If you are looking to take a slow boat from northern Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos you have a few different transportation options. The most affordable and quickest way to travel down the Mekong to Luang Prabang is by speedboat but we aren’t even going to talk about that because it is downright dangerous- just don’t do it. 

Your safest, most affordable option is to travel by public slow boat which should cost you around 210,000 kip ($25.00) per person. All slow boats (including private cruise companies) split the trip into two days spend a night in Pakbeng, Laos. We read a few horror stories about the overcrowded, unreliable, public boats, so after much deliberation, we decided to spring for a mid-level cruise company that offered a more spacious, comfortable boat and provided us with snacks and meals during our two-day journey. We traveled with Shompoo Cruises and thoroughly enjoyed our experience with them. We highly recommend Shompoo for people who are looking to travel in comfort but do not need fancy, luxurious services and amenities. 

The Boat:

Shompoo’s boats are much longer and wider than other boats you will see traveling the Mekong so we had lots of space to move around and stretch our legs during the two-day journey. Plus they cap all their trips at 40 travelers so the boat never feels overcrowded. There are a few different seating options on board. There is a sundeck in the front of the boat and behind the sundeck is a dining area with comfortable booths you can settle into. You can also sit in front of the captain in the bow of the boat or lounge around on some cushions in the back of the vessel. There is a bar on board that sells beers and snacks and serves coffee and tea for free.  When it comes to boat bathrooms, we always expect the worst, but Shompoo’s bathrooms were immaculate. As a matter of fact, they were actually the cleanest bathrooms we have seen in all of Southeast Asia.

The Itinerary:

The first day our guide, Vong, met us at 8:30 am in Houay Xay at the Lao immigration office. All Shompoo travelers cleared customs and we rode tuk-tuks (paid for by Shompoo) to the boat dock, about 30 minutes away. We boarded the boat and made our way down the Mekong. Around noon we stopped in a small riverside Hmong village to see how locals lived. When we got back on the boat around 1:00 pm we were given cool towels and a refreshing lemongrass drink. We were then served lunch and we continued down the Mekong to Pakbeng, a small village where all slow boats stop for the night. We arrived around 5:00 pm and had some time to go to the local market and walk around the village. The next day we got back on the boat at 8:00 am. Around noon we had another delicious lunch and then in the late afternoon, we stopped at the Pak Ou Caves and Whiskey Village. Both stops were a bit too touristy for us but they were quick and most other passengers seemed to really enjoy them.  After the two stops, we made our way to Luang Prabang and arrived around 4:00 pm. 

The Food:

Wow! We were shocked-Shompoo serves delicious meals. Each day we were presented with a giant buffet of fresh, local, healthy food. The Shompoo staff cooked up numerous chicken dishes, stir fried veggies, spring roles and vegetarian options. They provide you with free drinking water, coffee & tea and offer alcohol and juices for purchase.

The Staff:

Our tour guide, Vong, was fabulous. He was friendly and knowledgeable and was available to answer any questions we had along the way. He helped us navigate immigration in Houay Hai and made sure we knew where we were going once we got to Luang Prabang. On our second morning, it was very cold on the boat and he gave us all blankets and served us hot tea.

The boat is owned by a family who comes along to take care of you on the journey. The father drives the boat and the wife and daughters cook meals and take care of anything else you need. They don’t speak much English but they are so warm and friendly that you automatically feel at home on their boat.  

The whole scoop:

We highly recommend Shompoo cruises. Although it is more expensive than taking the public boat, in this situation, you get what you pay for. We had a comfortable boat, delicious food and an expert guide to facilitate our journey. You can book your ticket with accommodation in Pakbeng included but we recommend getting a ticket without accommodation and booking the accommodation on your own at Sanctuary Lodge or any other Pakbeng hotel. Overall we thoroughly enjoyed our relaxing journey down the Mekong and are happy we chose Shompoo cruises.

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