Since travelling across Asia I’ve been on my fair share of buses, trains, motorbikes, tuk tuks and ferries – but one of my favourite methods of transport so far had to be the slow boat from Thailand to Laos. It was one of the most effortless, chilled out journeys I have had since first coming away all those months ago and I would really recommend it to anyone who has the time and inclination to spend two days on a boat floating down the Mekong. It’s a completely different and relatively stress-free way to cross the border while combining a chance to meet fellow backpackers, travellers and locals with seeing the true beauty of the Laos landscape. Now I won’t lie to you, I have heard other backpackers say they have tried this route and have had rather less fun boats – one couple spoke of a girl who decided to get the boat when she was tripping her nut off on some kind of hallucinogen. Others said the people on their boat were boring or not very friendly – I like to give a balanced view where I can but my experience was the best it could have been.
For a small price (I’m sorry I can’t remember exactly how much, but it’s great value) you get a bus from Pai (with a terrifying driver) to the border town where you spend a night in rooms at a guest house. Breakfast is included then you head to the border where you are pushed through like cattle, pay any fines for overstaying and get your new visa. Our group were also given a chance to swap any leftover money for dollars and to sort out our paperwork ahead of time. After a couple more buses and arriving at the port, we grabbed some food for the ride and some beers, then climbed aboard the longboat. It was made up of a long line of comfy seats and we all squeezed in up at the front, meeting some loud Australians and English along the way. That first day was a blur of singing silly songs, chatting about where we had all travelled, laughing at one of the guys who got sneezed on by a local and a few beers along the way. It was gorgeous to watch outside of the boat where the landscape was empty except for rolling hills, deserted beaches, rocky cliff faces and occasionally some naked, local children playing and giggling in the river.
I was pretty lucky with the crowd I had on my boat – I had the opportunity to spend two days with some of the most intelligent, artistic and talented individuals I have come across. I spent my time flitting between conversations about literature and plays, to playing silly games and singing along to the guitar that was constantly being played. One amazingly talented woman, who was backpacking with her daughter, sat quietly in a corner sketching and painting the scene at the front of the boat without us even realising until I spotted her hard at work. She had been doing this series of paintings along her travels and kept them as a kind of travel diary – a beautiful and original way to hold on to the memories that I wished I had the artistic talent for. It was so lovely to see how in a situation where there is no wifi, everyone reverts back to the ways we entertained ourselves as kids in the 90’s – by reading, being artistic, playing games and not instantly turning away to plug ourselves into music or a TV. It was so refreshing.After we spent six hours on the boat that first day, we arrived at a tiny town where we would spend the night at another guest house (not included in the price but cheap options available just no,d on for arrival rather than taking the first one offered). It was lovely and I ended up with my own double room with private bathroom! The gang headed out for dinner which I won’t lie was a pretty disappointing meal, and chose an early night – all exhausted from our time in Thailand. The next morning, our breakfast was included in the package, and we could pay extra for lunch to take with us. Heading back on to the boat, this time we had a different one with a more comfortable layout and bigger seats – this was even more chilled out than the day before and I had plenty of time to finish my book. We expected to spend around 8 hours on the boat this day but were pleasantly surprised when we had arrived after just six hours. We all parted ways for our guest houses and headed into Luang Prabang by tuk tuk.
A two day boat trip isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time but it does offer you a totally different perspective of Laos that you don’t get otherwise – you get to see the country in its raw, natural state. A rare treat for those who stick to visiting Vang Vieng and Vientienne. For those who get sea sick, this is not an issue. The boat moves to smoothly and slowly that you would really struggle to feel ill – plus you are well distracted while on the boat. You can buy beers and snacks on the boat but go prepared with lunch and cheaper snacks, and don’t worry, there is a toilet. If touchable a choice of sticking to the roads or doing the journey by boat, you’re a hell of a lot safer and more comfortable by boat. Trust me, those drivers are nuts and you won’t get a moment of rest or sleep on those buses. The slow boat offers you a good chance to slow down for few days, because no doubt you partied as hard as I did in Pai, and to rest before starting again in Laos.
Have you travelled by slow boat – what did you think of the journey? What is your favourite mode of transport when you travel?