How about a sunset cruise on the Mekong River?
A lazy boat ride on the Mekong is one of the highlights of Luang Prabang, and you can’t walk along the riverfront without being approached and offered a tour.
Unless you’ve just floated down the Mekong on a slow boat for two days, a boat trip is a must. This can mean anything from hiring a basic boat on the spot for an hour cruise to a full day tour on a luxury vessel. A terrific time to be on the water is before sunset, when villagers perform end of day ablutions, the fishermen reel in their catch and the glowing orb begins to disappear behind the mountains.
Boat captains will chirp “boat trip?” anywhere along the Mekong. There’s a concentration of them at the three main boat landings: near the morning market, the big boat landing behind the Royal Palace Museum and at the tip of the peninsula at Wat Xieng Thong. Of the three, in our experience the guys at Wat Xieng Thong are the easiest and most relaxed to deal with. Standard price is around 100,000 kip for a one-hour cruise. Longer trips like to Pak Ou Cave and/or the Whiskey Village are around 300,000 kip after a little bargaining. Boats are usually no frills. You can, of course, bring your own drinks and snacks.
For tours and more comfortable boats, there’s several options. Here’s four:
Banana Boat offers day tours that can tick off several of the must-see Luang Prabang attractions combined with cruising on the Mekong as well as comfortable padded seating, lunch and drinks. The “Temples, Bears and Waterfalls” trip includes Chomphet Temple, Long Khoune Temple and Kuang Si. Price is US$58 per person, based on two people.
Bounmi Cruises combines river cruising with activities like a village homestay, fishing or alms giving at a temple. The boat is lounger-style, with cushions on the floor rather than seats. Day trips start at US$155 per person, based on two people.
Nava Mekong has an affordable lunch/dinner cruise with set daily departures. The lunch cruise heads to Pak Ou and the Whiskey Village at 10:00 (4 hours, US$25) or choose the sunset cruise with traditional Lao dance performance at 17:00 (US$30, 2 hours). Reviews were once mixed but it seems the product has improved and is more consistent. The price point is certainly attractive.
Sa Sa Sunset Cruise has cornered the backpacker market as the price is unbeatable. The boat is large enough to hold tables, seating and loungers, and the two-hour public cruise is 85,000 kip per person including one drink. Alcoholic beverages, soft drinks and snacks from the grill are available for sale. This cruise attracts a young or young-at-heart crowd—you never know who will be your ship mates and if they’ll figuratively go overboard with the booze. Pick Sa Sa if you’re keen on a social atmosphere.
Looking for luxury? Several of the five-star hotels have their own vessels and the experience is what you would expect at that price point. This includes, but is not limited to Amantaka, Belmond La Residence Phou Vao and AVANI+.
Banana Boat Laos: T: (071) 260 654; http://www.bananaboatlaos.com
Bounmi: T: (020) 5616 9331; http://bounmi.com
Nava Mekong: T: (020) 5928 5555; http://navamekong.com
Sa Sa Sunset Cruise: T: (020) 9519 8933; https://www.facebook.com/sasacruiselaos/
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you'll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Luang Prabang