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Two-Day Slow Boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, Laos

One of the most fun parts of the Southeast Asia backpacker trail is the slow boat from the border town of Huay Xai, Laos to the tourist hotspot Luang Prabang, Laos. The two-day trip totals about 14 hours with an overnight stop on Pakbeng, Laos.

Note: Some sources refer to this same ride as the “Slow Boat to Laos.” I don’t understand this, as the ride starts in Huay Xai, Laos. I suppose it is because people usually cross from Thailand and hop straight on the slow boat deeper into Laos. We just wanted to clarify this is indeed the same ride.

Keep in mind when you’re reading other reviews of this boat ride that there are private options in addition to the public/passenger option that we took. The private option features a nicer boat, and presumably doesn’t stop to load/unload locals along the route. It may also stop a few times at tourist sites. The one we saw advertised most was Mekong Smile Cruise. Reviewers unfortunately often don’t note that they took the private option.

Getting To Huay Xai

Most routes to Huay Xai are going to come from Thailand and pass through the Chiang Khong, Thailand – Huay Xai, Laos border crossing. From that crossing, most songthaews will head to the pier.

Our route from Bangkok was:

Other people do the trip from Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai over to Laos in a single day, and our post on the bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong covers that.

Buying Your Ticket for the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang

Having taken a songthaew from the border crossing, we were dropped right outside the slow boat ticket booth, with the actual pier just a few steps down the road. If you’re coming from within Huay Xai, it seems likely that “pier” or “slow boat” or “Luang Prabang boat” will get you where you need to go.

The slow boat ticket booth is up those stairs.

The ticket booth is located up a few steps next to the street. We paid 210,000 kip per person. We were assigned seats, but we’ve read other reports that the assigned seats weren’t followed. They were on the first day of our trip, though.

The Pier at Huay Xai

Depending on when you arrive, you can drop your bags off on the boat before walking around the town. Since seats were assigned for us (there were numbered pieces of paper on the seats), we didn’t mark our seats. If you don’t see seat markers, you may want to leave a sweater or something on a seat to keep your party together.

Out slow boat at the pier in Huay Xai, Laos

In general, the back of the boat was where more drinking went on because of its proximity to the bar. It was also where the engine was located (so, noise). Finally, it’s where the toilet was located (so, smell). Don’t sit near the back of the boat if you don’t have to. The front also had a social vibe to it, and it’s where all the activity occurred while people and cargo got on and off the boat. Our seats were pretty much in the middle.

We had time to walk around the pier area and buy some sandwiches and instant iced coffee. We found the one ATM by the pier (back up the road, take a right at the main intersection and walk about a block). It didn’t work, so we spent our last few baht and kip on sandwiches (40 THB or 10,000 kip each), coffee (40 THB or 10,000 kip each), and water (10 THB each, we don’t know the kip rate, but presumably 2,500).

Our boat didn’t stop for meal breaks (we’ve heard that some of them maybe do), so this is where you’ll want to pick up lunch and snacks for your journey.

Boarding the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang

While the boat was scheduled to leave at 11:30 AM, a guide kept a pretty close eye on everyone who came and went, indicating we should be back by 11 AM for announcements and ticket check, then calling for everyone to walk over at 10:40 AM. Ticket check consisted of just sticking our hands in the air with our tickets.

We arrived pretty early. Don’t expect luxury recliners on this ride!

The guide gave a few tips about the ride, telling us to grab our own bags in Pakbeng and not to let people try and carry them for us. He also offered accommodation in Pakbeng for people who didn’t have any yet, like us. It was 100,000 kip for a private room. He also said it came with some sort of perk for boarding the next day, but as we mention later, this was probably nonsense. We didn’t take advantage of his offer (both because we were hoping for a lower 50,000 kip rate and because we had no cash besides USD on us).

Day 1 of the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang

The boat departed at about 11:40. The first day was pretty uneventful. You’re pretty much left to you own decisions as far as how much socializing you do. We didn’t socialize at all. We were part of the small contingent (maybe 5 of 100) who were lame enough to be on our laptops most of the ride. Plenty of people made their rounds on the boat meeting new people. The scenery was great, and we made a few stops (not for getting off the boat) for locals to depart.

A family welcomes their loved one back and waves bye to us.

It’s a smooth ride overall. The seats were a little more cramped than we expected (think budget airline, not business class or tour boat benches). They also aren’t solidly connected to the floor, so be prepared for them to tip if you lean too much on them. There was a bar in back selling light snacks and drinks, as well as two toilets (squat and sit). While I would have preferred not to have had to use he bathroom, it was better than many trains I’ve been in. You store your bag in a luggage hold under the deck, so bring a daypack. You also need to remove your shoes and place them in a plastic bag while you’re on the boat. The bathroom is equipped with a pair of flip flops, but we highly recommend bringing your own pair.

There was plenty of nature and some temples along the way. You’d occasionally see some speedboats zip past. It was cool to ride past local communities, especially when families came out to welcome their loved ones as we dropped them off.

Pakbeng, Laos

We arrived at the small town of Pakbeng at 5:30 PM. As we pulled up, you could see all the reps from the hostels and restaurants excited about fresh meat. Usually we’re pretty skeptical of pushy reps, but one guy was on the boat handing out flyers for a bar (Hive Bar) and talking about a guest house that “wasn’t fancy, but had wifi and hot water.” Liking his straight attitude, I asked him how much a room was. He said 50,000 kip, which was the amount we were targeting. We mentioned needing an ATM (we were still cashless), and he assured us there was one right next to the guest house.

Piled with bags in the back of the truck in Pakbeng.

We hopped in his truck with people who had booked ahead and those he grabbed on the boat. He had people who had reserved in advance for 100,000 kip. This is pretty standard in Pakbeng. Advance reservations seem to come at 100,000 kip ($12) if you book through a local provider and at least 125,000 kip ($15) booking in advance online. You can grab rooms for 50,000 kip ($6) at the dock, though. I know they had the “act” down, but they really sold making sure to whisper our price to us while other guests were nearby. It’s part of the schtick, but it’s fun.

Donevilasuk Guest House, Pakebeng

We wound up at Donevilasuk Guest House. There were, as they guy said, two ATMs right next to it. We got some cash from one on our first try. Some girls from Europe had a bit more of a struggle with the ATM but we saw them at a bar later so something must have worked out.

Donevilasuk. The room was nothing special.

Donevilasuk was worth about $6 per night. The internet was borderline unusable (actually unusable by morning). The toilet and sink leaked. There were (as TripAdvisor reviews mention), guys pushing weed around the building. We booked breakfast and lunch through them (the prices were reasonable, two breakfasts and two lunches for 50,000 kip – $6). But whatever, you’re here for a stop on a two-day slow boat ride. Even being working travelers, we’d take $6 for that over $100 (yea, there are $100 / night rooms in Pakbeng) for anything else in Pakbeng. Although, just to be safe, we kept our daypacks with our valuables with us (as the guide at the start of the trip recommended) whenever we left the room.

Hive Bar, Pakbeng

While in Pakbeng, we went to Hive Bar. We’d gotten a flyer from the guy who set us up with our hostel. It turned out he was the owner/operator, and it was a cool place! He really is a nice guy who wants everyone to have a good time. We talked to him a bit, and he told us that he’d started the bar support himself and his education. We went there straight from checking into the hostel, and it was a bit empty. The guy was missing because he was still making sure people got checked in, but he showed up a little after we arrived and everything was good.

Hanging out in Hive Bar, Pakbeng, Laos

You can order meals from neighboring restaurants through him and they’ll deliver to the bar. We went with Hassan’s, which was reasonably priced for the most bland Indian food we’d had in a while. Large Beerlao was 15,000 kip. He gave free whiskey mini-shots to everyone. We’d definitely recommend Hive Bar. We wound up spending 120,000 kip + 10,000 for tip, so 130,000 kip or about $16 for four large beers and some Indian food (perfect for when you’ll be limited to a slow boat bathroom the following day). We’re light eaters, though, so budget for another 30,000 kip or so for two people.

The Morning in Pakbeng

The guest house owner suggested we all leave together at “about 8:30” for the 9:30 boat departure. We had been told by the guide before we departed Huay Xai to arrive at 8:00, and we decided to stick to that plan. After our quick breakfast (we ordered pre-made sandwiches to avoid waiting on cooking time), we headed down the road at about 7:50. We grabbed some iced coffee (30,000 kip for two) and water (10,000 kip for a big bottle).

Stopping for iced coffee on the way to the dock.

We got down to the boat at about 8:10 AM. There were two boats loading, the other might have been the boat back up to Huay Xai or a private boat, but somehow we randomly wound up on the right one.

Day 2 Boarding the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang

Unlike the first day, there were no assigned seats the second day. The guide had told us the first day that we’d queue and get assigned new seats as our tickets were checked before getting on the boat, but that didn’t happen. Everyone just walked down to the pier and hopped on the boat, selecting whatever seat they wanted.

It was good we got down there when we did, as there were only about six spots left that could fit couples. The boat didn’t depart until 9:30, and people slowly trickled in until then. We tried to figure out what boarding “perk” the guide had been offering the night before, but it must have been fake. He had said you could sleep in without worrying about your seat. Well, anyone who got to the boat by 9:30 got a seat, and no seats were reserved. Anyway, if you want your seat selection, get there before the hostels start driving people down at 8:30.

Day 2 on the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang

The second day was mostly the same as the first, with everyone maybe a bit more groggy from bad nights of sleep (lots of roosters in Pakbeng). Day two is the day you’ll see more little girls running up to the boat to sell bracelets. It’s also the day you ride past the temple in the cave (Pak Ou Caves).

A lot of us didn’t get so much sleep the previous night.

Arriving in Luang Prabang

We arrived at the Port of Luang Prabang at 5 PM. You have to get up a short but steep hill first, and then you’ll need to take a tuk tuk into the city.

Arrived in Luang Prabang (almost)

The standard rate all the drivers offered was 20,000 kip. There was a sign that said something like “Buy ticket to city – 20,000 kip,” but there seemed to be no real ticketing practice.

If you show them your hostel, they should be able to get you there, but otherwise they just drop you off right outside the night market in the center of the city. It’s something like a 10 kilometer trip that took 20 minutes, so don’t plan to walk.

All things considered, the slow boat was a great time. It was a great way to spend two days and cheap option to get you from Thailand to Laos. If you’re planning on getting to Huay Xai (or Chiang Khong) from Chiang Rai, we’ve shared the bus directions here as well.


Monday 8th of July 2019

I spent a week in Vientiane after a quick layover in Luang Prabang about a month ago, and I want to go back. I'm flying to Yangon in three weeks and I want to take the route you took. I am carrying a big suitcase that would be classified as checked baggage, and a backpack. Do you think it's possible to still do the trip? Are there any places for it in the boat/tuktuk, and did you see anybody carrying suitcases?

Thanks so much, this is very helpful!


Thursday 11th of July 2019

Hi! I think it's definitely possible. I just combed through my photos and I did confirm that others did have roller suitcases. On the slow boat specifically, you stored your stuff under the boat, and then could keep a smaller bag at your seat if you wanted. So that part shouldn't be a problem. On Tuk Tuks, they typically throw your bags on the top, so that shouldn't be a problem. Getting off the slow boat, you do have to go up a bunch of stairs, so that could be annoying. Although if you had a few bucks, I remember there being a lot of people who were offering to carry my bags for me places. I would call it a slight inconvenience, but definitely not a deal breaker. Enjoy your trip!!


Saturday 4th of May 2019

Thank you so much, your detailed articles about crossing the border from Thai to Loas was really helpful to me. I'm in Chiang Khong right now and planning to get a slow boat tomorrow!


Sunday 26th of May 2019

Hi Jessica! I'm so happy that you found this post useful! I hope you have a successful crossing and enjoy the slow boat! It was definitely one of my favorite modes of transportation!Enjoy your time in Laos!


Wednesday 13th of March 2019

This was really helpful to read as we're planning on how to get to Luang Prabang from Chiang Mai and thought about taking the boat so thank you for all the details! One question if I may, to get the tickets you just turned up on the day and had no problems right? Also, do they only take cash for the 210,000 kip or are there ATMs nearby? Thanks again!


Tuesday 19th of March 2019

Hi, Oli! I'm glad you found it helpful. I'd highly recommend the slow boat if you have the time for it. It was so lovely! We took it the opposite direction, so it might be a bit different. We were able to show up and buy tickets that day, but we did get there several hours early. There was only one ATM in Huay Xai not far from the dock, but when we were there, it was out of cash! We actually arrived in Pak Beng with no place to stay AND no cash! Fortunately there was an ATM in Pak Beng. So if you can get cash in advance in Luang Prabang, I'd do that instead. Good luck & happy travels!!


Tuesday 18th of December 2018

All your posts are so helpful! Thank you for sharing the "real" side of your journey, giving all the information and details we, future travels, would need.


Saturday 29th of December 2018

Hi Julie! Thank you so much!! We really tried relay our exact experience, especially things that were confusing for us to help others making a similar trip. I'm so glad you found it useful! Enjoy your travels!!


Monday 15th of January 2018

Isn't it 220.000 +- kip per person to luang prabang? Did you ask for a ticket to pak beng and therefore paid just 110.000? Did you pay again in pak beng for the remaining leg?

Ken Stalkfleet

Thursday 18th of January 2018

Thanks for this correction. It was 210,000 kip per person, the 110,000 figure was a typo that we've fixed. (Double checked our budget and other sources online to confirm. Thanks again.)

We have seen that you can split the ticket, but we didn't do that or see anyone who did on our ride.