I want to get from Northern Thailand to Luang Prabang (or vice versa, not sure which way I'm going to start yet) but I'm debating transport between the two. I'm looking into the Discovery Airpass so flying between the two is an option, but is traveling the Mekong an awarding experience in itself? If price were not an issue and the only factor to consider is the experience, would I be better off (1) spending the two days to travel via river or (2) fly between destinations and spend that time at the ports of call?
We had to make this same decision on our last trip to Luang Prabang and eventually decided to fly from Chiang Mai directly to LP. It was a short but very scenic flight, and we enjoyed having the extra time in LP to just hang out.
One thing that helped us decide to fly were consistent reports from other Travelfishers that the boat trip down river to LP was crowded and uncomfortable, and that the constant engine smoke made the trip a nightmare marathon.
Others, however, including our host Somtam, highly recommend the boat trip. Perhaps he'll jump in here and clarify exactly why he thinks the boat trip is your better option.
Lots of folks have also commented that the trip upriver from LP is less travelled and therefore less croweded, so perhaps if you do decide to take the river trip, you'll want to head in that direction instead.
Also, if you do decide to fly, there are frequent and inexpensive river trips out of LP to the caves just north of the city and other places, so you'll still have the chance to get at least a small amount of time on the river even if you do fly. Regards.
I'm a big fan of the river-trip, but the last time I did it, we had six passengers from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang and Mr & Mrs Somtam were the only passengers from Luang Prabang to Vientiane... and no, the trip wasn't in the 18th century... though it was a few years ago now.
As exacto says, there have been a number of reports of the boats being very crowded, including one post that mentioned the boat having 100 passengers. I'd rather cut my own legs off with a rusty blunt saw in the pouring rain than do the trip with 99 other travellers...
In summary, IF you can guarantee that the boat will not be crowded (ie get a bunch of like-minded-souls and charter the boat privately) then the trip is absolutely worth two days. If however you're looking at sharing the boat with 50-100 others, I'd be seriously looking at the flight option. I know you won't know before hand... so it's a hard call. i'm just going to start a new thread asking people for approxiamate numbers on their boats -- perhaps others will respond and give you a better idea.
#3 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,798
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Thanks for the insight, guys. I also read about the overcrowded boats but didn't know if it was enough of a deterrent to avoid the route all together. I'm going to keep an eye on the new thread, but will probably look into flying and maybe charter a boat around LP as exacto mentions.
in early december (just six weeks ago), i took the boat from luang prabang to the thai border. it wasn't the $35 one which looked overcrowded and grim.
i did a last minute booking through www.asian-oasis.com on their boat the Luang Say. It cost $185, including all meals, which were delicious, as well as the overnight lodging in Pak Beng at their awesome resort. Gorgeous private teak bungalows overlooking the Mekong.
I can't say enough good about it. It was fantastic. Leisurely, a bit decadent and extremely pleasant. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. It was one of the highlights of my trip.
I do think the downside of the less expensive journey is the rather grim lodging situation in Pak Beng if you don't opt to stay at the resort.
#5 karentenk has been a member since 23/9/2007. Posts: 2
i'm hoping to go up river instead because i'll be stopping in laos before thailand. could anyone please share if there are any differences between travelling in the two directions?
thanks in adance
#6 shanghai306 has been a member since 24/1/2008. Posts: 6
karentenk: that does sound very nice, I thought the regular slow boat was the only option.
shanghai: check the thread 'Huay Xai to Luang Prabang by slow boat' in the Laos forum. From what people are saying the trip from south to north is far less crowded then the boat heading downstream. sounds like you've got the right idea.
leolo - hey there. thanks for the info about the other thread. i actually stumbled upon it after posting this one... guess i should've dug around before posting into the first relevant thread i came across. going to do the trip in march so i'll be sure to report on the journey up river once i've done it
#8 shanghai306 has been a member since 24/1/2008. Posts: 6
Hi there. We took the regular el-cheapo slow-boat ride only last week and came away with mixed feelings. Yes, it was very busy and stuffed full of Westerners. We counted 100 plus people on the boat and the Laos boatmen had every intention of putting more on until enough of a fuss was kicked up for them to lay on another. We all had seats though - a mix of wooden benches and plastic seats that they conjured up. To be honest, it really wasn't that bad at all, and Pakbeng is not nearly as ghastly as people make out. It's a very simple little place, with very little going on, but it's absolutely fine for a night and you shouldn't have a problem finding a clean and functionable room.
A genuine 'get away from it all' experience this is not anymore. The fact is, the word is out on Laos and the flow of people taking this journey is pretty heavy now. However, do NOT discount it. It still is a once in a lifetime experience. If we went back to Luang Prabang (which we will - it is an amazing place) we would fly, but first-timers with time to kill should not be put off by the boat journey. If we had more dosh to spare we would have taken the luxury boat, so as with everything when you are out the road just throw some money at it if you are in doubt!
#9 keenbeantraveller has been a member since 24/1/2008. Posts: 2
It's good to know someone thinks it is not downright awful even though overcrowded. flying does feel a bit like a rich white girl cop out. It also might not be feasible anymore, I don't know about anyone else but I have had a hell of a time tracking down information on the Discovery Airpass. I live in Tokyo and have visited four travel agencies that couldn't help me at all, one of them even said the Airpass ended as of Dec. '07. There is a Bangkok Airways representative office here but I can't get in contact with them. We will see, but my departure date is fast approaching so it looks like I will be taking the slow boat more than likely. I will be sure to post how it goes.