Posted by: adventuressetravels | October 5, 2012

Slow Boat Day 3 – Putting Down the Mekong

Our group was down at the boat by 9:00, but the boat waited until 9:30 for a few stragglers to make it to the boat.  Almost before the last person walked down the wobbly plank to the boat, it was pushing off of the bank.  I breathed an internal sigh of relief that I had stayed at the guest house with most my fellow passengers.

At sporadic intervals the slow boat’s engines would into reverse and make a wide turn across the great Mekong.  The captain, with the help of his deft bamboo steering partner, would turn towards the bank.  Like a water-based local bus, the boat would stop and pick up potential passengers waiting at shore.  I’m not entirely sure if these stops are scheduled or if locals can simply go to any location and catch the boat’s attention, but if they are it is all the more impressive that with no signs, docks, or buildings the Laos captain still knows exactly where to stop.

At one of these stops, which I am all-but sure was merely a food stop, a group of local children selling skewers of dried squid, cookies, chips, and an array of snacks climbed aboard selling many of the locals, and a few of the tourists, their wares.  There were snacks sold on board, but I would certainly have bought something from one of these children if I had changed money to Laos Kip.

bamboo fishing poles

One would think that the second full day on the slow boat would be boring, and truth be told I am glad that I brought my book, but even if I hadn’t the scenery was ever-changing and stunningly beautiful.  Starkly pale rocks jutted out of the soft green mantel at intervals, sandy banks sloped into scrubby brush, or towering cliffs sprung out of water.  Just a little further from the waters a deep green tangle of jungle stretched up over the mountains showed what the country had been for centuries.  What creatures lived in the jungle’s depth, I wondered, as I gazed out of the window watching a herd of water buffalo amble by the shore going about their daily routine.

Spindly bamboo fishing poles, some bowed from the weight of a catch stretched from high on cliff rocks into the opaque tan of the river below.  Gazing at the vast river flowing by me, I relaxed into the sanguine natural atmosphere and smiled.  This was the perfect introduction to Laos.  A speed boat would be as out of place as a McDonalds in an Amish village.  One would never be able to get the real feel for this pastoral country zipping across the water and skimming past the locals.

Still, when we arrived in Luang Prabang at 5:30, I had had enough time on the Mekong.

pushing off the dock with bamboo pole

While I am generally not one for package tours, I do recommend this one.  For the experience as well as for the price.  While in Chong Kong I checked how much the trip would be if I paid for the tickets separately.  To my surprise the package tour worked out to be slightly less expensive than if I had done everything on my own.  Sure, I could have cut corners and hitchhiked, but if I wanted to take the same types of transportation a van to Chong Kong from Chiang Mai would cost 400-500 baht.  A slow boat from Chong Kong to Luang Prabang was 1150 baht.  This worked out to approximately the same, but factoring in a guest house and meals it really wasn’t a bad deal.

As far as I am concerned taking the slow boat is an ideal way to see Laos for the first time.  Floating down the Mekong is something that I think everyone should experience on a trip to Southeast Asia.


  1. Excellent sense of the experience.

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