The Slow Boat to Luang Prabang

The Slow Boat to Luang Prabang

In my last post, I mentioned that my roommate from Chicago messaged me saying my cat was in the ER. Turns out he had a life-threatening blockage and needed to go into surgery, or else die a pretty painful death.

I won’t go too much into the details, but after receiving the estimate from the veterinarian it was obvious I had a really big decision to make in a small window of time. Of course, I had also just canceled my phone plan a few days earlier, so I was only reachable via Wifi.

Dooming my cat to die while I galavanted across the Mekong River was not something I could do, so I approved the estimate, boarded the boat, and had eight long hours to think about what I was going to do next.

Slow Boat from Houayxay to Luang Prabang

It’s incredibly easy to travel around Laos by land or river. The typical tourist trail covers Vientiane, Vang Vieng, and Luang Prabang, so there are plenty of transportation options to choose from.

A slow boat leaves Houayxay every morning, transporting tourists and locals to ports between Houayxay and Pakbeng. The journey to Luang Prabang takes two full days, so you’re required to spend the night in Pakbeng. There’s no need to book a guesthouse in advance since you’ll pretty much be swarmed with guesthouse owners when you arrive in Pakbeng.


The boat is outfitted with literal car seats, and there’s a limited amount of food and overpriced Beerlao available for purchase. Most of the tourists on the boat ride got stupid drunk, which I guess is standard for an 8 hour non-stop boat ride.

The town of Pakbeng is nothing to phone home about. I was able to find a guest house for 30000 kip. One thing to note about Laos is that it’s an early to bed, early to rise kinda country. After settling into my guesthouse around 5pm, I spent the next 2 hours on the phone trying to figure out the cat situation at home (in the time between when I got on the slow boat to when I disembarked, the vet’s estimate had doubled. It looked like it was time for me to go home). By the time I emerged from my room, all the restaurants had closed for the evening. Whoops.

The next day, we repeated the process traveling from Pakbeng to Luang Prabang. The port they drop you off at is actually outside Luang Prabang, so after hiking up a steep set of stairs, you have to hire a tuk tuk for 20000 kip to get to the city center.

The boat ride was absolutely beautiful and pretty comfortable. I think I would have absolutely loved the scenery and change of pace if I wasn’t dealing with life stuff. The bus would have taken half the time, but the slow boat is quite the experience in itself. I highly recommend taking it if you have the time to travel for two days.

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