Due to an "incident" involving a luxury cruiser on the Mekong River (some travel agents here in Huay Xai are saying it sunk, others that it is "broken") all boat travel between Huay Xai and Pakbeng has been suspended due to low water levels.
I've been told that boat travel from Pakbeng to Luang Prabang continues as per normal. If you're in Huay Xai and want to get the boat you need to go north to Luang Nam Tha then Udomxai and south to Pakbeng to get on the boat -- I'd say not worth it.
Water levels are very low -- speedboats north to Xieng Kok are not running.
A little more information on the incident: "Boat broke in half after being turned sideways and pinned against rocks.No deaths just a few injuries.Still only rumours"
Just a quick update on this -- it seems the boats are still running, but now not leaving Huay Xai till 11:30 am (that is for today who knows about tomorrow) and the boat doesn't arrive at Pakbeng till the following morning! This means overnighting somewhere else - i would guess Pak Tha but I can't get a straight answer out of anyone.
Personally, I'd skip the boat as the water levels are very very low.
blog post by someone who sounds like he was on the Luangsay cruise last week, but his boat met with trouble between Pak Beng & LPB, not Huay Xai & Pak Beng:
his earlier post mentions that for 3/4 of the HX-PB stretch they had to travel by a smaller boat as the river was too low:
This is not so good news..
I'm still in Nong Kiaow and heading back to LP tomorrow. From there the plan was to go upriver to Pak Beng/Huay Xai and cross into Thailand. Smaller boat sounds ok, as long as i don't have to backtrack by bus to Vientiane.
It will probably sort itself out for the best.. I hope :)
Good thing no one lost their life.
If there is any more news, please post!
#5 Sampan has been a member since 3/9/2009. Posts: 110
Thanks for the link.
#7 Sampan has been a member since 3/9/2009. Posts: 110
Just a further update on this, when we left Huay Xai for Luang Nam Tha this morning we dropped two foreigners off -- at the speedboat pier -- when I asked, they said they were taking the speedboat as their operator (don't know who they meant by that) said that the slow boat was too slow but that speedboats were fine. I mentioned the above accident and it was the first they'd heard of it -- can't say they were too happy to hear it either.
I'm not expecting to hear too much more about this as I'm heading north away from the rivers, but if others have any reports -- especially from anyone who has done the boat trip in the last coupla days -- please post what you know.
Just spent the last couple of hours cycling around LNT -- something I recommend doing (thanks christay2009), but I'm shattered and it is definetely beerlao oclock!
For those of you familiar with the area: An guesses as to when the boats will be running again? Will we have to wait for the wet season?
Also, if the slow boat isn't an option, what's the best way to get from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai (and on to Chiang Mai)?
#9 JavaJunkie has been a member since 19/1/2010. Posts: 9
grapevine says boats still running but taking longer than usual as described in #3 (1.5 days just for Huay Xai -Pak Beng section). how things will change is really anyone's guess.
if your aim is to get from LPB to Chiangmai ASAP & not explore along the way, just fly LPB-CNX.
if not, there are daily buses from LPB northern bus station to Huay Xai (Bokeo province), takes ~15h:
though i'd prefer to break up the journey & see more of northern Laos along the way.
Chiang Khong > Chiangmai: think there's a daily 9AM AC bus, & also minivans run by travel agencies (if avail they'll prob be hanging around the Chiang Khong boat landing looking for passengers?).
1. CK > Chiangrai old bus station: ordinary bus (2.5h/60 baht/half hourly during daytime) from CK market
2. shared tuktuk to Chiangrai new bus station
3. Chiangrai new bus station > Chiangmai: bus
I can confirm that the slow boat IS running as of February 18th.
Pak Beng to Huay Xai the problem is that after about 2 hours there's some rapids that the boats can't cross.
So you get off one boat, walk around 20 mins, then get on another.
The big surprise is if you come in the other direction ie from Huay Xai to Pak Beng.
In this case boats don't leave till around noon then arrive at the rapids around 5.30pm. That means there's no time to continue on the second boat and so everyone has to sleep on the boats or on tarpaulins that have been laid out on the sand banks. Since nobody is warned about this many travellers get very angry but in fact the atmosphere becomes something of a party and a new boat continues next morning, picks up passengers in Pak Beng (or else you switch boats there) and continue the same day down river to Louang Prabang, dirty but having had a bit of an adventure. For those who don't want to sleep rough a few speedboats come to the first boat on the night before offering rides to Pak Beng - they ask 1000Baht per person but will take 3000Baht per speedboat with some considerable bargaining (six in a speedboat is pretty squashed but possible for the 35 minute ride to Pak Beng).
This is all very bad planning for Pak Beng as it could kill off the slow boat by pushing people onto the overnight Houay Xai to Luang Prabang bus, but I'd still take the boat personally - great experience. And not horribly crowded contrary to old guidebook reports (though not that comfy either)
#11 danibek has been a member since 15/1/2006. Posts: 4
thanks lots for the update!
hope those coming downriver brought plenty of food ;)
And not horribly crowded contrary to old guidebook reports
Dec-Jan peak of peak season is over.
& maybe cos some travel agents/guesthouses in Chiangmai decided to stop selling the 'Chiangmai-Luang Prabang bus + boat' packages?
& at Huay Xai there's the 'lecturer' guy who tries his best to scare off potential slowboat passengers & get them to take the bus instead.
@danibek Glad to hear you made it -- I'm still in LNT, no news yet on Phongsali bike hire, looks like I'll prob hire here in LNT and ride from here - Hua Phan looking pretty remote at this stage.
As luck would have it, the two women sitting next to me right now were on "the boat that sank" BUT they sat it wasn't a flash boat, instead abackpacker boat. It his rocks and got stuck and pax needed to be shuffled from one boat to another. No injuries, but they also slept on the beach.
I heard a report last night of the boat trip upriver taking four days, but again that was secondhand.
Luang Nam Tha is very cold and we had quite a bit of rain yesterday and last night -- glad I was out of the Nam Ha NPA by then!
We caught the slow boat from Huay Xai on 13th Feb and had to spend the night sleeping on the boat or on the beach. Yes it is an adventure but the operators were aware that we would not make it to Pak Beng and the least they could have done was let us know so we could have been better prepared i.e. buy some blankets or sleeping bag and plenty of food. Worse still, they somehow managed to convince a number of people to pre purchase accommodation for that night in Pakbeng for 400baht PER PERSON and this was non-refundable.
For us we could manage the hike over the rocky terrain to the second boat carrying our luggage but there were a number of elderly people on our boat who struggled and then didn't even get a good sleep that night to recover. The boat was freezing and fetal position on the hard ground was your best bet for a sleep.
The boat was way overcrowded to begin with and despite many of us arguing for a second boat they got quite angry and screamed at us that we would have a second boat the following day.
Overall, worth it if you are prepared for sleeping on the beach - just don't think about prepaying for anything.
#14 michaelspringer82 has been a member since 7/1/2010. Posts: 1
I spoke with the navigation office (and a couple of boatmen) today and the information was that there are no slow boats leaving Luang Prabang upriver to Pak Beng/ Huay Xai until there is more water in the river.
Speedboats are still running and i was quoted 450000 kip to Huay Xai (7hr.) and 200000 to Pak Beng.. but after seeing those things i cant really say i have a desire to go on one of them..
#15 Sampan has been a member since 3/9/2009. Posts: 110
Lao People Democratic Republic
Peace Independence Democracy Unity Prosperity
Ministry of Public work and transportation Number 274
Section of Public work and Transportation province Bokeo date 18 Feb 2010
To: Tourist companies and citizens whom will be traveling from Houeisay to Pakbeng by local boat.
At present, the department of Public work and Transportation Bokeo province would like to announce that the river transportation has to stop at present because the big boat can no longer travel due to the low water level in the Mekong River. Rapids in the river would make it unsafe for boat to travel. All big boat transportations have to stop until further notice.
This regards all concerned persons that provide transportation and all tourists that which to travel between Houei Say and Luang Prabang and vice versa. Please acknowledge and follow for your safety.
Sounds like they brought in some big busses, or have they had them there for a while?
Special: 45 seats Bus Transportation are available daily:
1. Houeisay to Luang Namtha 2 departures
2. Houeisay to Oudomxay 1 departure
3. Houeisay to Luang Prabang 3 departures
4. Houeisay to VTE 1 departure
5. Houeisay to Pakbeng Normal operation by speed boat
Department of Public Work and Transportation, Bokeo Province.
MR. LOTHOUNHUENE TOUNGASAEM
Posted this in the slowboat thread. But think it should belong here.
Record low Mekong River poses threat to millions
#17 wombatfuz has been a member since 30/12/2009. Posts: 38
photo of the boat that sank (same one mentioned in #4):
(source blog: http://karlgrobl.blogspot.com/2010/03/spider-holster-my-impressions-after-2.html)
as of last Dec there were already 45-seater buses doing the Vientiane-Huay Xai (one VIP) & Luang Prabang-Huay Xai (two VIP & one ordinary/2nd class) routes daily. only Huay Xai-Oudomxay looks 'special' to me :P
We're hoping to get the long boat from houxyai to luang prabang on Monday/Tuesday of next week. Does anyone have an update of the situation since the 4th March?
#20 Worldtraveller has been a member since 12/2/2010. Posts: 8
I wouldn't bet on getting a slow boat next week unless you can convince 19 others to join you and get past the force field of touts around the border crossing who are lately insisting that slow boats cannot make the trip (in favor of their 500 baht bus tickets). Slow boat, speed boat both doable but they need the numbers to justify going (slow 20pax 1000 baht, speed 4pax 1500 baht). Push your way past the touts and go to either boat ramp and try to group up with others who haven't caved in to what the touts are saying (fear factor). Sok dee!
Oh the joys! We have 2 people so far, if anyone reading this is doing the same trip and would like to try and get on the slow boat let me know and we can meet up. We're leaving Chiang Mai on Sunday to cross the border to Huay Xai, and then hopefully getting slow boat on Monday and Tuesday. Fingers crossed!
#22 Worldtraveller has been a member since 12/2/2010. Posts: 8
@Cap't Bob, not sure how "doable" the trip really is. When I was up there last month I talked to people who did it, it wasn't the greatest trip -- lots of agro when the passengers found out they had to sleep on the beach (and pay for blankets -- sleeping by the river is COLD, speaking from experience here!), and the porting around the rapids was a bit of a big deal for people who were not really up for clambouring over rocks etc to get to another boat.
Also I met a woman who insisted she was on "THE" boat that had the "incident" ad it most certainly wasn't the Luang Say one -- so methinks more than one boat has had a problem and the info has been suppressed.
Suppressed news in Laos - who'd have thought!
It looks like the slow boats will re-commence in two days (March 20) according to the two major tour operators who do the bookings (Namkong, Aya). Have been warning people about the possibility of having to sleep semi-rough if it doesn't make Pakbeng on day-1 so keep a warm pullover handy and bring extra food & drink. It's happened to me too and we just walked up to the nearest village and made ourselves at home as paying guests. Drained the village of beerlao and slept on some old lady's floor.
seen quite a few blog accounts of the walk to get past the rapids (various accounts put it at 40min - 1h) + camping on the riverbank. think time of departure from Huay Xai should be a good indicator of whether you will make it to Pak Beng on day 1...earlier the departure the better the chances. there was a Vientiane Times article (see 2nd last para) that *hints* at a 9am departure time for this to be possible. if the slowboat departs closer to noon (as happened in the days before the slowboat service stopped), be prepared to camp or pay for speedboat for the last bit to Pak Beng.
not sure what kinda solution the slowboat drivers have worked out for the Pak Beng-Luang Prabang stretch i.e. the section where the Luangsay boat sank...just travel as slowly & carefully as they can?
Sounds like the slowboat circuit is back to running on a semi-normal schedule (and the double-price bus strong-arming has abated in Huay Xai). But the Mekong remains at record lows and is making life extra harsh for many many riverfolk. Never mind if your tourist slowboat is delayed.