Photo: Classic scenery surrounds Vang Vieng.

Laos forum

River trip

Posted by SEQfunbod on 9/8/2009 at 10:13

I'm new here, and theres so much to read.

I heard that the 2 day boat trip from Thailand to Luang Prabang isn't worth it. But, theres a better one from Luang prabang.

I read all the messages on the 'slow boat' up there, and it sort of confirms its a bit ordinary.

Can you guys tell me about this other boat trip from Luang prabang?

How long does it take, where does it go, do you come back by the same boat, whats there when you get there.

thanks

#1 SEQfunbod has been a member since 9/8/2009. Posts: 12

Posted by somsai on 9/8/2009 at 11:24

You're probably talking about the Ou, (in Lao they'd say Nam Ou, meaning Ou River)

If you do a search like this,
https://www.travelfish.org/google-sitesearch.php?cx=003508824483508337352%3Aqcd-d2cu0-4&cof=FORID%3A10&q=ou&sa=Search#1170
You'll probably find a lot of reading.

Other alternatives are the fast boat up the Mekong from Huay Xai to Xeingkok. Exciting! or the slow boat up the Mekong from Vientiane to Pak Lai, kind of more the old fashioned Lao slow boat experience as you will more than likely be the only foreigner. Or you can take fast boats half way to Luang Prabang and bus the rest or fast boat all the way in one day.

Lots of alternatives.

#2 somsai has been a member since 1/3/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 568


Posted by BruceMoon on 9/8/2009 at 12:42

SEQfunbod

Somsai has given you good advice regarding the long distance 'commuter' boat from Luang Prabang up the Nam Ou.

Luang Prabang is located on the Mekong River. For many communities, the only way to get to Luang Prbanag (or the most desirable way) is by riverboat.

I won't mention the Huay Xai - Luang Prabang riverboat (the one you wrote was 'ordinary' (I also agree).

Riverboats service towns along the Mekong (up and down), and also up major navigatable rivers. The Nam Ou is one such river (though it can have insufficient water for full length navigation at the end of the dry season in March - April).

The upstream riverboats take passengers up to Pak Beng (about US$12), the downstream ones go to Tha Deua (about US@12) and (sometimes) to Pak Lay (about US$15). These boats depart a special wharf behind the (old) Royal Palace.

Boats for closer destinations (and across river) use a downstrean wharf.

The boats that use the Nam Ou go from Luang Prabang up the Mekong to Pak Ou, and then enter the Nam Ou all the way to Nong Khiaw (about US$12). From there, there is another boat that goes up to Muang Khiaw (about another US$10). Also from Nong Khiew, there are short distance boats that travel to placed like Muang Ngoi Gao.

The boat from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiew takes about 7 hours and is very scenic. Some stay there, or go the extra 1 hour to Muang Ngoi Gao. Muang Ngoi Gao has no road connection, so has appeal for travellers.

You can see a map of the area at this link.

- - -

There are also 'excursion' boats for tourists from Luang Prabang. These go on day trips to places like Tham Ting Caves (opposite the entrance of the Nam Ou about 30k), and the Kuang Si Waterfall (about 40km downstream, but you walk a bit). Don't know the prices for these.

All of these options are for what is known as a slow boat (but, believe me, they hike along). There are also another 'excursion' option called a fast boat. Imagine a supercharged V8 on the back of a surfboard!!!

I've been on one, but prayed the whole time. If they hit an obstacle (especially likely if submerged), they can explode to pieces. Such events are relatively frequent.

- - -

For the Nam Ou (to Muang Khiaw) river trip, it is quite scenic, and it takes about 7 hours. The place is 'rustic', and there is a early closing pub/nightclub and many places selling food. There are many Guest Houses. You can go trekking from here if you like.

To return from Muang Khiaw, you can either take the boat back or go by road (bus). If you want to do this, you'll have to be sure of buses & times.


The trip to Muang Ngoi Gao takes 1 hour more, and with no road, you have to return to Muang Khiaw if you want to go back to Luang Prabang. There's the same options here as Muang Khiaw.

If you want to travel further up the Nam Ou to Muang Khua, it takes about 4 hours. There is a bus that goes from here to OudomXai, or you can take a bus and cross the border to Vietnam.

I have made a little blog of my travels there earlier this year at this site it's about halfway down.

Hope this helps.

Cheers

#3 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by wanderingcat on 9/8/2009 at 14:01

bit confused by 'Muang Khiaw' :P

where does it go
major towns/villages accessible by boat along the Nam Ou (from downriver to upriver):
Luang Prabang
Nong Khiaw (aka. Muang Ngoi)
Muang Ngoi Neua (lit. 'Muang Ngoi north')
Muang Khua
Hat Sa

How long does it take
LPB-Nong Khiaw = 1 day
Nong Khiaw-Muang Ngoi Neua = ~1+h
Nong Khiaw-Muang Khua = 1 day
Muang Khua-Hat Sa = 1 day

(1 day = incl the wait for enough passengers to depart, time for stops to pick up/drop off ppl along the way, breakdowns, etc)

whats there when you get there
Travelfish has info for all abovementioned places.

how some of those places look like...
Nong Khiaw:
http://laomeow.blogspot.com/search/label/nong%20khiaw
Muang Khua:
http://laomeow.blogspot.com/search/label/muang%20khua
Hat Sa:
http://laomeow.blogspot.com/search/label/hat%20sa

#4 wanderingcat has been a member since 21/10/2006. Posts: 730
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Posted by SBE on 9/8/2009 at 15:31

I just love your blog wandringcat... wonderful info and pictures which really give an idea of what places are like!

I smiled when I read this bit ...

"Took quite a while to figure out how the hot shower worked - a certain wire has to be held at a certain angle in order for the current to pass through"

You have to do this sort of thing with wet hands because the cold water has to be running if I remember right. I remember wondering how many tourists died of electrocution per year in Laos bathrooms!

#5 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,019
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Posted by paul1981 on 10/8/2009 at 18:14

I'm also a newbie here, and there is lots of interesting information above, but would anyone also be able to tell me if it's possible to make the trip all the way from Vientiane to Luang Prabang by boat? If so, can anyone share any information about the boats (ie. cost, comfort, duration stop-overs etc.)?

#6 paul1981 has been a member since 10/8/2009. Posts: 4

Posted by BruceMoon on 10/8/2009 at 18:21

paul

I'm of the understanding that boats don't travel this route such that tourists can jump on board.

Cheers

#7 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by paul1981 on 10/8/2009 at 18:28

Shame. Seems to me a great way to spend a couple of days, and far preferable than sitting in a bus going up Rte 13.

#8 paul1981 has been a member since 10/8/2009. Posts: 4

Posted by long3465 on 10/8/2009 at 18:30

i am looking for information on taking the boat FROM luang prabang all the way to cambodia. does anyone know if that is possible, and if so the other detail. how long , how much, ect.
we will be in laos in the next week or so and wanted to avoid flying, and also would like to see the 4000 islands. thanks in advance.
oh and we are not looking for " luxury mekong cruises" we just want to get from point a to point b

#9 long3465 has been a member since 10/8/2009. Posts: 1

Posted by BruceMoon on 10/8/2009 at 18:41

long3465

There was a similar question here a while back, this is what was written there...

https://www.travelfish.org/board/post/laos/4315_floating-the-mekong-from-laos-to-cambodia

In that post, there is reference to a boat that travels from PakLai to Vientiane. PakLai is in the Sainyabuli Province and is nearly twice the distance from Luang Prabang as it is from Vientiane.

Cheers

#10 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by SEQfunbod on 11/8/2009 at 10:33

Wow

What a lot of information.

Thanks heaps, esp BruceMoon.

#11 SEQfunbod has been a member since 9/8/2009. Posts: 12

Posted by wanderingcat on 12/8/2009 at 23:21

SBE:
"I remember wondering how many tourists died of electrocution per year in Laos bathrooms!"

fewer than expected due to frequency of power failures? no electricity, no electrocution :P happy reading, though everything is from a cat's point of view.

paul1981:
"far preferable than sitting in a bus going up Rte 13"

beautiful views between Kasi, Phou Khoun & LPB. i like travelling north on this route cos the views just get better & better as time passes. IMHO worth turning up early to get a window seat on the left side of the bus (when heading north), best views are on the west, though for last hour before reaching LPB there are also views down into the valley below to the east. could even consider overnighting in Kasi, Bor Nam Oon (hotspring place with bungalows in middle of nowhere) or Phou Khoun along the way to break up the journey.

cyclists seem to enjoy this stretch of route 13 more than those who take the bus. maybe it's something to do with making more stops along the way to appreciate the sights & sounds, instead of zooming by?

#12 wanderingcat has been a member since 21/10/2006. Posts: 730
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Posted by paul1981 on 12/8/2009 at 23:27

Thanks for the info wanderingcat. In fact I'd be interested to hear more about the places you suggest for overnight stops. I've got hotels booked in VTE and LP, but two night inbetween check out at VTE and check in at LP, so three datys to make the journey.

Can you suggest any particular bungalows or guest houses?

And with regard to cyclists getting the chance to stop off and enjoy the view, I might look into private vehicle hire, so going slightly off the beaten track should be too much of an issue.

Cheers.
Paul

#13 paul1981 has been a member since 10/8/2009. Posts: 4

Posted by seagypsy on 13/8/2009 at 00:21

@Paul,
If you've got time and money, then yes, hiring a private van and driver to visit many villages en route to LP would be very rewarding. This allows for stops at many scenic places along the way, even between Vang Vieng and Kasi.
And staying a night at Bor Nam Oon that straycat mentioned would allow you to zen out to the monolith across the way.

#14 seagypsy has been a member since 5/2/2009. Posts: 136

Posted by wanderingcat on 13/8/2009 at 00:23

have only overnighted in Phou Khoun before, where accomm is really basic. 3 GHs, cold water scoop-from-large-pail 'showers'. however, there's a new place ~3km south of Phou Khoun town proper. this thread has links to info/photos of the basic accomm & also the new place:
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/message.jspa?messageID=15465788

in that thread, there's also a link to the best info i've found on Bor Nam Oon bungalows + restaurant so far. their phone no. is in one of the photos that shows their signboard. but be prepared for a really small village.

Kasi was 'less interesting' to me cos it's on lower, flatter terrain (am from a country with zero mountains + zero cool weather), so only explored a few metres of it when my bus stopped for lunch + repairs.

in the above places, it's pretty much 'ordinary Laos'. no golden temples or attractions or activities. in & around Phou Khoun i just walked & walked...southwards along Rte 13 for the views, along some path leading to farmers' fields, past Hmong villages, & up to a hilltop memorial for Lao soldiers who died during the Indochina war. & sat in a little bamboo shelter just soaking in the views.

not considering Vang Vieng & surrounds?

north of VTE capital there's also this place:
http://www.rivertimelaos.com
not been there myself but seems like a good contrast to what you'll see in VTE & LPB (not sure where else you'll be going in Laos).

#15 wanderingcat has been a member since 21/10/2006. Posts: 730
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Posted by seagypsy on 13/8/2009 at 00:58

straycat--I stayed several nights at Kasi to use it as a base for songthaew hop-scotching the villages north and south. Got dropped off north of Bor Nam and just walked and walked and had loads of fun taking photos.
Likewise heading south to villages running alongside the Nam Lik between Kasi and Vang Vieng but barely caught a songthaew back to Kasi before it got dark.

#16 seagypsy has been a member since 5/2/2009. Posts: 136

Posted by paul1981 on 14/8/2009 at 14:51

Great stuff, thanks a lot both of you.

Wanderingcat: I haven't ruled out a night or two in Vang Vieng, but I'm just trying to find out what the alternatives are. Do you think it's possible in the time I have to get up to Phonsavan and the plain of jars?

#17 paul1981 has been a member since 10/8/2009. Posts: 4

Posted by BruceMoon on 18/8/2009 at 07:26

'Cat you wrote...

bit confused by 'Muang Khiaw' :P Yes, my error. The 'w' ought not be there.

- - -

Elsewhere, Somsai writes:

If you go to the landing below the old palace in Luang Prabang and catch a boat to Pak Lai I'd love to hear about it as the regular ferry hasn't been operating on that section of river for at least the 5 years I've been paying attention. Sign still on the river and still repeated in old guidebooks that haven't been updated but ever since the road was upgraded no regular slow boat, only south from Pak Lai to Vientiane.

In part, Somsai is correct, in part wrong.

While away, I did some research.

Because of the road construction in (very) recent years, it is now more convenient to travel by road to many of the destinations I noted above. But, that said, many villagers living along the river/s between these destination towns use the river.

None of the boat trips can now be classed as 'regular ferry trips' in the sense that bus travel is said to be regularised. Rather, there are boatmen that will travel these routes if there are enough travellers sufficient to make a profit.

Last April I undertook a boat trip from Luang Prabang (to Nong Khiaw). I was asked to be at the ferry landing at 7:30am. The boat didn't leave till after 9am. The reason for the early 'attendance'? If there were not enough pax, the boat would not have departed.

On the same trip, in the case of Nong Khiaw to Muang Khia, there were insufficient pax for a slowboat, and I had to take another option.

So, if one wants to travel to Pak Lai by boat, one would need to be sure enough passengers were also travelling to warrant the boatman to make the journey.

And, as road travel improves, the days of the boat journey appear numbered.

Hope this helps.

Cheers

#18 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by somsai on 20/8/2009 at 11:14

Well actually I guess I mean any boat at all, not up but down. You said,

"the downstream ones go to Tha Deua (about US@12) and (sometimes) to Pak Lay (about US$15). These boats depart a special wharf behind the (old) Royal Palace."

I actually went down to the landing at the wat south of town where all the fast boats seem to tie up these days headed south, (it's on the way to that tourist waterfall) and it seemed as if only fast boats run as needed, no slow boats to Pak Lai or Xayabouli or anywhere else south of Luang Prabang . Just curious as to where you got this info and prices. Prices are like from 10 years ago when they really did have slow boats south. Have you ever been downstream of Luang Prabang or talked to anyone who has?

Thadua is a short 3 hr songtheaw ride from southern bus station, can't imagine anyone taking a boat? Not so much interested in what's been researched, more in what has actually been done.

#19 somsai has been a member since 1/3/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 568

Posted by BruceMoon on 20/8/2009 at 13:01

somsai

I went to what appeared to be the boat landing, but was told all 'long' distance 'slow' boats left at the landing behind the Royal Palace.

When there, the noticeboard had the destinations I described. There appeared a couple of other destinations on the board, but there was broan paper stuck over.

There were anglo's going to various locations north, (eg. Pak Beng), and south (but I didn't ask where they were headed), as well as up the Nam Ou. I quickly learned that our trip (up the Nam Ou) depended on numbers, that is why I was asking the anglo's where they were going. Those travelling north didn't appear concerned about getting a boat, but those going south appeared edgy.

I haven't been south on a boat.

Cheers

#20 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by somsai on 21/8/2009 at 06:49

Ya, I knew it was fictitious but what about the prices? I mean you can't have just written what you thought it should cost. Some old guidebook? Between this one and the road to Xiengkok, I'm certainly amused. Whoppers. Like that big fish I caught last month.

What's funnier is the imaginary scene at the old boat landing where people hang out waiting to charge astronomical prices per head for a ride up to Pak Ou or wherever. Probably a couple hundred US to Thadue, or more. Most private hire slow boats seem to run better then $100 per day and he has to come back.

Falang Tourist, "I would like to hire a boat to Thadue"

Boatman, "yes that will be $300 please"

Falang, "What you dogone rip off riff raff I'm not paying a penny more than $12 for me and $12 for my wife"

Shiela, "you tell him Bruce, eez just like that thieving tuk tuk"

Boatman, "I'm sorry, there's always the bus for 20,000 kip" (to himself, "must be carefull, pee bah falang very red in the face ready to blow a gasket, this Pak Ou deal is certainly work")

#21 somsai has been a member since 1/3/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 568

Posted by wanderingcat on 21/8/2009 at 09:26

perhaps BM got his info off this signboard (2nd photo, taken in 2009)?

back in Dec 2006, when i first saw this signboard, i was told by people from Sayabouly province that there were no longer slowboats downriver to Tha Deua & Pak Lay, only the occasional cargo boat. they used to travel home by slowboat to Tha Deua.

it's just like the bus timetables at VTE northern bus station, they give details of stuff like 'VIP buses' to Bokeo & Phongsaly & even the fares...even though there have never been such services. maybe future plans in the making :)

#22 wanderingcat has been a member since 21/10/2006. Posts: 730
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Posted by somsai on 21/8/2009 at 10:32

I too saw sign, I think 06, same signboard, but it was after I'd talked to those guys down at the landing and been on that VTE/Paklai boat and stuff. I mean I wish it were running but not for a long time. I think that guy I found out about the trip from said road completed before wet season 05. Prices still don't translate. Rough guide used to be the only guide to cover area in any detail but new edition appears not to list slow boat. Someone must taken a trip down there and updated.

Upthread Paul 1981 wants to know about if he has time for Phonsavan.

#23 somsai has been a member since 1/3/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 568

Posted by wanderingcat on 22/8/2009 at 11:27

#17:
Do you think it's possible in the time I have to get up to Phonsavan and the plain of jars?

possible in 3D2N.

check under VTE northern bus station & Xieng Khouang sections here:
http://laomeow.blogspot.com/2008/07/bussongthaew-schedulesdetails.html

VTE-Phonsavan = allow 1 day for bus (6 daily), or 1 night if you take the VIP overnight bus, or can save time by flying Lao Airlines.

Phonsavan = not been there myself but most people seem to cover all the sights in a 1-day tour, & apart from GHs there's a hotel.

Phonsavan-LPB = allow 1 day for bus (1 daily)

btw, don't know when you're going to Laos, but if it happens to be around early December, ask around for dates of Hmong New Year celebrations in Phonsavan. someone else's photos:
http://www.jakecatlett.com/laos-travel/hmong-new-year-part-1/
http://www.jakecatlett.com/laos-travel/hmong-new-year-part-2/
http://www.jakecatlett.com/laos-travel/hmong-new-year-3/

#24 wanderingcat has been a member since 21/10/2006. Posts: 730
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Posted by clarkabroad on 28/3/2010 at 12:56

Really great information, thanks! Does anyone know any budget-boat tour operators in Laos that could work out a week-long package, several nights on the nom ow/ mekong?

I know some things have changed since the original post. I'm not looking for a luxury cruise, just something simple, that stops at all the best places along the river. Or if I have to connect several trips together, that would be great too.

I would really like to travel along the river:

Xieng Kok | Laos (70 KM from the China border)
Huay Xai | Laos
Pak Beng | Laos
Luang Prabang | Laos
Vientiane | Laos
Tha Khaek | Laos
Savannakhet | Laos
Pakse Port | Laos
4000 Islands | Laos
Stung Treng | Cambodia
Kratie | Cambodia
Phnom Penh | Cambodia

I will be arriving with a friend (possibly) and we would like to stop in each of these places along the way. If we could find a boat with cabins on board, that would be nice (we don't need air-con unless its really recommended).

If anyone wants to join us or has any ideas on how to find an operator that can do this, please let me know!

Thanks,
Clark

#25 clarkabroad has been a member since 28/3/2010. Posts: 2

Posted by jma351 on 1/4/2010 at 17:40

Hey Clark,

I'm traveling with my son up into Laos in about 3 days. If we can arrange a group, count us in. We should be in Houay Xai on the 3rd or 4th of April.

John n Jake

#26 jma351 has been a member since 22/11/2009. Posts: 2

Posted by Captain_Bob on 1/4/2010 at 21:30

I would really like to travel along the river:

Xieng Kok | Laos (70 KM from the China border)
Huay Xai | Laos
Pak Beng | Laos
Luang Prabang | Laos
Vientiane | Laos
Tha Khaek | Laos
Savannakhet | Laos
Pakse Port | Laos
4000 Islands | Laos
Stung Treng | Cambodia
Kratie | Cambodia
Phnom Penh | Cambodia


boat with cabins on board, that would be nice (we don't need air-con unless its really recommended)

You'll find out soon enough that river travel like this doesn't exist along the Mekong, except for speed boats Xieng Kok to Huay Xai, and slow/speed boats from there to Luang Prabang. Further down the Mekong at Paklay there is speedboat travel available to near Vientiane, but from there down to Pakse there is no regular river transport. Some boat travel from Pakse down to Champasak and around the 4000 islands. Not much river transport in Cambodia either, except for Phnom Penh to Siem Reap along the Tonle Sap. Cabins with or without aircon are a world away.

#27 Captain_Bob has been a member since 27/5/2006. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,891

Posted by aoor0708 on 10/11/2010 at 23:35

We would like to travel from Houayxai to Luang Prabang via several smaller cities along the way. Trip will take about 4 days. Anybody knows of a Lao company or private driver that will do the job from Houayxai ?
Any idea of the costs ?
\

#28 aoor0708 has been a member since 10/11/2010. Posts: 1


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