Boat trips on the Mekong from Luang Prabang
My husband and I are planning a trip to Laos in January 2012. We would like to do a 2 or 3 night cruise of the Mekong, but are unsure how to go about this. We would like to have our accommodation sorted prior to leaving home, so are unsure what sort of Mekong cruises we will be able to organise and where they will drop us off if we wait until we arrive. I have only been able to find one on the internet, that goes from LB up north, but then leaves one there. Is it easy to get back to LP?
Is it better just to do a day cruise? (Although it sounds like it will be very beautiful to spend a night or two on the boat or at a hotel en route).
Here is the answer to your question(s).
At present the longest river trip you can do on the Mekong is the two-day cruise from Luang Prabang to Huay Xay (also spelt other ways, but pronounced Huasai) or vice versa from Huay Xay down river.
Personally I have done the north-south route and I think this is better as you are not fighting the current, therefore it is smoother and quieter.
There is one quite expensive boat trip, which is probably the one you found on the internet, and includes an overnight stay at a place called Pak Beng(about half way). On this boat you travel on the deck with a nice chair-and-table arrangement.
However it is quite possible to hire your own (very large) local boat for a private party from Luang Prabang or Huay Xay. You can approach them directly (in the street) or ask a travel agent to organise it for you in Vientiane. I went through Exotissimo the time I took one and they also booked the guesthouse on the way and accommodation in Luang Prabang.
You do have to stay overnight at Pak Beng (or you could camp on board as friends of mine have done, but this is for the more adventurous), but can choose from much cheaper accommodation. The benefit of this is that you will often get a family boat and will also have your lunch cooked on board, plus you can stop where you like if you see something interesting on the banks.
You can fly to Huay Xay from Vientiane quite easily. I think there are daily flights – check with Lao airlines (laoairlines.com). If you stay in Huay Xay for one night, there are many cheap and comfortable guesthouses and a few interesting things to see. I got the boat at around 8am and got to Pak Beng around 4pm, then left about the same time to arrive in Luang Prabang mid-afternoon. The boats are very safe as there will only be your party on a boat which sometimes takes 60 and the skippers have local knowledge.
I might warn you it can be very chilly when you start off but by lunchtime you will be down to a T-shirt.
You can also spend a night on a boat on the Mekong in the south in Champassak (I think it is the same company) and visit the temple at Wat Phou. This is also two-day cruise but does not go as far and is fairly luxurious.
If you do not have time to go north and back, you can take a very nice four or five-hour trip from Luang Prabang up the Mekong to where it branches at the Pak Ou caves and travel up its main tributary the Ou river (Nam Ou).
Then you can go to Nong Khiaw or Muang Ngoi Nuea villages and maybe stay overnight there. They are very pretty. The Ou is a lovely river and has lots of local life on the banks. At Nong Khiaw you could try the Nong Khiau riverside resort http://www.nongkiau.com/ some lovely, well built timber bungalows high on the banks where you could spend the night (run by a Swedish guy and his japanese wife). If you don’t want to go back down the river you can take a minibus back to LP – only a three hour ride maximum.
I don't think there are flights between LP and huayxai - I think the only way is boat or bus.
Hope this helps,
Thanks to Virginia Addison for sharing her experience.