Riding the Slow Boat in Laos

Slow boat in Laos

One of the many advantages of travelling with Stray Asia is private transportation. Along the Mekong River, Stray takes a 2-day slow boat trip, run by a local family. This allows us to travel out our own pace with plenty of room on the boat for both people and food, in stark contrast to the public boats which are often over-crowded with irregular departure times.

Stray blogger Naomi takes us on her journey…

White sand beaches in Laos along the Mekong

Did you know you can find white sand beaches in land-locked Laos?

They might not have quite the same atmosphere as the beaches in Thailand, but they do have more water buffalo!

I first saw these beaches on a slow boat trip down the Mekong, starting at the border with Thailand and ending in Luang Prabang. This is a common route for travellers to take when going from Thailand into Laos: there are buses from the border into Luang Prabang as well, but usually in the form of 15-hour journeys over bumpy roads with barely reclining seats. The boat, in contrast, is a leisurely two-day trip down the Mekong, passing hidden villages, swaying coconut palms, towering karst mountains and gold-gilded temples.

Forget the bus, then!

Slow boats in Laos

Slow boat in Laos

I started my Stray trip on the slow boat at the border town of Huay Xai, where I met the other passengers, the Stray local guide and our tour leader. While the public slow boats are infamous for hard wooden benches and bizarre drama (a friend of mine saw a woman give birth on his), we were on a private slow boat run by a local family.

It would take us three days to reach Luang Prabang, with a long boat ride in the mornings, and then afternoons in towns along the Mekong. The public slow boats only stop in Pakbeng for one night, but we’d spend a second night at a small village called Ban Lad Khammune for a taste of local Laos.

Mekong village scenery in Laos

Slow boat in Laos

With the quiet lapping of the river against the hull, we set off down the Mekong. Away from the border with Thailand, the landscape along the riverbanks grew wild with tall teak, waving bamboo, and fruiting banana trees.

As our guide told us about life in Laos, the river became the backdrop to his story. He told us about the different ethnic groups in Laos, as we passed Khmu and Lao villages hidden in the jungle along the banks; he explained the different Buddhist holidays as we passed golden pagodas with naga-shaped staircases, and pointed out water buffalo wading in the water and kids net fishing from thin wooden canoes when talking about rural life.

Water buffalo on the banks of the Mekong

Food on the Stray slow boat in Laos

Slow boat with Stray in Laos

That time on the boat was a well-needed opportunity to relax. We could talk with one another, pick the brain of our guide, read, nap, or even just gaze out at the scenery. But at lunch time – usually with fried river fish, pumpkin soup, stir-fried veggies, chicken in a Lao-style gravy and fresh fruit – the beer and lao lao whiskey came out and we had a chance to wake ourselves up with drinking games and impromptu karaoke.

Surprisingly, both are very vital components of life in Laos!

Food on the slow boat in Laos

Party on the slow boat in Laos

Party  on the slow boat in Laos

To arrive in Luang Prabang after a slow amble down the Mekong, with a chance to stop for a homestay along the way, was a perfect way for us to ease into travel in Laos.

Beaches, or no beaches.

On the Stray slow boat in Laos

The slow boat in Laos
Stray passengers fresh off the slow boat

Want to learn more about taking the slow boat with Stray? Read our Laos travel guide or check out our Laos guided travel passes!

 

NB. During the low season there are times when our smaller groups may need to join the public boat. In this circumstance, your guide will let you know in advance.

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