Top 10 Ways to Survive the Slow Boat down the Mekong River from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, Laos
1. Try to get to the boat as early as possible. As the slow boat takes two days, when in Huay Xai and Pak Beng, try to get to the boat as early as possible to get yourself a seat. On the first day, our group was one of the last ones to get on to the boat. It was so over packed that the captain had some of us sit in the engine room and the sides of the boat.
2. If there isn’t enough room on the boat, complain as a group! We didn’t know this until day 2; however, if there is more than 70 people on the boat, and there aren’t enough seats, complain as a group. There “might not” be another boat, but if the group complains together, a “magical” boat may appear and make things a lot easier. On Day 1, we had approximately 120 people on the boat. Day 2, we had 2 boats!
3. Get a seat as far as possible from the engine room. The further you are, the better it is. It really sucks to watch the beautiful scenery and talk to your neighbors when it sounds like a battlefield.
4. Buy a pillow for 30 baht (approximately $1 USD). You might get lucky and have a boat with car seats. (Yes, they literally take car seats that you would find in a minivan and throw them on the boat). Or, you might get unlucky and have a boat with butt bruising wooden benches. You can also use it when you’re sitting on the side of the boat. That dollar you spent is going to be your lifesaver.
5. Buy yourself a lot of food and drinks. On Day 1, from Huay Xai to Pak Beng, it takes 6-9 hours; on Day 2, from Pak Beng to Luang Prabang is another 7-9 hours. Depending on the boat, there could be a convenience store with chips and drinks, but wake up early (as I said in #1), and buy a couple of Lao sandwiches and Lao beers for the boat ride. My girlfriend and I bought four sandwiches and they only lasted half way through thru the trip on Day 2.
6. When you reach both destinations at the end of the day, do not give anyone your bags or belongings (even if they look like the nicest people.) We have heard horror stories of people “helping” with the bags, just to have them disappear. If you need help with your bags to get off the boat, then either the boat is not close enough to shore, or you should be getting rid of some of your items in your bag.
7. Do not buy your overnight hotel/guesthouse stay for Pak Beng in Huay Xai. We saw some guy pay $13 USD for accommodation in Huay Xai. He didn’t get to see the place, to see if they have hot running water, private bathroom, or 24-hour electricity. Unfortunately, you cannot trust everyone’s word in this area. After you land in Pak Beng, just keep on walking up the main road and keep on asking for the prices and check. We got a double room, hot shower, 24-hour electricity, and a private bathroom for $6 USD.
8. Be very careful when buying illegal drugs. Otherwise, don’t buy them! Once you reach Pak Beng (or really anywhere in Laos), you will be offered marijuana. If you happen to buy it, I promise you, you will be approached by someone else that will blackmail you for money or bring in the police (which will eventually cost you money or a free ride to prison). Instead (if you really need to play around), try the happy shakes or happy pancakes at a restaurant, but specify with them to see if they are happy or magic. (Happy = ganja, Magic = mushrooms)
9. Have a lot of distractions. Whether this is an iPod, iPad, books, porno, or alcohol, have a lot of it. You are on a boat for approximately 13-18 hours in total. Personally, you will have so much time, that the mountains, jungle, and the water may get a wee bit tedious.
10. Last but not least, relax and enjoy it! This is a trip that focuses on the journey and not the destination. Take deep breaths and look at the distant ice-capped mountains. Wave to the villagers as they do their daily chores near the river. Have fun and chat up the person next to you. I guarantee you; you will meet them again further down the road in Laos, whether it is Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, or Vientiane.
This is for informational purposes. I expressly disclaim responsibility for any adverse effects that may result from the use contained in the post.