Connecting Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia is the 12th longest river in the world, Mekong River -- or, "mother of water". When I planned my Southeast Asia trip, I knew I wanted to get to Laos (Luang Prabang) after my northern Thailand visit, but ignorantly didn't realize that it wasn't going to be a short walk across the border. My options: fly or traverse the Mekong River.
As I researched ways to get across the river, I quickly learned that the fastest, easiest way to Luang Prabang was also the most dangerous: fast boat. I mean, they make you wear helmets - WTF!? I knew I needed to NOT go in that direction. The horror stories of these boats crashing into hidden rocks at high speeds were not my cup of tea. I love adventure, but I also love living.
I ultimately decided to take a two-day boat journey with Nagi of Mekong: a mid-range cruise company that would pick us up from Chiang Khong. Here are photos and video of our journey leaving Thailand, sailing along the Mekong, and details about the logistics and cruise.
Getting to Chiang Khong from Chiang Mai:
First, we took a bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong. We purchased a $12-13 "VIP" ticket on the Green Bus (which was not VIP at all really, just bigger seats -- I'm not complaining!) and stayed at the Green Inn Residence once we arrived at Chiang Khong.
Gross Hotel and Bugs in Chiang Khong:
Unfortunately, there aren't many high quality hotels to choose from in Chiang Khong, this hotel was decently rated, but LET ME TELL YOU ... the creatures that lurked in the dark shadows of that hotel room kept me up at night and grossed out. I have rarely ever complained about a hotel but this one had these giant black bugs that made clicking hissing sounds and snuck into Alex's backpack! When he killed one its shell hardened and all I heard was Alex stomping as hard as he could multiple times (my eyes were shut tight). When he was done he told me not to look (but I did anyway) and there was blood splattered on the ground. It was awful.
No I didn't take photos so don't even ask. I was so ready to be out of that hotel so naturally I made Alex stay awake and stand guard until I fell asleep.
Crossing the Border from Thailand to Laos at Houi Xai:
The next morning Adisak, owner of Nagi of Mekong picked us up from our hotel in a large tour van and transferred the group to the border. Unfortunately we'd forgotten that he advised us to get American Dollars for the visa fee (Laos' currency isn't allowed outside of the country) and the one ATM at the border wasn't working. Adisak was kind enough to take people from the group to find another ATM elsewhere (almost all of us forgot cash) and the issue resolved quickly. It was super helpful having someone help us like this because the whole process was quite confusing.
Once we crossed the border we hopped on a coach bus that transferred us to the dock. There were people on that bus who were getting on fast boats and super slow boats, and it was very clear that we were getting higher end treatment.
I'd never seen such a creatively constructed boat before! With comfy automobile seats drilled into the boat's flooring and tables perfect for getting work done or reading, I felt quite comfortable the whole way. The food was delicious and plentiful and I even tried fried caterpillar! Yes. I. Did. Hun-ty. Check out this video of it:
The downstream cruise set off from Houi Xai (the border town), cruised for seven hours with a stop at a traditional Laos village, and stopped for the night in Pak Bang (hotel night included). The hotel we stayed at was really nice and overlooked the river.
Mosquitos--of course were an issue, even with a bed net, so we learned to be very diligent about using bug spray (they eat me alive otherwise AND I wasn't trying to get Malaria). It was nice to see western toilets and hot water, too!
They next day we cruised again with a stop at another village where we'd observe locals weaving scarves, men playing sport, and children in school and playing. We also stopped by the Pak Ou cave before arriving at Luang Prabang in the evening and being shuttled to our hotel.
Things to note about the Nagi of Mekong Cruise:
- Hot food, water, and fruit is included
- Tour guide is included
- Boat can hold up to 40 people but we only had about 10-20 so it was quite comfortable
- It is hot on the Mekong River but the boat's speed creates a breeze and the only time we had trouble with the heat was when it stopped for a village visit.
- The cost is about $135 USD per person which is an average price for a reputable cruise.