We had planned to take the slow boat from Luang Prabang to the border town Huay Xai before leaving Laos.
Actually, we originally planned to come into Laos in the north and take the slow boat to Luang Prabang, which is what most people do. But we were in Bangkok when we were ready to leave for Laos and wanted to explore Northern Thailand after, so it made more sense to start in the south and end in the north.
We were really excited to ride the slow boat. Rand had been psyching the kids up for months. Two whole days on a boat surrounded by beautiful scenery.
Then we found out that the boat would cost 340,000 Kip per person. This price was 120,000 kip (or about 15 USD) more than we expected. $15 isn’t so bad for one person, but when you have to multiple everything by five and are traveling on a strict budget, you sometimes have to reconsider.
The first alternative we encountered was the overnight VIP bus (145,000 kip). Now don’t be confused by the label VIP. Usually this just means an air conditioned bus with padded, sometimes reclining seats. Yes, it’s better than the non-AC, hard seat local bus, but it is nothing fancy. In fact, the AC often leaks . . .
Online posts told of a 13 – 14 hour overnight ride on twisty, turny roads in mostly upright seats with the lights on, TV blasting, and many vomiting passengers This did not sound like a great way to spend the night, so we continued to research our options.
I really wanted to see Laos Loy Kratong. We had observed the boats being built in Luang Prabang. We didn’t want to risk overstaying our visa, however, so we couldn’t stay in Luang Prabang for the holiday. I thought maybe we could break up the journey by stopping in a town closer to the border and seeing the festivities there.
I found two towns on the map that looked like good options, Luang Namtha and Nong Kiaw.
An online search led me to believe that there was a better chance of seeing fireboats in Luang Namtha. And also Luang Namtha is closer to the border. So we booked a minivan to Luang Namtha for 110,000 kip (13.50 USD) per person.
We left Luang Prabang in the morning and spent 8 hours bouncing around the van on the winding mountain roads, prompting this facebook post.
Thank goodness for Dramamine!
About 20 minutes before arriving in Luang Namtha, a rock slide closed the road for an hour.
It was kind of annoying, but not too bad as far as travel delays go. Plus, standing around on the roadside with a bunch of other travelers is better than a loud, vomitus, bumpy overnight bus ride.
We stayed 2 nights in Luang Namtha and spent a fun day in the little town, kayaking and participating in the Loy Kratong festival.
The following morning we took a local bus for 80,000 kip (10 USD) to Huay Xai, where we exited Laos. Then we took a bus across to the Thai border. After a simple pass through immigration, we were back in Thailand. A songtheow took us to Chiang Kong where we stayed the night.
We may have missed out on the slow boat, but saved $75 and added a fun stop in a small Laos town that we never would have visited if we hadn’t changed our itinerary.