How dangerous are the speedboats, especially along the stretch of the Mekong from Xieng Kok to Huay Xai? Some guidebooks suggest that they are so dangerous that there must be an accident a day. Is this reality and should I avoid this method of travel all together?
#1 cliffmcc has been a member since 19/10/2007. Posts: 2
It's certainly not the safest way to get around -- the boats travel at tremendous speed and are pretty unstable -- very very little of the boat is in the water at any stage. The main dangers are hitting rocks, floating refuse (trees etc) and sandbars, all of which are easily obscured by the morning mist. When they do run aground (which does happen quite frequently) passengers and luggage tend to be thrown out of the boat -- at very high speed -- which is why you need to wear a helmet and life jacket. Despite what the guidebooks may say, deaths are infrequent.
If you want to come downriver from Xieng Kok, speedboat is the only option, so if you decide against using them, you'll need to backtrack via Luang Nam Tha.
#2 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,800
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I used to say that I have never actually heard of a real death from a speedboat, but recently I heard a second hand report from a woman who talked to someone in 05 or 06 who had been in an accident that was fatal to one person. So it does happen. That’s the only one I’m pretty sure of to date.
That said I’ve heard of three foreigners and innumerable Laotians, killed by insurgents on route 13 which is generally considered safe. Three deaths due to drugs, and the same number due to swimming. Unfortunately I know of no one who tracks these kind of statistics in Laos, except for road safety. Riding a motorcycle would be the most dangerous thing I can think of.
I’ve done it once so far, and I thought the boat pilot very skilled. The only damage he ever had to his boat was stress fractures from hitting the waves of a freighter too hard. The boats usually off load above Huay Xai where regular sawngthaew traffic begins.
The ride makes the speedboat to Luang Prabang seem boring. The river has a lot of volume and it isn’t very wide.
Thanks for the replies. I'm still undecided, but it does look more attractive than backtracking all the way to Luang Nam Tha and then down to Huay Xai by road. I have a time restriction and don't fancy the boat down the Nam Tha
#4 cliffmcc has been a member since 19/10/2007. Posts: 2
It is possible to catch a thai cargo boat from Xieng Kok. They are the low long wooden ones, often green.
There are usually a couple in the morning every second day.
Just wait down on the bank and bargain with the drivers. They dont stop for long so you need to be quick. Cheaper than speedboats
The lovely Chinese lady from the bungalows overlooking the Mekong can usually give a tip when ones in.
Also, you have a good change of getting one on market day which is twice a week.
But be careful, if you get a speedboat to Muang Mom, make sure you dont instead get taken to Muang Meung(sounds the same) which is just 15 minutes down the river. The we got stuck in this small beautiful village for a day and night and had to pay a couple of local lads to take us inland on their motorbikes to .....(memory fades). You need to carry the bikes across small rivers, but its beautiful
#5 maramusa has been a member since 13/11/2008. Posts: 1
I took the boat again in January of this year.
It seemed a lot less exciting this time, maybe I'm becoming jaded.
Got dropped off at Muang Mom which is easily recognisable because it is across the river from that Golden Triangle Thailand tourist trap thing. The Golden Triangle is the first major town you will see so it's very noticiable. Also Muang Mom has docks for quite a few speed boats.
The boat engine was quiet but the wind was loud. The driver and other passengers were insistant that I get off at Mom and no where else. The road from Mom cuts across the peninusala to Huay Xai. As it was there was very little traffic going over the route mid day, I think there were only 2 passengers incuding myself that went the full distance. Took a good couple hours, also drove around Muang Mom for half an hour looking for passengers and burning gas.
The next day I took another fast boat to Pak Beng and ended up talking to the boat pilot for a while while in town, he lives across the street from the best coffee in Pak Beng. He'd been fifteen years and never had and accident. I think the locals know that the boats have an inherent danger, but try to operate them in as safe a fashion as possible.
Also it seems that the harbor master (govt official collecting the money before you get on) works on a set price, and the boat driver has little control over price at Huay Xai. In Xiengkok I just handed over money to the guy driving.
Price listed Muang Long tourism office was 600 baht Xiengkok to Mom, I'm pretty sure I paid more.
From Muang Long it beats catching the Sawngthaew to Luang Namtha and transferring to the bus to Huay Xai. A little quicker, a lot more pricey, lot less pain in the butt.
where are Muang Mom and Pak Beng?
also, i've been debating whether to go back North or head down South and i think it will depend on when i go [...the weather] and i've been considering going from Huay Xai to Xieng kok with the intention of continuing to Muang Long. Is this possible? Somsai, any ideas?
thanks a bunch
Just upstream from Huay Xai the river turns abruptly south then up north again creating a long beak where Laos pokes down into northern Thailand. A road and daily sawngthaew service cuts across the piece of land to bring you to a boat landing just across the river from all kinds of casinos and touristy things in Thailand. That's Muang Mom. To go further upstream you must use the river. There is quite a bit of Laos upstream, also a lot of Burma. Above all the tourist stuff it really is the golden triangle, they say.
I think there is also a casino on the Lao side almost completed construction and a casino on the Burma side operated by Chinese "interests". The casino on Burma side (warning about to enter rumor zone) failed to pay protection to whoever controls that part of Burma and there was all kinds of shooting and a Chinese patrol boat all the way down the river to do a little showing of the flag and stuff a couple three years ago.
Freighters from China offload on the Thai side. Tour busses and golden triangle T shirts with popy pods silk screened in multi colors. Captain Bob rode his motorcyle somewhere up there, if you look at his web page I think he tells about it.
To save the effort you can just go to a wat above Huay Xai about 2 kilometers and catch a boat there, but it's about twice as much.
Prices vary but are pretty much fixed, depends on price of fuel and parts. Folks get gouged by trying to hire a whole boat or bargaining too agresively and pissing people off. I usually take off my pack and buy a coca cola as if I have all the time in the world, usually there's a whiteboard with prices, smile a lot.
Beware of maps. Many maps show that track you walked with Tui as a road going Long to Phuka. Imagine a rental car there! The road sometimes shown Huay Xai to Xiengkok I think is even more imaginary.
Xiengkok is covered well on Travelfish. Short ride up to Muang Long if there is anything running.
Pak Beng (mouth of the Beng) is half way to Luang Prabang on the Mekong river.
This is turning into a Bruce Moon Book.
I'm not sure how feasible heading up river is then, it seems like it's possible but it would depend how expensive. I'm good at being patient and smiling though so i'll be able to test how good...
Good tip on the maps, that road is barely motorbike friendly, when we walked it Tui was pretty amazed a local guy managed to get as far as he did in wet season [dropping off Tui's pack further up road]. He had to pass a couple of streams/rivers that were difficult enough on foot
I guess i could always catch a bus SOMEWHERE from here then work my way north. It would just make good sense if i came from the west and worked my way east rather than being central, heading west then back on myself before moving east!!
When i was in Muang Long you could get a bus to Xiengkok daily or at least this was what was advertised. I guess if there arn't enough people it probably won't be go
I don't get the Bruce Mood reference?!
I will no doubt be asking more questions in the months to come
He used to write very long replies.
I'm guessing I paid 800 baht to go to Muang Mom with 2 other people aboard. The trick would probably be to get to Muang Mom early enough to catch the first boat. The max is 4 people on that stretch and fewer people increases the price.
The alternative takes the same amount of time. Bus Huay Xai / Luang Namtha, go directly to local bus station and get on bus to Maung Long, if there are none get on one to Muang Sing and stay there. Leave first thing in the morning.
Afternoons in Xiengkok can be very slow. Once I walked around the town looking for anyone that even owned a motorcyle whom I could pay to take me up the road. Not many vehicals. I'm sure a bus goes every morning. All those villages need transportation.
I did the ol' Namtha > Muang Sing > Muang Long stretch when i was there then just went back on myself. I'll probably end up seeing how the boat option pans out, if it doesn't then its no big deal as the bus is fine. If i somehow end up with a huge budget then i might be tempted to splash the cash, although this would be out of character...
as you say, it seems theres usually someone willing to transport a foreigner anywhere they want to go if the price is right