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Slow Boat Huay Xai to Luang Prabang Report

Newcastle, Australia
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Slow Boat Huay Xai to Luang Prabang Report

Took the slow from Huay Xai to Lunag Prabang in Oct 2009. Quite an experience but not to be missed. Here my report.

Numbum Cruise Huay Xai to Luang Prabang

"Does anybody know when this boat is supposed to leave," says Marcus.

 Marcus is a wild Irishman from Derry:r ed hair, red skin, red face from Thai whiskey, that he is adding to a can of Coke and consuming at an amazing rate. The vessel in question is the slow boat from Huay Xai - on the Thai/Laos border - to Luang Prabang, the former capital of French Provincial Laos.. It's 11.30AM, 35C, 95% humidity. Some of our fellow travellers have been on board since 8.30AM. Our party, including Marcus, since 10.30AM. Party seems to be the operative word on this vessel. With seats an anorexic super model would cover with her bum and overlap some, a luxury cruise it isn't. If licensed by the MSB, it would carry 50 passengers. I stop counting at 100 and start singing 'Abide With Me', on account of a distinct lack of life jackets – read none.

We finally get underway at 11.50AM. The scenery on the Mekong is spectacular, the company convivial, and as long as we don't all move to one side of the boat at the same time - cue a small Lao boy who runs up and down the aisle pushing passengers left and right in a vain effort to keep the vessel stable - the day passes in a rosy, if numbum - think numb bum from the seats- bliss. We arrive at our overnight stop in Pakbeng on dust, to a chaotic scene of hotel hawkers, juvenile luggage luggers, no lights. But hey, we survived the day, what's a little hard bargaining in the dark with Basil Fawlty, while fighting off Fagin's apprentices.

Pakbeng is like Blackpool without the illuminations. If it had a soul it went to Hell years ago. Power is diesel generated, so lights out at 10.30PM, no hot water or a/c. Rooms are rated by the number of rats you hear scurrying about. We have a 10 rat room, but at $7.00 dollars who's complaining. We find an Indian restaurant and spend the meal discussing cricket with a young man from Chennai – he was on his way to Mumbai but took a wrong turn.

Day two, we wake, take a cold shower, feed the rats, and sally forth, fortified by a great breakfast at a bakery overlooking the river .Different boat this time with life jackets. Luxury. We leave at what we now understand is Lao time; in this instance 9.30AM. Yesterday's revellers are decidedly quiet. But soon, the first Lao beer is raised to the sun and another blissful day passes. A group of English girls leads a game that's a variation of truth and dare. Basically you are challenged to tell the truth about your sexual exploits. If you lie you scull a beer. For some so young, these girls have led lives that would put infamous Hollywood sex mistress Heidi Fleiss to shame.

Finally Luang Prabang hoves into view and the cruise is at an all too abrupt end. We part company with fond memories, and a regret that some enterprising local entrepreneur isn't selling T shirts at the quay inscribed, 'I survived the Numbum Slow Boat'.

Melbourne, Australia
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1. Re: Slow Boat Huay Xai to Luang Prabang Report

Wow! I loved your report Macca!

Sounds like a business opportunity in LP for someone.

We're doing a boat down the Mekong too, but have kept to the safe side and booked with the 'Nagi' private operator. I look forward to watching the scenry go past, but dreading the overnight in Pak Beng.

Thanks for your report - there aren't too many on this Laos forum - and certainly none as entertaining and informative as yours.

Would love to read about the rest of your travels through LP and onwards too. :)

- K

Newcastle, Australia
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2. Re: Slow Boat Huay Xai to Luang Prabang Report

Thanks K

Nagi of Mekong is run by a private operator Adisak. No opinions but if you read the Travelfish Laos forum there is a long thread on the slow boat. A number of posts concern Naga. Not a fly by night but it would seem that if he doesn't get the numbers he is apt to come up with an excuse and transfer his passengers to the slow boat. As I say I can't speak from personal experience.

Having said that travelling upriver to Huay Xai is nowhere as crowded as the Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. Let me know how it goes. And Pakbeng isn't that bad. Well compared to Blackpool it isn't.

And thanks for the compliment. I've got a great story about our 2 day/1 night trek from hell into the Bolaven Plateau out of Pakse. At the time we thought we were going to die. Now we laugh about it. But that's what travel is all about. The experiences. Enjoy Laos. You'll love it.

Florida - Alaska...
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for Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai Province
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3. Re: Slow Boat Huay Xai to Luang Prabang Report

I have traveled on the Nagi on a couple of occasions and one of those times was just three of us on the boat, so not sure what might have led to the cancellations robmacca mentioned. The Nagi does have the advantage of the fact that upon arrival in Pak Beng we weren't left to ourselves for find a room and the one we got did have hot water and no rats.

Jersey, United...
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4. Re: Slow Boat Huay Xai to Luang Prabang Report

the slowboat is ace,loved it..loved the indian restaurant in pak beng-dunno where the fawlty towers comes in though??...done it twice already!!

Melbourne, Australia
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5. Re: Slow Boat Huay Xai to Luang Prabang Report

Hi again,

I've booked Nagi, and Adisak has been very prompt and helpful with his emails. His booked us a hotel in Chaing Kong before the trip, and we've arranged for him to pick us up in Chaing Rai. I'm sure all will be fine.

Even if we end up on the slow boat, it's the adventure (and stories to tell after) that make the journey.

Do post your story from hell Macca...

Thanks again,

- K

Newcastle, Australia
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93 posts
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6. Re: Slow Boat Huay Xai to Luang Prabang Report

The Basil Fawlty reference went like this. There were four of us travelling. Man, wife, man, wife. Having read about the chaos at Pakbeng the boys stayed back to help unload the luggage - everybody's that is as the boat operators couldn't giva a stuff. The girls bargained with a hotel hawker who took us to her place. We waited outside while she went upstairs. Much shouting from a male voice and screaming from her followed. Finally a young couple who we had met on the slow boat came down the stairs carrying thier packs. The guy says they have been ejected because they came directly to the hotel and bargained a room at a lower rate than we had. Plus our erstwhile landlady was getting two rooms instead of one. On reflection I should have called her Sybil in the story. She certainly was one to remember.

As for the boat itself. Yes, it's ace and more. I'd love to do it again numbum and all.

Chorley, United...
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7. Re: Slow Boat Huay Xai to Luang Prabang Report

Our family did the slow boat trip in August. We loved it but the whole outfit def runs on 'Laos time' with much waiting around on both of the two days. Our bums weren't too numb as our boat had old bus seats (not bolted to the floor so there was some creative moving around going on!) which were soft! The boat was packed with people and luggage (even a motorbike was hauled on at one stop) and there wasn't a life jacket to be seen on either day. The drivers are really skilled at their job tho. Pakbeng was exactly as described on the other posts. If you are travelling with others it's a good idea to send someone ahead to secure a room. It's a 'gritty' place our rooms were infested with insects of gigantic proportions but the shower was warm (tepid anyway). I think only 100% DEET and complete body armour would have kept the mosquitos at bay. I lost count at 45 bites on my legs alone!!

We loved the whole experience. A real rewarding way to reach Luang Prabang we would not have missed it for anything.

* A word of warning. When we arrived in Huay Xai we were told the boat might take 3 or 4 days and we would have to sleep on the boat, no food etc etc. We were told this was because of the rainy season and the rain might slow us down. Would we like a 50% refund and buy a bus ticket to LP instead?? There were a few of us at the office complaining bitterly that we weren't told this the previous day when we bought the tickets. When we asked how long the boat had taken the previous day the guy said 3 days! We then walked around Huay Xai asking other agents about this. They all told us it was a scam to get us to buy the bus ticket then they could keep 50% of our boat ticket money and that all the boats in the previous few weeks had taken 2 days.( I think very occasionally the boat does take longer but this is rare and more likely in the dry season when the river is low.)

Newcastle, Australia
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8. Re: Slow Boat Huay Xai to Luang Prabang Report

You are spot on about the scam. The only time it takes longer is in the dry season. Last dry season the river was unseasonably low. People had to get of and walk across the rapids area, sleep overnight in a hastily erected tent city, then continue on to Pakbeng for a night, then finish their journey to Luang Prabang the following day. It happened to a mate of mine.

Having said that, he and I and everyone I've spoken to about the trip agree it's one of the experiences of a lifetime.

Melbourne
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9. Re: Slow Boat Huay Xai to Luang Prabang Report

Hi,

Did you eventually travel with Nagi? If so how was the trip? Did they pick you up in Chiang Rai?

Thank you

Melbourne
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10. Re: Slow Boat Huay Xai to Luang Prabang Report

Fabulous report! Laughed out loud for ages! Thank you.