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The Local Way Between Laos and Thailand

As I wrote about in a recent post, I don’t think I was prepared for how…local the slow boat from Laos to Thailand would be. Picture it: A rickety wooden vessel filled with upholstered seats salvaged from junkyard cars, and packed to the gills with tourists, locals and way too many Chinese laborers for comfort’s sake.

Now, the journey wasn’t all bad; once I got adjusted to life onboard, the journey was actually pretty relaxing and pleasant. This is to say nothing of how much better the second day—yes, it takes two days—ended up being than the first.

But then, I’m getting ahead of myself. After all, I’m writing about the slow boat from Luang Prabang to Thailand—there’s no need to rush the narration, now is there?

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How to Book the Slow Boat from Laos to Thailand

If you take the “local” version of the slow boat from Thailand to Luang Prabang (or do the reverse course, as I did), there’s not really a way to book it online in advance. Rather, hotels in Luang Prabang (and, somewhat less commonly, Chiang Rai) can book your tickets for you. The cost of the boat is negligible, which may surprise you when you book but…well, you’ll see why once you board.

If you want to enjoy a slightly less rustic experience, there are some “luxury” slowboat options. The one with the best reviews—I haven’t done any of these yet, full disclosure—is Shompoo, whose upstream cruise from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai is its most famous offering. This boat offers much more space and comfort than the local one, and also allows you to enjoy actual food and drink onboard (instead of just instant noodles and bottled beer).

How Your Slow Boat Journey Will Go

Early morning pick-up


When I booked my slow boat from my hotel in Luang Prabang, I was skeptical that the “6 AM” pick-up time the receptionist quoted me would prove to be accurate. In fact, they arrived around 7 AM; it was another 30 minutes to the departure pier (which was surprisingly far outside of town). This seemed to be a common occurrence for others onboard as well, so don’t stress too much about being on-time!

TIP: Depending on what time your pick-up is scheduled, you may be able to watch part or all of the morning Alms giving ceremony in Luang Prabang before you leave!

Culture shock


Upon boarding the slow boat from Laos to Thailand, I was shocked primarily because of just how spartan the arrangements on-board were. Seats (which had clearly been harvested from old cars) were packed in tightly, and the environment was claustrophobic, to say the least. Worse, I happened to be seated next to half a dozen Chinese laborers who didn’t shut up for at least the first two hours.

A late arrival into Pak Beng


When they say “slow” boat, they mean it. After setting off from Luang Prabang at around 8:30 AM, it took us until around 5:30 PM—a full working day!—to get to Pak Beng. Thankfully, there’s not a lot to do here. I only ended up having enough time to eat dinner, but as it turns out that was literally the only thing I could do. Well, accept attempt to sleep (the room wasn’t what you would call comfortable).

Day two is easier


A big part of your experience onboard the slow boat from Luang Prabang to Thailand is which boat you end up getting. The one I boarded on day two was much more spacious than day one had been; the aforementioned Chinese laborers were nowhere to be found. I also enjoyed the scenery more than day, and overall found it all to be way more pleasant.

(But lasts longer than you expect)


In spite of feeling less stressed on day two, it was more or less the same travel time. We arrived into Huay Xai, across the river from Chiang Kong, Thailand, at around 5:30 PM, literally right as the sun was setting. By the time I completed border formalities and got into a share van with some others from the boat, it was nearly dark; it was almost my bed time by the time I finally arrived in Chiang Rai.

Is the Slow Boat to Thailand Worth It?

Upon arriving in Huay Xai after two days on the slow boat, I disembarked the vessel feeling very grateful for having taken the journey. However, as I alluded to in the intro to this post, I had felt precisely the opposite way when I boarded. So yes, in retrospect, the journey was worth it, although I would advise you to have some humility (and humor) throughout the process.

Still aren’t sold on the slow boat from Thailand to Laos? There are a couple of other options. Obviously, the first one is the “luxury” cruise offered by Shompoo (and other companies), which I mentioned a few paragraphs up. Another choice? Return to Thailand via the southbound route. Spend a couple of nights each in the ecotourism hub of Vang Vieng and the Laotian capital of Vientiane, then travel by train all the way back to Bangkok.

Other FAQ About Travel from Laos to Thailand

Can you slow boat from Laos to Thailand?

As of early 2024, it is still possible to ride the slow boat from Laos to Thailand, or vice-versa. However, there’s a possibility that the dams under construction along the Mekong River may make this journey impossible, probably sooner rather than later.

Is the slow boat to Laos worth it?

In the end, I did feel thankful that I had made the decision to ride the slow boat to Thailand, though not every part of the journey was enjoyable. If you do decide to follow in my footsteps, I encourage you to be patient and not rush to judgment, as I sometimes found myself doing during my own trip.

How long is the slow boat to Luang Prabang?

The slow boat to Luang Prabang from Thailand (or, in reverse, from Luang Prabang back to Thailand) takes two days, with one stop overnight in the town of Pak Beng. The downstream journey is slightly faster (meaning less time on the boat each day), but the overall transit period is still around 36 hours.

The Bottom Line

If you’re considering the slow boat from Luang Prabang to Thailand (or going in reverse), I’d say that you should do it, in most cases. While I originally doubted my decision as the boat pulled away from the shore in Laos, I came to enjoy the journey over the course of its two days, and was actually sad when it ended. Still aren’t sold? Well, if the “local” version of the slow boat is too rustic for you, you may choose one of many luxury options. Another way to make sure you enjoy your trip? Consider hiring me to plan a custom Thailand itinerary, and let me sweat all the details.


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