to slow boat or not to slow boat...

Louang Namtha Travel Blog

 › entry 130 of 212 › view all entries
... that is the question. and the answer is: not to!

the slow boat between the border at huay xai and luang prabang, one of the main attractions in laos is kind of mythical tourist thing... everyone tells stories about how beautiful, fucked up, dangerous, nice, uncomfortable, etc. their 2 day slow boat ride was (2x7 hours actually with a stopover in some river village in the middle)

after long thoughts i decided to take the bus to luang nam tha instead, a town north east of the border crossing. with the upgraded roads and the possibility to take the 'most beautiful river ride' on my way down to luang prabang i chose that over 2 days of boring, repetitive mekong scenery

wrote my name down for the bus (only one on that part of the list as everyone else was in for the boat) but opted for the tourist agency way. cost me 350 baht for bus & tuktuk ride to the bus station which wasn't much more than doing it on my own so i was sold.

in the morning i met a kiwi girl, a singapore & japanese guy that was on that bus and we rode down to the bus station where are tuk tuk driver quickly bought our tickets. i still haven't paid the 350 baht but he insisted 'later later'... 2 busses went off without us and the tuktuk driver returned telling us that we are on the 'vip bus' that is coming in 15 minutes and we should be happy... we chose to be a bit worried instead.

he took off (without my 350 baht...) and left us with the tickets at the bus station. and, 15 minutes later, a big aircon bus appeared.... nice!

we found our seats, waited... aircon was not on and the temperature quickly reached > 40

there were a lot more people than seats so quickly plastic chairs were arranged to put in the aisle - with us having the best spectator seats in the backrow. monks boarded and we were afraid that they kick us out of the bus with a claim for the back seats but they did not. not that we could move anyway as every single cm of the aisle was now converted into seats. everything very organized though, far away from the chinese way of everyone lying/sitting/standing over each other and no loud fights over seats.

aircon went on and we cooled down a bit with the warm but cooler than in the bus air and some 30 minutes later at about 10 we took off.

laos is kinda hilly and has a reputation for really terrible roads... so taking that ride in a more than full big bus is certainly fun! it wasn't as bad as expected though, the engine had a sound of near death to it and uphill was really really slow but we managed quite well.

at about 12 there was even a proper lunch stop in a small food shack somewhere in the middle of nowhere. tasty noodle soup (with VERY questionable meat in it) for 50 cents us and beer lao was a good start into the afternoon. no idea where we are and the quoted travel time of "5 to 14 hours" makes you feel a bit helpless so we just hoped for the best and the journey continued.

well, for 30 minutes, as the road is still being upgraded (by private sponsorship and going on for ages now) one of the dust road bits was too much for a tire and we had a minor breakdown. 15 minutes later we were back on the move.

and then all of the sudden we drove into a typical south east asian parking lot / bus station and it was actually luang nam tha! after only 5 hours we arrived, including lunch break and flat tire! wow
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
after the bus trip i've teamed up with the kiwi girl and we headed for a guesthouse she had in mind which was a short walk from the bus station on the main road. we shared a twin room and planned our onward trips.

i'd loved to do some hiking up there but there wasn't anything interesting available and i had no interest in staying in the town for long as it isn't that spectacular - some long streets with typical tourist stuff aligned but not really a tourist scene except for the few souls that somehow ended up there.

later that afternoon we've met the us girl again that i chatted with on the thai border side - she was doing a trek the next two days but wasn't that impressed by the town either. after some beer lao in the local korean bbq it was time for a early night as the bus to udomxai left at 8am the next day (which means in laos that you have to be there at 7 or you won't get a seat)
Louang Namtha
photo by: edsander