36 Hours on the Mighty Mekong

36 hours on the Mighty Mekong

I fell in love with South East Asia. The people, the places the colours. I knew when my last adventure there was coming to an end, it needed to finish with a bang. 

I had to get from Luang Prabang, Laos to Chang Mai, Thailand and I wanted it to be an experience to remember. The easiest way to do this trip? Well, there is no easy way. The options were:

Fly. Sit on a plane and miss out half the country? Not a chance and too expensive.

Drive. Thats a long old journey and by now I’d done my fair share of squeezing into a cramped little van or bus, driving for hours on end along bumpy tracks or if your lucky, tarmac.

Option number three however, was a beauty and would give me the experience I was after. A two day journey on the mighty Mekong? Now that had adventure written all over it!

Mighty Mekong River

All Aboard

I hopped on board my Mekong longboat (or slowboat) on the waters edge at Luang Prabang. On one hand I was sad to leave Luang Prabang. I’d had an incredible time here and it was right up there with one of my favorite places across all South East Asia. On the other hand, I couldn’t wait to get going up the mighty Mekong and see what adventures it had in store for me.

It takes two to three days to make the longboat journey to Chang Mai. This depends largely on the time of year and if you travel during rainy season or not. For me visiting in November, it looked like two days would be realistic.

After introducing myself to the crew (a Lao family), we pushed off.

The scenery was spectacular. Travelling by water has always given me that feeling of exploration and discovery I desire so much. I felt like Christopher Columbus, stumbling across some far off land. I wasn’t Mr Columbus, far from it in fact, he wouldn’t have been see dead in the clobber I was wearing, but I felt the part.

Unlike many places, parts of Laos felt unexplored.

Mighty Mekong River Mighty Mekong River

After a couple of hours, we docked at a pontoon beneath a white, stone staircase that lead up to a cave in the mountain side. This was Pak Ou Caves. Tham Ting (the lower cave) and Tham Theung (the upper cave) are a popular stop off and have become well know for their hundreds and thousands of Buddha statues.

Pak Ou Cave(source)

It’s a pretty cool sight although it doesn’t feel as authentic as some Buddhist caves in Laos, such as Tham Phu Kham Cave in Vang Vieng.

Pak Ou Caves seem to be more of a tourist hotspot than anything but I’d still recommend a visit. It’s a pretty cool photo opportunity if nothing else.

Five to six hours later, as the sun set, Pak Beng came into sight. This was where we’d be spending the night before part two of my journey to Thailand.

Mighty Mekong River Mighty Mekong River

Pak Beng is a small trading port. The town has very few amenities and only gets 8 hours of electricity a day. I was only to make the most of 3 of these hours by the time we anchored up. Just enough time to recharge my camera battery. Priorities.

Mighty Mekong RiverMighty Mekong River

Rice Wine Hangover on the Banks of the Mekong

Rice wine or Sato is very popular in Laos and Thailand. As we were approaching the Laos/Thai border, I thought it only right to have a few with dinner that night.

As I sat at a table I noticed the Rice Wine was already at the table (they must have seen me coming, that or I had ‘piss artist’ written across my forehead). Well apparently, once you open a bottle of Rice Wine, you pass it round the table (having a shot each) until the bottle is empty….. this dinner suddenly became very dangerous indeed.

I forgot to mention that my hotel room was riddled with cockroaches. The Rice Wine not only helped me pass out within seconds of reaching my bed, but it meant it would take a brave cockroach to come anywhere near me and my alcohol breath.

I woke at 0600 hours. What does the 0 stand for? Oh my God its early!

As I dragged my backpack down to the boat I was obviously in a pretty bad way. Not only was I experiencing the daddy of all hangovers but my evening’s meal hadn’t agreed with me either so I was firing on all cylinders.

I was so scared that at some point along todays 7 hour journey, I may either reunite with last nights Rice Wine or pebble dash this lovely family’s longboat.

Toilet roll at the ready and sat within mere feet of the onboard toilet, we pulled away from Pak Beng and headed for Thailand.

Pak Beng(source)

Along the way, you could spot locals going about their daily routines along the river bank. We even spotted hunters… or were they bandits? Our boats captain couldn’t be sure so we passed with caution.

Mighty Mekong River Mighty Mekong River

Fun Fact: As I was sat on the boat and the crew walked past me, they ducked in a squat type fashion. This was very odd. I asked someone on board, if he knew why they did this. It turns out, it is considered rude to walk past someone seated with your bottom higher or in level with their head. They ducked to ensure their derrière was lower. How thoughtful and polite is that. 

Our journey ended at the Laos/Thai border of Chiang Khong and I’m a very happy to report I stepped off the boat with toilet roll to spare.

In more ways than one, I was going to remember this journey for a very long time.

Mighty Mekong River Mighty Mekong River

The Mekong was everything I hoped it would be and so much more. This trip should definitely be added to your ‘must do’ list. If you’re planning on travelling from Laos to Thailand then there is no greater way to make this journey.



  • http://chocolatour.net/ Doreen Pendgracs

    LOVE your photos! That excursion down the Mekong really looks like quite an epic journey! Thx for sharing.

    • http://www.theglobewanderers.com TheGlobeWanderers

      Hi Doreen. Thank you so much 🙂
      It’s a great trip. It really was a highlight of South East Asia. You get to really see the country as it would have been seen years ago.
      Thanks for reading.


  • http://traveldrifter.com Ashley | TravelDrifter

    Great photos!

    • http://www.theglobewanderers.com TheGlobeWanderers

      Thanks, Ashley. Have you been?


      • http://traveldrifter.com Ashley | TravelDrifter

        Not yet, I am heading to Vietnam in a few weeks though 🙂

        • http://www.theglobewanderers.com TheGlobeWanderers

          Ah, wow. You’ll have a great time! If travelling around the country then I’d recommend Ha Long Bay. Written a bit about it here if fancy a gander (http://theglobewanderers.com/category/travel/asia/vietnam/).
          Look forward to reading about your adventures there 🙂 Safe travels.

  • Karla Ramos

    OMG! I have been eyeing LAOS for sometime now and this is just making me go more. Next time youre in SEA visit the Philippines. WE also have a lot to offer. Nice photos and nice blog. Keep it up 🙂

    • http://www.theglobewanderers.com TheGlobeWanderers

      Thanks, Karla.
      The Philippines is so high up on my ‘list’. I hope we can visit there very soon. We’ll come to the Philippines, you head for Laos then we can compare notes ey 🙂

      • Karla Ramos

        Message me if you need help for the Philippines. I can maybe help you with tips and all

  • Abbi from Life in a rucksack ✈

    Awesome post James! I did the same journey last year, only the other way around (so Chiang Khong to LP). I didn’t get to stop off at that cave though (I feel robbed of an opportunity!)
    Laos is such a gorgeous little country, very much under discovered in many places. Did you ever make it to the south of the country, around four thousand islands? It is so beautiful and the locals are so friendly.
    I had to laugh at your comment about the electricity. When I arrived I had no battery power in my camera, or iPod, and was like ‘quick – get it on charge’ but where I was staying had a power cut about three times during the time of electricity! All part of the experience I suppose.

    • http://www.theglobewanderers.com TheGlobeWanderers

      Ah, thank you, Abbi. Very pleased you like it.
      Oh cool. A fellow Mekong buddy! Oh sorry you didn’t make the cave but the journey was so much greater so no biggy in my books.
      Oh I didn’t make it to four thousand islands. Will have to go back now (not that I hadn’t already intended too).
      Oh no. Its not until you haven’t power before you realise how much you rely on electricity right. Especially when travelling. Christmas pressie idea…. hundreds of battery packs 🙂

  • Gemma

    These photos are just glorious! We didn’t even consider a long boat in SE Asia, not sure why. After seeing this we definitely missed out. Ah rice wine hangovers, that stuff must be poison. Craig was offered it at 5am in the morning when we arrived in Sapa (Vietnam) because the guys liked his tattoos. BOKE!

    • http://www.theglobewanderers.com TheGlobeWanderers

      Hi Gemma.
      Oh really? Next time! It’s a pretty cool way to see the country 🙂
      Haha, they love offering rice wine 24/7. Its strong enough to melt the tattoo’s off your body, that stuff! I missed out on Sapa unfortunately. Would you recommend?

  • Chris Nash

    Some great memories have been revisited!

    We did the reverse journey back in 2009.

    Remains one of my favourite travel experiences (we started our journey with throbbing heads after a few too many Beer Lao’s & Rice Whiskies)!

    • http://www.theglobewanderers.com TheGlobeWanderers

      Hi Chris.
      Haha, rice whisky and Beer Lao…. what a combo!
      It’s an awesome trip isn’t it. I hope I can do it again someday.
      Thanks for reading 🙂

  • http://www.touristingaround.blogspot.pt Marta Grilo

    Your pictures are fantastic! Never been there but definitely want to go.

    • http://www.theglobewanderers.com TheGlobeWanderers

      Thanks Marta. Pleased you like them 🙂
      Would defiantly advise you to add it to your ‘list’

  • sanketdhume

    Those pictures are top notch. I’ve been toying with a 6-9 month long journey through the South-East for a while now. Great post this, and I loved the look of your site too. Incidentally, what camera do you guys use?

    • http://www.theglobewanderers.com TheGlobeWanderers

      Oh you have to do the trip. You’ll have the best time. Its still my favourite part of the world.
      Pleased you like our blog 🙂
      We use a Canon 70D with a 18mm-135mm lens.
      Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Europe Diaries

    Lovely pictures! I feel bad for not having explored SE Asia yet, even though I’m from India..Hopefully,I’ll plan something out soon..

    • http://www.theglobewanderers.com TheGlobeWanderers

      Thank you 🙂
      You should feel bad! Just kidding.
      It’ll make an incredible trip when you do make it there though.
      Where abouts in India are you from. Gabby and I hope to travel through India in the next year or so.
      Thanks for your comment.

      • Europe Diaries

        That’s good to know..I live in Kolkata (or Calcutta)..in the eastern part of India.There is so.much to explore in India too.!

  • Anil Gurung

    Absolutely spectacular! I’ll be sure to take the boat too on this route. 🙂

    • http://www.theglobewanderers.com TheGlobeWanderers

      Thanks, Anil. Its one of those places where you can get easily frustrated taking photos that capture how amazing the landscape is. It won’t disappoint though 🙂

  • http://www.fittwotravel.com Tarah and Tip Vongbouthdy

    We didn’t get a chance to take the trip down the Mekong, but those pictures look amazing. Its definitely a cool alternative to see SE Asia, and much better than some of the buses!!
    Also, the rice wine is so incredibly potent!!!

    • http://www.theglobewanderers.com TheGlobeWanderers

      Ah thank you very much guys. It is indeed a cool trip worth a go if you find yourself back there 🙂
      Haha, the rice wine will create a lasting impression right? Just not a lasting memory depending on how much you have 😉
      Cheers for reading.

  • http://www.compassandfork.com elizabeth

    We did this trip and it was fantastic! A highlight. Great way to relax for a couple of days and just drink it in. In the morning We were treated to the mahouts bringing their elephants down to the river for a drink- the pictures are fantastic. Enjoyed your post- it bings back nice memories.