Slow Boat from Chiang Khong to Luang Prabang - Our Report with costFrom Chiang Mai caught the local bus 211 Baht 1pm, arrived in Chiang Khong at around 8pm. Bus ride was "ok" but the bus has a seat configuration of 2 - 3 - two seats on one side, 3 on the other. If you buy 2 tickets and they are A&B seats you are together on the "2" side. If you get C,D or E you'll be in the "3" side - which is not fun with a stranger - the seats are most definitely NOT wide enough for 3 Western shoulders (thin people). We had to recline the center seat so my friend could "slot" in and have her back and neck supported.
Luckily, after about 3.5 hours, most of the Thais get off, and the rest get off here and there for the rest of the journey. So at the 3.5 hour mark, you can bag 2 or 3 spare seats and it is fine. The 1st 3.5 hours is tough going.
Arriving in Chiang Khong, ignored the touts and got a 60b tuk tuk to the "town" and secured a nice fan room for 200b.There is a lady that greets the bus and offers 350b fan rooms with free tuk tuk to the pier the next morning, plus free Internet. Not a bad deal really, but we never book anything when arriving to a new place after so many bad experiences of being conned.
In the morning, 40 Baht tuk tuk to the Thai immigration right by the ferry crossing. Got coffee, queued at immigration at 7.45 am. Stamped out 10 minutes later, large queue forming behind us.
40 Baht water ferry across Meekong, Bought arrival visa $35 USD or 1500 Baht, so bring US if you can. Though you can change it right at the visa area!
Various tours offered us slow boat tickets immediately after immigration - we paid 1200Baht including tuk tuk to the pier. When we got to the pier we found we could have paid 1000 baht. No big deal.
Our "tour company" we bought the slow boat tickets off took everyones passports (We refused) - and gave them all a quick talk about the currency. They did NOT try the scam about "dangerous boats, you die, take 900 Baht coach instead" - they just took the passports to the pier and got the tickets, then returned them (I walked with the chap). Perhaps my presence and the fact I told him "I know the story about the "safety talk" discouraged them from scamming, but I doubt it. I assume only some of the companies try this on.
Bought cushions at the same place we bought our ferry tickets. 50 Baht. Essential.
The 1st boat was fine - many cushions were provided already, so you could use your own for your back, or to lean on the side of the boat. They sold beer, water, soft drinks and baguettes with either soft cheese (laughing cow - dairy lee) or Tuna salad. Plus crisps etc. Really enjoyable journey. Left at 11.30 am - arrived at Pak Beng at around 6pm - watched a beautiful sunset as we docked.
Pak Beng is fine. Whoever thinks it is seedy has led a sheltered life. Funny little one street town. Lots of accom touts, including on the ferry - they wanted 350Baht. We went to the same place they were touting, and paid 200 Baht. Kids didn't try and steal or grab our bags, though they enthusiastically empty the boats baggage hold and try to earn from 20 baht upwards to take your bag up what is a steep climb. A fair few people really appreciated this service. They didn't seem to try and force this service on anyone.
2nd day was harder, but still fun. Different boat, with "curved" sides so you sat a foot from the side, so you could not easily lean on the side. You learn to move about and find comfy positions. Another enjoyable day, helped largely by beer Loas. Only crisps and beer on sale this day, so shop well in Pak Beng.
Stunning scenery all the way, and fun rapids, which was a surprise. Arrived Luang Prabang 5pm. Even saw locals riding elephants on the river bank half way through the day.
Overall a great experience and well worth doing.
Aya Service in CM offered a minibus to Chiang Khong, then boat tickets and all taxis for 1800 Baht. Not a bad deal in reality but you arrived in Chiang Khong at 4am and slept for 3 hours before getting up again. We figured for a 2 day sail we needed proper sleep. Others we met did a similar service but arrived in Chiang Khong at 8pm so there are good packages out there.
Get to each boat asap. Grab a seat on the side so you can lean on the railing and watch the scenery. Unlike an American girl who got on the second boat at 8.55am (9am departure) and said, in great surprise, "Like, oh my god, there are no cushions left". Like oh my god, get up earlier!
Buy a cushion.
Buy lunch in advance (and smokes)
Don't even consider sitting anywhere near the back of the boat near the engine. People were sleeping by it - god only knows how. Loud is an understatement. One girl looked like she wanted to die.
Chat to everyone, drink beers, and enjoy the Meekong.
Hope this helps someone :-)