Boat down the Mekong River

The past two days have pretty much been spent on a boat floating slowly down the Mekong river from Thailand to Laos. They say “slow boat” but really it isn’t too slow, if we hit something it would do some damage… Ha! But overall it wasn’t slow but it wasn’t fast. At some points we hit a few rapids that were pretty unpredictable and splashed a bit of water up into the boat of course giving everyone a laugh and an “ooooo and an ahhh” effect.

Overall the boats moved pretty quick, but in retrospect I guess over the course of two days it can be called a slow boat. And we parked half way through to spend the night in a little village that sold over priced food and overpriced accommodations. Supply and demand was the excuse I supposed. None the less the sleepy little village was a nice break from the boat, and made the trip complete as I was able to converse with my new Chinese friends over a hot meal and power outages.

Over the course of the two days on the river we passed through different villages. It was beautiful to see the landscape and the people. The bamboo huts and the men out on their skinny boats fishing. there was vast space between each village so it made a good mix for the adventure.

I am editing some notes that I had written about the course of the past three days. But I wanted to just say a few things the best part of travel is meeting people.

I will say that time and again. As much as I love being alone and out in the world traveling, when I meet some people that I find interesting it makes a world of a difference. This trip was one of those instances; I just met some amazing women from Argentina and a hand full of people from China and four folks from Germany on the boat. Over the course of two days I spent time with the Chinese people last night for a dinner, and tonight I met up with the guys from Germany and the Argentina girls. Our time together was short but I hope to stay connected to them some how or another. I feel throughout my journey over the past two years that this is the number one question I get asked. What is your favorite part of travel? My answer. Meeting the people.

All of our stories were unique and interesting, we had lots to share and learn from each other. All rewarding and interesting stories, I’d say in the big picture of life It was a fast education on a slow boat down the Mekong.

Sandstone cliff. Mekong River. Laos

local man on the mountain over looking the docked boats.

Mekong River boat dock. laos

Crossing the border from Thailand to Laos over the Mekong Rver

The process from Chiang Khong, Thailand over the Mekong River to Hauy Xai, Laos including check out and check in to the other side can be easy but also easy to miss a step, so hopefully this post will give insight on the steps you need to go through.

Once you are in Chiang Khong, you will be excited or you should be. For me I was tired and warn down from the two months in Thailand, but was feeling the blood rush as I was embarking on a new country.Depending on the means of transportation you are traveling by, more than likely if you are coming from another region the driver will drop you off on the main soi/street short of the docks. If so, you can grab a tuk tuk taxi- or walk down to customs about half a kilometer from the main drop off. From the main road, walk down the hill, stop to the left of the boat ramp at a small blue building with an overhang where you will see people filling out papers on the left and people coming up from the Mekong River and singing in on the right. Not hard to miss. Grab a form, fill out the exit requirements give your passport through the small window to the person in the customs office. You won’t need any money to exit, so hold tight, the official will review your stay and if everything is ok, they will stamp you out of Thailand.

After you are stamped out you can walk down to get a boat taxi over the river.
Then proceed down till you see some steps down to the river bank. At the waters shore are a line of taxi boats, you will see some locals sitting under a tent charging a fixed 40 Baht charge to travel across the Mekong into Huay Xai Laos. Buy the ticket, no point in negotiating, they know you NEED to cross and are not lowering their price. It’s only a five minute boat ride.

From the top of Chiang Khong, looking over the Mekong River to Laos and taxi boats.

Leaving Thailand
After buying a ticket you walk to any boat that is open, sit down on the wobbling boat, try not to be that person who falls. It happens, I saw someone spill. and get comfortable, or at least try. The trip across is a quick 5 minutes, enjoy the breeze. Once  you pick which boat to get on to remember try not to over pack all your friends into one boat, as you and your luggage will weigh it down and heaps of water will splash up into the boat as you cross. It is not fun with the water gets into the boat, I’ve seen people bucketing water out, and travelers getting their gear soaked. Just keep your backpack on, and sit one person to a bench as they are only about one meter/yard wide.

my taxi boat pulling away from the river banks of Chiang Khong thailand0

That is Thailand. Behind me is Laos, under me is the Mekong river. above me is the universe. I am here to explore them all.

Then on the other side enjoy and smile as you take your first step off the boat onto Laotian soil.

My first step into Laos from the taxi boat.

Oh yes this happens everyday here at this location I was told by an offical. People in a hurry to cross the river from Thailand to Laos forget or simply just walk past the customs check point in Chiang Khong to board the 40 Baht water taxi across the Mekong River, waiting line and find out an hour later that they have to go back and check out of Thailand. From my experience it was couple from England standing in front of me on the Laos side, like everyone else they waited in line had their entrance paper work ready and visa on arrival forms but were turned to go back across the border to get signed/stamped out of Thailand.

This was inevitably not just a hassle for them to go back across the Mekong river, up the banks wait in line check out walk through the process all over again but they lost time and missed their slow boat. thus had to spend the night in the city they hadn’t planned on and taking an extra day off their thirty day visa plans.

Checking into Customs in Huay Xai, Laos
Once off the old narrow taxi boat, Walk up the cement boat ramp, head right up some stairs, walk to the window that says VISA ON ARRIVAL  It is hear that you will fill out two different pieces of paperwork one small, one large, hand over your passport, one small ID photo, Depending on what country you come from the fee varies a few dollars, for US citizens it is 35 US Dollars. Then wait for them to review your document. You are granted a thirty day Visa on arrival. laos visa

Welcome to Laos. Visa on Arrival

Once you are checked into Huay Xai, Laos, head further up the narrow road to a second checkpoint
Yes a second check point so keep your passport out. It is just a precaution for them to make sure everyone checked in so hand your passport to the guard. He will review the passport, they double check your documentation then waive you through. Make your way to the top of the street to a three way intersection. if you go any further you will be walking up over 100 steps to a temple.

if you have come to thses steps rejoice you are now checked fully into Laos.

 So stop there and breath, then turn around and look at Thailand across the mighty Mekong River.

Stand proud traveler, you made it! Pat yourself on the back or give your buddy and a local a high five.

My helpful experience buying a ticket and boarding the boat down the Mekong River.

Ok, hopefully you can learn from this to make your buying and boarding process faster.  You are now in LAOS maybe you came over in the morning, or you spent the previous night in Laos for this it really doesn’t matter as long as you are here now and want to buy your ticket. For me it was an experience in itself.

From the top of the street where customs is where you will need to take a left and start you walk or grab a taxi. It’s about two kilometers up the road so grab a Songthaew/taxi. I had time, so I walked.  For time purposes spend some extra cash, hire a Songthaew alone or with other travelers. Most likely a few are going to the Mekong slow boat dock to purchase tickets anyway.

Once dropped off at the main intersection you will pass by many shops cooking up some delicious Laotian noodles, sticky rice meals, cheap instant coffee, packaged snacks and lots of BeerLao. Remember it’s a border down and the prices flex with the supply and demand. Keep walking down. Buy your Mekong River Slow Boat ticket first because the seats are numbered.  You’ll want to get your seat as close to the front as you can, that would mean as far away from the loud motor in the back. It is possible to b sitting in the motor room on packed boats.

Where is the ticket office? Do they still have tickets? I heard they are sold out!

The ticket office is some what hidden with no direct signs, as of when I last checked.  Confused and looking around you will be spotted by men trying to sell you tickets from their store front or back pocket, but stick to the plan, the office will have tickets for you at cost price. Keep walking, down the main road, literally down to where you see the panorama  of the Mekong River.

Then you will see the last restaurant on your right and the boat ticket office on the left. Head  up the stairs to the building.

Ask for the “Slow Boat to Luang Prabang” depending on the time of the year and who is running the show, tickets may vary slightly. But you’ll be looking at 800-900 Thai Baht, or 150,000 Laos Kip around 25-27 US dollars. In Laos you may use Lao kip, US Dollars and Thai baht. Your choice.

Yes you have your ticket!! Now what?
Go find your seat. Head down the hill, find out on the ticket which boat is yours. There will be a line of boats docked, Depending on the season the number varies. I was boat number 003 Seat 1, the first in line and the fist on the boat.

If you are not the first and you are among the hordes of travelers relax, you have made it this far, walk your way down docking ground, walk up the narrow 3 meter plank  watch your head and step onto the wooden floors of the Mekong River’s finest of travel boats.

Find your seat. Easy, they are numbered, the numbers are in accordance to your ticket stub. From the front of the boat Rule of thumb is the seats start in the rows facing forward from 1,2  split by the isle then 3,4. The next row 5,6  with an isle, 7,8 and so on all the way back to the mini snack bar, toilet and motor in the back.

However the seats that are 71-90 are in the front, but face inward to give you a view of the persons face sitting across from you. From my experience the worst seats were not seats at all, a group of European guys had to sit on some luggage in the engine room behind the toilet. It was awfully hot and loud and exhausting- pun intended.

Alone or with friends, either way you’ll meet interesting people so where ever you sit, be open to having a conversation to help pass the time.

Once on board  get comfortable, or at least try.  You will be on for 6-10 hours until you arrive in PakeBeng where you will all have to get out, happily for an overnight stay.