Slow boat in Luang Prabang
Slow boats leave every day, the last one at 11AM. The trip from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai costs at least 350,000 kip (Nov 2012), the trip to Luang Prabang from Huay Xai costs around 1000 baht/280,000 kip or 110,000 kip to Pakbeng(Nov 2012). Be sure to retain your ticket stub as they check again when you board again at Pakbeng. The slow boat leaves Luang Prabang at about 8.30, from the middle of the town, and arrive around 18.00 at Pak beng. Make sure you stock up on food and drink before travelling as the on board prices are practically double (25,000 kip as opposed to 10,000 at a restaurant). Many guest houses at Pakbeng sell small (and somewhat pricey) packed lunches for the onward journey.
In Huay Xai it’s best to take a quick tuktuk from the border crossing to the boat landing (or about 15min walk) and purchase your tickets at the boat landing because all the tour agencies in town charge a commission, and agents usually don’t have reliable information about the quality of the boats. It is common to have to switch to a different boat in Pakbeng, so you may end up in a boat of higher or lower quality for the second half of the journey. The two day boats have nice comfortable (car) seats and it is no longer necessary to purchase any cushions.
The slow-boat is generally packed – so much so that there may not enough seats to go round. Arriving early will mean a longer day, but most likely a better seat, towards the front and away from the engine. The best seats are located near the captain as they allow access to large open ‘doors’, however, this area can get cramped with locals and their belongings.
The slow boat trip proceeds in a pleasant 20-30km/h and offers nice views to the nature and village life on the banks of the Mekong river. Most of the passengers are foreign tourists. Occasional locals take the boat only for short hops between the river side villages, but prefer to take the bus for the full distance from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. So you won’t be able to observe any local boat travellers, as the boat ride offers just the usual sight of tourists drinking Beerlao but is a great way to meet other visitors and discuss route plans and travel info.