I think it’s only used as a rough guideline and none of the staff members really aim to keep to it.

The only thing you can be absolutely sure of is that the journey does take 3 days/2 nights to complete.

Visa Requirements for Laos

A crisp Laos visa for 30 days

A crisp Laos visa for 30 days

In order to get a visa for Laos, you must have three things with you when you get to the border:

  1. One passport photo
  2. Visa fee
  3. Your original passport that has at least six months of remaining validity and a blank page for the visa stamp.

The cost of the visa varies depending on what country you come from, click here to find out more information about getting a visa on arrival in Laos.

The Boat

We had heard conflicting things about the conditions of the slow boat, some people said it was comfortable while others said it was a nightmare.

One of hundreds of these boat houses we met along the way

One of hundreds of these boat houses we met along the way

Personally, I was pleasantly surprised with the level of comfort that we had, especially on the first boat trip.

The boat was really clean and comfortable, there were car seats that were divided into sections of four (two facing two), and a table placed in the middle of them.

The table is especially useful if you want to play card games or get some work done on the laptop.

Catching up on some books

Catching up on some books

The boat that we had on day three was not as comfy. Half of the boat was car seats and the other half were wooden benches. We arrived at the pier at 8:00 am and thought we would have no problem in securing a car seat.

Well, we were wrong! The boat was already almost full so we had to settle with a wooden bench for the eight hour journey.

There were a number of people who had to end up sitting on the floor so the wooden benches didn’t seem so bad to us in the end.

Some local kids at one of the stops along the journey

Some local kids at one of the stops along the journey

Tips

The following are some things I would recommend, some of which I wish I knew before we did our journey:

  • If the guide tells you that you will not be able to get food or drink at the pier…he’s lying. There is a shop there that sells delicious chicken baguettes, drinks and snacks.
  • On day three, you’ll need to arrive at the pier really early if you want to bag yourself a comfy car seat.
  • Bring a cushion with you or buy one at the pier. It will prove to be very useful if you have to sit on the floor or on the wooden benches.
  • Try and get a seat that is situated in the middle section of the boat. It can be very noisy at the back of the boat with the engine and sitting at the front will make you susceptible to very windy and cold conditions.
  • There is tea/coffee, drinks and light snacks available to purchase on the boat.
  • If you want to sleep on the boat, earplugs/headphones are a must! The noise of the engine mixed with the chatters of 60 people does not make for ideal sleeping conditions.
  • Bring your own toilet roll…don’t think I need to explain why!!
  • Layer up on your clothes. It does get extremely cold on the boat at times and the more layers you’ve got on, the better. Socks is also a good idea as you must take off your shoes as soon as you get onto the boat.
The scenery was spectacular the whole trip

The scenery was spectacular the whole trip

Conclusion

If you want to go from Thailand to Laos and time isn’t an issue you have to worry about, you must to take the slow boat.

It was a great experience and some of the views that we got to witness were truly amazing.

It’s also a great way to meet new people and swap stories with like-minded travelers who are on the same path as you.

Our stop over villiage

Our stop over villiage

I’m so glad that we did the slow boat journey into Laos, it’s actually something that I’d like to do again! Get in touch if you’ve any questions or comments about anything that’s mentioned in this post.

Enjoy the trip if you ever take it! It's amazing!

Enjoy the trip if you ever take it! It’s amazing!

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About the Author


Carlo and Florence are an Irish couple who left home in 2013 to pursue their dreams of travelling the world while building an online business so that they could work from anywhere. They've both visited over 50 countries together so far. Stay in touch with them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat.

5 Responses to “The Slow Boat to Laos”

  1. Audrey says:

    Thanks for the tips! I’m doing this same journey in about a week’s time. I will most certainly be early on both mornings to snag one of the comfy seats! 😉

    • Carlo says:

      Yeah, it’s definitely worth getting there that bit earlier for that reason alone Audrey. The back of the boats were really loud, and the front were quite cold in the mornings. So I guess the sweet spot(seats) would be in middle of the boat 🙂

  2. Sam says:

    Sounds like a loooong journey! And how strange you stayed in a prison cell! I did a six or seven hour slow boat ride from Luang Prabang further north in Laos and that was long enough. Definitely some spectacular scenery, though!

  3. Brittany says:

    This looks waaaaaaaay more relaxing than going by motorbike! I think we’ll opt for this next time 😉 Glad you made it safely! Enjoy!!

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