Crossing into Laos – The Nagi of Mekong
The Mekong River, Laos
I think the biggest internal conflict our group had in planning this trip was how we were getting from Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos. We knew about the public ferries down the Mekong River, but it seemed like everyone’s review online essentially said, “It’s an amazingly beautiful miserable trip” and that it was totally worth doing if you had the time. Basically people are just cattle-herded onto uncomfortable and cramped slow boats for two straight days with an overnight in a town with horrible hotels/hostels. Some people in the group thought this would get some needed “culture” on the trip, but others (myself included) didn’t want to spend 2 days of a short enough trip being miserable. There was a speed boat option to get us down the river in 6-8 hours, but those reviews basically said, “Do it if you have a death wish,” as well as the overland bus trip that was also described as “long and brutal.” We even considered flying back to Bangkok, catching an overnight train to Vientiane, and coming up on a bus from the south while seeing some sites along the way.
We ended up finding some reviews of a (apparently relatively new) “luxury cruise” option, Nagi of Mekong. It was the more expensive option we explored ($120-ish), but that included two days on the boat (with meals), some tourist stops along the way, and lodging at the mid-point in Pak Beng, Laos. The boat had an area upfront to with some bench seats to lounge under the retractable roof, 30(ish) really comfortable individual bucket seats with tables, an open area behind those, 2 bathrooms with running water (showers) in the back, bottomless cups of 3-in-1 coffee (that stuff is awesome!), and most importantly, booze (10,000kip each – $1.26). After some group-convincing, we decided this not only seemed like the most convenient way to go, but also something that would actually be a really good (relaxing) time.
Adiasak was the main contact and made everything really easy, including arranging the minibus for us from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong and then from the hotel to the ‘docks’ the following morning. He met us right at the minibus, grabbed our luggage to ‘check’ onto the boat, had us get exit visas, and then got us in line with the rest of the group. He quickly introduced us to Pheng, our guide on the boat for the next two days, before we were essentially herded with the other passengers to small boats to take us across the river to Huay Xai, Laos to immigration. The whole process was a relatively chaotic clusterfuck, but most importantly, it was really easy.
As everyone slowly received visas, we had a few minutes to get to an ATM and grab a few snacks/water in Huay Xai before Pheng showed us to three waiting tuk-tuks to take us a kilometer (or two) north to board the boat. As we pulled off, Pheng went over what to expect for the next two days and I think right from the start, we all realized that splurging for this trip over the others was completely worth it.
In the end, it definitely turned out to be one of the bigger highlights of my trip.