4/24/2019 0 Comments
There is much to love about the city of Luang Prabang in Laos.
It sits at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it’s definitely picturesque. It also retains considerable French influence, has great food and every morning Buddhist monks walk the streets for the daily alms giving ceremony (tak bat).
After Thailand, we spent five days in this small city in north central Laos. I really liked the area and could have maybe stayed longer; however, it ended up being a good thing that we only planned for five nights.
It’s the burning season (a period when farmers in northern Thailand, Laos and Vietnam burn their crops to replenish the soil) so the city was pretty much sitting in a haze of smoke -- to the point where you could sometimes barely see across the river. Staying any longer than we did would have been hard on the lungs.
We also opted not to travel around Laos. We were worn out from our month in Thailand and overland travel is much more challenging in this less developed country.
But despite the smoke and short stay, we had a great time. Laos is a fascinating country that we knew little about so it offered lots of interesting and wonderful surprises.
And After Laos...
We flew to Da Nang, Vietnam and then headed to An Bang, a little beach village outside Hoi An. This is a special spot for us but that's a story for another day. In the meantime, get a peak at our Vietnam adventures by checking out LJ's Hoi An food tour video...and be prepared to get hungry!
How to take a slow boat from Thailand to Laos
How to get from Chiang Rai, Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos
1. Get up early and head to the Chiang Rai Bus Station to take the 6 a.m. bus to Chiang Khong.
Cost: 65 baht ($2 US)/person
2. Don’t take the bus all the way to Chiang Khong. It will drop you off on the side of the road a few kilometres away and there will be tuk tuks waiting. Take one to the border.
Cost: 50 baht ($1.50 US)/person
3. Clear through the Thai border.
4. Take the bus over the friendship bridge. Foreigners are not allowed to walk across so you have to take the bus. There’s a ticket office and a waiting bus as soon as you come out of the border control area.
Cost: 20 baht ($0.60 US)/person
5. Get a Laos visa ($30-45 US depending on what country you’re from), exchange some Thai Baht for Lao Kip and then clear the Laos border.
6. Ignore all the guys that try to sell you a taxi and boat ticket package. They’ll tell you you’ll save money and that if you don’t buy their package, you’ll miss the boat. You won’t. We just walked past them and asked for a truck taxi to the pier. You may have to wait for it to have 8 people, which can take some time because most people buy the package and only locals take the regular taxi. Don't panic. We asked our driver to leave with six people and he did. Got there at the same time as everyone else.
Cost: 20,000 Kip ($2.30 US)/person
7. Go into the ticket office at the pier and buy a slow boat ticket.
Cost: 190,000 Kip ($22 US)/person
8. Stock up on snacks (there is beer, coffeee and chips for sale on the boat, but most people bring their own supply) and get on the boat.
9. You spend about six hours on the boat then stop in Pakbeng for the night. Don’t bother pre-booking accommodations in Pakbeng. When I looked online rooms were triple what I ended up paying as a walk in. Pakbeng is a tiny village that is pretty much built around the daily slow boats so there are lots of guesthouses. We just went up to the first place we saw and got a decent room for $12 US.
Cost: $12 US
10. In the morning, buy some tasty baguette sandwiches and snacks for the ride (they're sold everywhere). The boat leaves at 9 a.m. and sails for another seven to eight hours. It will let you off just before Luang Prabang and you’ll have to take a truck taxi to the centre of town. From there, you can walk to most accommodations.
Cost: 20,000 Kip ($2.30 US)
Total cost: $31 US/person (plus $10-20 US/room for accommodation in Pakbeng and $30-45 US/person for the Laos visa)
* For comparison, our hostel in Chiang Rai was selling the same pre-packaged journey (involving almost all the same steps and also not including visa or accomodations) for $53 US. For a family of four you'd save almost $100 doing it on your own!