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Laos forum

Crossing Laos on a small motorboat

Posted by WorldPhotographer on 2/7/2010 at 21:04

I'm traveling to Laos on a Photo Expedition in the Summer of 2011, and I'm thinking of visiting the villages along the Mekong River.

Is it possible to navigate all the way from the North (somewhere near Luang Prabang, or even further upstream) to the South (till the border to Cambodja) in one of the small typical wooden rafts (with engine)?

If not, is it possible to do it by stages, using another means of transport to make the connections (bicycle for example)?

How easy and what kind of budget would I require to rent such a raft?



#1 WorldPhotographer has been a member since 2/7/2010. Posts: 3

Posted by LaoNow on 3/7/2010 at 09:45

I would never try to float the Mekong myself without a very knowledgeable local boatsman to manage and steer the craft. The Mekong can be treacherous in places and I've seen big whirlpools that suck up tree trunks. I'd suggest chartering a variety of crafts for the trip, each owned and operated by a local man. Even the fast boats from LP to Huay Xai change drivers and boats at the half way point of Pak Beng and I think it's partly because the drivers only really know one section of the river that changes daily. I would never do any part of the river in a raft and have never seen anyone floating the Mekong on a raft. They would be too unmanageable I think. Even one of the big luxury slow boats was lost last year on the Mekong near Pak Beng. The passengers all survived but all their luggage was lost. Although the speed boats seem a bit dangerous, if you charter the whole boat I think you could coax the driver into moderating the speed and there are many of these all along the Mekong from above Huay Xai to Luang Prabang.

#2 LaoNow has been a member since 14/5/2010. Posts: 38

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Posted by MADMAC on 3/7/2010 at 13:47

I know someone who did this. It is possible. A lightweight boat with a plastic hull, flowing north to south so you don't fight the current... but you will have to probably have to portage it in certain areas (hence lightweight). But it can be done. Like all big rivers, the Mekong has some hazards (as Lao Now mentioned) so if you have aren't experienced with river travel then I would definitely hire someone to assist you. Also, the surface of the river is technically under the control of Laos, so if you try to land in Thailand you have entered illegally. My friend was stopped on his transit near Nakhon Phanom by Laotian authorities but even though he had a Thai visa they let him travel on wihthout a problem.

#3 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
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Posted by WorldPhotographer on 3/7/2010 at 19:18

Many thanks LaoNow and MadMac, great info on those replies.

Would the Mekong's current be higher in July or August, due to the rainy season?

When I talked about "rafts" I meant something in the line of the speedboats. A craft secure enough to carry me and the photo equipment, fast enough to fight the current and with agility to stop in the river banks. I would hire a local driver obviously, preferably someone with a lot of knowledge of the river and the villages.

But hiring someone to carry me from Huay Xai to Veun Kham (in the border of Cambodja) would mean he had to sleep and eat somewhere. I was thinking of sleeping and eating in the villages, which means he probably would have to do the same.

I have one month to spend in the expedition. Would that be enough to cover all the Laos Mekong?

What kind of agreement could I do with the boat driver? What would be an acceptable price per day? $30?

Many thanks once again,


#4 WorldPhotographer has been a member since 2/7/2010. Posts: 3

Posted by LaoNow on 4/7/2010 at 12:30

I'd be surprised if you could get one Lao person with a boat to guide and take you the whole length of the Mekong in Laos. Remember he's got to get back home and that would be without a paying passenger. They also seem to have boat registration and checkpoints along the way and maybe a norther registered boat wouldn't be allowed to carry passengers (especially foreign) in the south. They have a system of flagging down boats for lifts on the Mekong by waving a towel or heavy cloth overhead in a circular fashion to let passing boats know there is a paying passenger waiting. I'd just go from one village to another using this system or by hiring local speedboats. If lucky the boat that stops to carry you might take you to his own village. When you're staying in villages with 20 cute kids huddled around staring at you, you need to have entertainment for them. I carry little balloon helicopter kits to pass out and am learning Origami folding so I can teach the little squirts how to fold a hat, an airplane or make pinwheels. Card tricks and magic acts work too.

#5 LaoNow has been a member since 14/5/2010. Posts: 38

Posted by WorldPhotographer on 4/7/2010 at 17:07

Perfect!!! Just what I was looking after!

It might be a little risky in terms of planning, since I'll never know if there are boats available all the time, in every length of the Mekong, but the unknown adds to the experience.

Good tips on entertaining the kids. Last year I volunteered in Sri Lanka, giving photography classes to professional photographers and English classes to kids of all ages. I also learned that a ball can do lots for playing, and that our family pictures are a great way to gather everyone around. I'm thinking of taking a portable printer to give some pics to the villagers... something they can cherish and remember for a long time.

Anyway, thanks a lot for helping. I'm sure I'll spend a lot of time in these forums before leaving to Laos... one year from now.

Do you know where I can get a detailed map of Laos, with small villages included?

#6 WorldPhotographer has been a member since 2/7/2010. Posts: 3

Posted by MADMAC on 4/7/2010 at 18:03

30 dollars a day, plus food and lodging, would be good earnings for a lot of Laotian guys. So at your start point, you might spend a day or two and just see if it can be done (diring someone to take you the length of the river). If yes, great. If no, then as LaoNow suggested, you could do it in legs and where you couldn't pick up a boat, you could take a bus to the next town where you might try again. You could probably make it down river in 5 days, so 30 days should be plenty to take your time and get a lot of photos. As I said, my friend did this, and he spoke no Thai or Laotian, he had no permits or permission... he just bought a small plastic boat, modified it and off he went. He did have a lot of river boating experience however.

#7 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
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