Oh what a fantastic trip we had cruising down the mighty Mekong River in northern Laos.
We’ve just spent two days on one of the most enjoyable and remarkable journeys of our lives slowly cruising down 330 km of wild river, through mountains, jungles, forests and farmland, through wide serene stretches of water, through deep gorges where the water ran fast with deep swirling eddies, and through shallow rocky water where the river was littered with giant boulders sent tumbling down the river during times of flood.
(Did we mention that we’ve woken up as millionaires? Read on!)
Before we came away, we did a little bit of research of things we wanted to do on our trip. The two day cruise down the Mekong River, was firmly placed as number one on our list of “must do’s”. In fact the whole of our first week of our trip was designed to get ourself up to the very north of Laos which is where the cruise begins.
We boarded our boat at Xuay Hai, just over the Thai/Laos border, and being the first ones onto the boat we quickly found ourselves great seats with unobstructed views. However we didn’t have to worry about seating, the boat was only half full with tons of room for everybody to move around, change seats, or stretch out on the day beds at the front of the boat.
On the first day of the trip we covered 152 km, from Xuay Hai, down to PakBeng, where we left our boat and walked up to our hotel rooms. PakBeng is a a small riverside village who’s main purpose is to feed and provide hotel beds for the Mekong River boat travellers.
On the second day of the trip we covered 180 km down to Luang Prabang – probably the most enjoyable cultural city to visit in Laos – where we disembarked.
We saw the cruise as being a highlight of our trip, and the reality lived up to virtually every expectation.
Our boat, and the crew on the boat were fantastic. “Ka” Our host was very knowledgeable about so much going on along the river and was always ready with information about things that we were seeing along the way – there was never a question he couldn’t answer. We had as much tea and coffee as we wanted, and a fantastic traditional Laos meal for lunch on both days.
The scenery on our journey was simply stunning. The Mekong River is the lifeblood of country, with much of the Laos population living along its banks. All of the way down the river we passed dozens of small villages nestled into the forests, hundreds of tiny little longtail boats with their owners casting or bringing in their fishing nets, and literally hundreds of complicated bamboo structures set in fast flowing rocky areas of the river with fishing nets tied beneath them. We also saw lots of people panning for gold along the edges of the river, everyone hoping to find their fortune. There’s lots to be found apparently.
On the hillside, much of what we passed was forest or wild jungle – although our host Ka pointed out many areas of deforestation where the teak trees had been removed and sold.
One of the things we enjoy most on our travels, is seeing the wild life and wild birds, and this was probably the most disappointing part of our trip. We saw many cattle and oxen all the way along the river’s edge, but during our complete journey we saw just one monkey, and about eight birds “The local people eat them” we were told. “anything that moves is shot or netted and put into the cooking pot, even the beautiful songbirds”. We can’t criticise the local people for doing what they need to do to survive, but it was disappointing not to see birds, and in fact as we’ve travelled further South through Laos, we’ve heard little in the way of birdsong anywhere in the country.
We had some fantastic fellow passengers on the boat and generally we enjoyed their company and conversation – however four Brits on a table near us were the exception to this! The guys sat at the front of the boat, rarely talking to their wives, and the wives barely took their noses out of their “Hello” and “Elle” magazines to look at the scenery along the way. When it came to mealtimes “we don’t eat foreign food” said the guys!! Maybe Benidorm might have suited them better.
On our journey we had two stops, one to a small “whiskey village” where passengers were invited to try and buy the local reptile and insect infused spirits, and Pak Ou caves which were filled with hundreds of Bhudda statues. We found the cave stop pretty pointless and were continually pestered by young begging children (the only time we’ve seen this in Laos) but the whiskey village was fun and a couple of the passengers came back onto the boat with small bottles of brightly coloured “whiskey” containing what looked like small Cobras and black Scorpions!
And all too soon our Journey was over and the boat was docking in the gorgeous UNESCO Heritage city of Luang Prabang where we planned to stay for a few nights.
We’ll miss being on the river, but it’s not goodbye – The Mekong meanders its way through Laos from north to south, so it’ll continue to be a big part of our onward journey in Laos.
And so, as newly crowned millionaires we headed into Luang Prebang to find somewhere to stay. Millionaires? Only in Laos Kip unfortunately. £100 Sterling gets you just over one million Laos Kip.
It’s nice to dream I guess. 🤑
For anybody interested, we booked our River trip with a company called Mekong Smile Cruise. We booked when we were still back in England, on a special offer and the trip cost us $50 each for the two day cruise, and that included onboard meals, soft drinks and our half way stopover hotel in PakBeng. full price is a lot more but there seem to be a lot of special offer dates available. The Smile people were fantastic with their communications and the way they looked after us throughout the whole trip.
For those on a tight budget, there’s also a public boat does the same journey, but of course not with the same level of comfort, for about $18.