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  7. Go with the flow of the Mekong to Luang Prabang

Follow the Mekong River, an unforgettable sight

The Mekong River is an unforgettable sight. Its whole length affords spectacular views and an insight into life among the communities that line this mighty waterway.

It is the world’s 12th longest river and the seventh longest in Asia. It passes through Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, China and Laos where the Mekong River Commission works with each country to manage their shared water resources.

In Laos, the Mekong is regarded as the mother of water and life because it runs through the whole country from north to south. The river is central to tourist travel in Laos because of its spectacular beauty. It offers a relaxing form of travel as an alternative to road and air transport.

If you enter Laos in the north at the Golden Triangle in Huayxai district, Bokeo province, after leaving Thailand, one of the best travel options is to take a boat to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Luang Prabang province. What better way to arrive in this jewel of a town than by river?

The comfortable boat trip takes two days with an overnight stopover on land.
In Huayxai you can buy a ticket at the boat station in Ban Khankeo the day before you want to travel and then board the boat at 9am the following day.
It’s a good idea to take along some food and drink for lunch, although the boat sells instant noodles, sweets and drinks.
The ticket has a seat number on it but in typical Lao fashion this is not adhered to and you can sit where you want. So get to the boat early so you can have a good seat.

More than 120 boats ply the river but only one leaves Huayxai each day. You might get a good craft or a problematic vessel depending on whether it’s your lucky day.
The boat stops where passengers want to get off and embark. There’s no break for lunch and the boat eventually arrives at Pakbaeng district at 4pm, where you will spend the night. Guesthouses are cheap, starting from 50,000 kip. You will be offered one when you get off the boat or you can look around for one by yourself.

You’ll have a bit of time to explore the small town, which is attractive and welcoming. Most of the houses, guesthouses, bars and restaurants are situated along the main streets. My suggestion is to stay at the guesthouse by the river and in front of the Elephant Park (suggestion for hotel*** : Mekong Riverside Lodge). You’ll have a great view and in the morning you can see elephants swimming in the Mekong.

The boat departs Pakbaeng at 9am the next morning but you will travel on a different boat for the second half of the journey. Right now the river level is perfect. It’s low enough to see a lot of rocks and villagers setting up their fishing nets in hopes of a good catch. The river views between Pakbaeng and Luang Prabang are arguably more awe-inspiring than the first day’s scenic offerings.

The boat I travelled on was new and well designed. It was very comfortable and we felt like we were in a restaurant when we sat at the tables to eat, and our seats were big enough to take a nap. My friend and I preferred sitting at the front of the boat where we had a clear view of both sides of the river. I sat on a chair with some snacks and a drink. I was totally contented and finished a book that I was reading.
When the sun moved across the boat, there was more shade and more and more people joined us to avoid the heat of the sun.

We passed many villages and people waved when we got close. We all got excited when we rode between the newly-built massive stanchions that will support the under-construction railway bridge close to Luang Prabang.

We arrived at the town itself at 4:30pm but the boat didn’t drop us at the main dock because this was no longer allowed. Instead we had to get off the boat a little way from the centre and pay 20,000 kip each for a tuk-tuk to take us into the town or to our guesthouse.

This is without doubt the best way to travel to Luang Prabang and anyone who has the time to make this journey should do so while it’s still an option.

By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update May 28, 2019)

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