Nagi of Mekong Slow Boat Cruise From Chiang Khong to Luang Prabang – Day 1

Finally, we were leaving Thailand and heading into Laos. A whole new country to explore. We were both very excited! At 7:50am a very comfy minivan with cool Thai music blaring through the speakers picked us up. Just like Adisak assured us. We were now on our way to the Nagi of Mekong Slow Boat Cruise.

Along the way to the Thai border Mekong river crossing of Chiang Khong we picked up other guests. We introduced ourselves and were pleasantly surprised that there were a number of different nationalities travelling with us.

Our driver dropped us off at the Thai border and was introduced to Kae (pronounced cat). Kae was to be our guide for the journey. He was very happy and smiling and asked for everyone's name. He also suggested we leave our bags with the driver and they will be taken down to the river edge for us.

Kae walked us all over to the Thai Immigration booths. We went through the process with no problems at all. Our passports now had the exit stamp from Thailand. Kae walked us over to the Mekong River to a taxi boat. Our luggage was waiting for us.

The taxi boat across the river from Thailand to Laos was cute and comfy. Kae made a joke here: “Ok, this is the boat we are taking to Luang Prabang.” Hee hee hee. Good English and a comic too.

Goodbye Thailand. Hello Laos.

Thank goodness we were with Kae. The Laos immigration area was a little overwhelming. Kae took all our passports, the completed paperwork and our passport photos and handed them into the Lao immigration team for us. This part was fairly painless.

Then the rest of the people travelling from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang via various slow boat, speed boat, or by road showed up. While we were waiting to get our passports back we decided to exchange some of our Thai Baht into Lao Kip. So off we went to join the masses of other people in the crowded little immigration / money exchange area.

By the time we got to the money exchange counter we had to join the mass of people to collect our passports. An immigration official had a big stack of passports and was calling out peple's name one after the other. Our passports would now have Lao 30 Day Tourist Visas stuck in them. Wee! We could now enter Laos legally. At the time of writing the cost of the Laos 30 day Tourist Visa is $30 USD for Australians and $42 USD for Canadians. Unsure about the rest of the world, please check online.

With a smile, we left the massive crowd of people waiting for their visas. We were off to experience a “relaxing 2 day, 1 night cruise” instead of the possible “torturous 2 day, 1 night wooden seat boat ride”. Whoop!

Next we went via a pick up truck to the slow boat. The ride took about 5 minutes. Everyone was excited to get going. It was now just after 10:30am. It had taken us around two hours to get through Thai and Lao Immigration. I was ready for a cup of tea.

The traditional Lao long boat

There were lots of long boats waiting to ferry tourists to Luang Prabang. We were shown to a particularly clean and comfortable boat. Very nice indeed.

We were asked to take off our shoes and to leave them on the mat in the open roofed area. Our luggage was placed under the seats near the captain's area. Off we went to choose a booth. The booth had two old bus seats on either side of a bench table. There were plenty of booths so there were only two people per booth of four seats. Luxurious!

We received a bottle of water each while the slow boat reversed out to start our cruise down the Mekong. Kae shared all the necessary information about our tour. The Nagi of Mekong provided all day tea, coffee and water. Fruit was also free. If we did want beer, softdrinks, chips or crisps, we would have to pay extra. We would receive lunch on both days, and our hotel was booked and paid for in Pakbeng.

We all settled into the slow boat way of life. There wasn't much to do except sit on our comfy chairs, put our legs up, read our books, drink tea and watch the moving pictures out the “window” of the open walled boat. If it did rain, there was clear plastic that would seal the boat up.

The long boat was set up in distinct parts. An open roofed area with seats on either side, perfect for stretching your legs and getting some sun. The roof was moveable in case it rained. Then there was the seated booth area. Eight booths on each side. More than enough booths for the 15 people on our cruise. The dining area consisted of a long table with chairs on either side with a bar that had drinks and crisps. Behind that area, a very clean toilet and bathroom area. Lovely.

We made two stops on our slow boat cruise on the first day. The first stop was at an immigration/police checkpoint. We stopped only very briefly before being sent on our way. The boats can also fill up on petrol if necessary and you can buy some last minute sticky rice.

Adorable Lao children

Visiting an ethnic Lao Village

The second stop was at a little village on the river's edge. As our boat was approaching, heaps of kids came rushing down to the waters edge. They were all holding hand made bracelets and bags. Luckily Kae had talked to us all before hand and advised us that if we were to buy anything from the children that a bracelet would cost 20 Baht or 5000 kip each. It would be better though to purchase school books from the local shop and then hand them out to the kids.

Of course, I couldn't resist a smiling kid, and bought a bracelet within 2 minutes of getting off the boat. I love my bracelet! And in the meantime, I somehow found a mini-me. She copied every word and noise that came from my mouth. So cute!

As we walked through the village, our guide Kae, shared numerous facts and stories about the village and its people. Many of the men apparently had two wives and six to eight children per family was common. The boys would go out to work in the fields every day while the girls stay at home and do whatever girls do.

It was great visiting the village with all the pigs and chickens. While the children busily tried to sell us stuff most of the locals just went about their business as if we weren't there. We got to see a little part of rural Laos.

There was a single building with a satellite dish next to it. This satellite dish provided TV to the one TV in the village. People would pay 1000 kip / hour to watch TV. The villagers would wait for a movie to start, pay 1000 kip each, and if the movie was good they pay more to stay and watch to the end.

Lunch was served! And what a lunch! Steamed rice, tomato relish, fried fish, mixed vegetables and a pork and vegetable soup. For those that were vegetarian, they offered a non-meat soup too. Kae had asked us all what our food preferences were in the morning. Delicious!

After eating there was more looking out the “window”, reading books and drinking tea. Along the way, Kae would share his knowledge of Laos. He told a lot of stories and answered a lot of questions.

3pm and we were starving! Well, hungry at least. Perhaps Nagi of Mekong needs to provide afternoon tea also. And morning tea. So, morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea. So hungry! There is only so much fruit you can eat and tea you can drink.

We had now been on the Nagi of Mekong slow boat cruise for just over 5 and a half hours and we were going to reach Pakbeng by 5:30pm. This is where we were to spend the night. We had read quite a few interesting stories about this town. Good and bad. But we were excited to be getting off the boat.

It was suggested to us that we should leave our big bags on the boat where the crew would guard it and only take a small bag with a change of clothes. This is because people have been known to get robbed while staying in Pakbeng. We don't get easily scared but we did get very nervous.

Oh the dilemma! We came up with a few options:
Option 1: Leave everything on the boat including electronics. Take only toiletries and a change of clothes.
Option 2: Take electronics, clean underwear and toothbrush only and have it all on us always. Leave everything else.
Option 3: Take everything with us but transfer laptops to a smaller bag and take that with us when we go out.

It took ages for us to decide but we ended up choosing option number 1. We were able to lock our bag up with the paksafe in the room where the boat captain and his family sleep. Everyone's luggage was going to be put in that room anyhow. Still felt weird to leave our stuff on the boat.

Welcome to Pakbeng, Laos

We have arrived in Pakbeng, Laos.

We all walked up the ramp from the boat with our little bags of jocks and tooth brushes and checked into the Phetsokxai Hotel. It seemed to be one of the fancier accommodation options in Pakbeng. Our rooms had already been booked and paid for and a key was given to each of us and we all agreed to meet up 30 minutes later for a walk through Pakbeng and dinner.

A quick toilet break, wash and a little lie on the bed, and we were out the door to see what Pakbeng had to offer.

Kae took us to a restaurant that catered to the tour groups passing through. The food was ok. The beer was nice. The company lovely. Oh, and we had our first shot of Lao Lao, a traditional spirit made from fermented rice. We were wished good luck and we enjoyed each others company.

We had a lovely dinner with our tour group. This is when we found out just how many different nationalities on our slow boat tour – British, Spanish, Canadian, Danish, Australian and our Lao guide and captain and his family.

Pakbeng town really didn't have much to offer in the way of tourism or anything apart from a few restaurants, accommodation options and some little shops. We did have our first chocolate croissants in Laos. Delicious.

Off to bed we went, we had an early start the next day. A 5:30am start. Despite that, life was pretty good. Luxurious in fact. Our choice to contact Nagi of Mekong was a good one.

Distance travelled today: 150 kilometers. From Huay Xai to Pakbeng, Laos. Many more kilometers to go.


Disclaimer: We received complimentary Nagi of Mekong slow boat tour tickets in return for our complete and honest review – good or bad. Click here for more information about Nagi of Mekong.

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