So after an epic first day cruising along the Mekong River on the slow boat and a good nights sleep we were keen for more.
We were up early and wandered down to the riverside around 6am to take in the beauty of the location before the town came to life and people started boarding their boats. It was very tranquil for about 5 minutes until a massive lorry backed down the ramp and started loading up one of the barges, still we had enjoyed our brief peaceful moment by the Mekong and headed up into the village for some breakfast.
Day 2 – Back onboard the slow boat to Luang Prabang
After a pretty poor breakfast of scrambled eggs and bread, the only disappointing element of the overnight stay in Pakbeng, we climbed back on board our slow boat and got comfortable for the next few hours.
We pulled away from the dock at around 7.30 and instantly relaxed back into the pace of the river for the next few hours. There was only 1 extra passenger today so it was still like having a boat to yourself, ideal for a morning snooze as we chugged along.
Another slightly awkward village visit
After a few hours it was time for the first stop of the day at another tribal village, Ban Baw. The previous day our guide Kat had mentioned it would be a good idea to bring something to give out to the kids of the village as they were very poor. This put us in an instant dilemma and we considered simply bringing nothing but settled on a bag of some weird Japanese potato snacks. Well we didn’t fancy giving them sweets to rot their teeth in a village with no dentist.
Disembarking from our boat we were mobbed by the most of the kids from the village and tried to distribute our snacks fairly but some of the cheeky buggers kept hiding their snacks and coming to get more. There were just a few girls that waited patiently and said thank you so we made sure they got some.
As we walked around Ban Baw village Kat told us about the methods they use to make the roofing for the huts and grind out the sticky rice as the women worked away hard beside him. There was definitely a bit more going on here than yesterday’s stop and we met the 1 local that was sent off to study and has come back to teach the local children.
The most fascinating sight was an 8 year old girl cracking open nuts with a machete much to the horror of the older ladies from another tour that had docked just before us. This is just something you wouldn’t see back in the UK and goes to highlight the void that exists in the world.
It was sad to see there were wrappers from the snacks we had given now scattered all around the place. We picked a few up as a gesture but still felt stupid for giving them in the first place, I’m not sure why Kat said we should. If you’re visiting here definitely don’t bring stuff to give, it would be much nicer if there was a way to donate and train more teachers.
Visiting Pak Ou Caves by the Mekong
Back onboard and it was once again time for a filling buffet style lunch. We really can’t fault the food with Mekong Smile and after a couple of helpings I felt like I was ready for an afternoon nap.
Kat soon informed us that we were closing in on the end destination of Luang Prabang fast but it would soon be time for our final stop of the day, Pak Ou caves.
Rounding a bend in the river an mighty limestone karst reared in the distance, this was home to the famous caves. There’s Tham Ting (lower cave) and the Tham Theung (upper cave) hidden inside the rock and each contain hundreds of Buddha images in different positions carefully laid out over several levels.
It’s a very impressive sight, we had around 40 minutes to explore both caves and it was quite a climb up the 300 plus steps to the upper cave in the hot sun. Some visitors were turning back half way up but we made it and entered the darkness to be greeted by many more wonderful glittering Buddha images.
Back onboard we sailed on for less than an hour to reach the ‘new pier’ a few kilometers outside Luang Prabang. If this was the new pier I’m not sure how bad the old one was because there was just a wooden plank onto some sand to scrabble over to reach the steps up to the road.
We waved goodbye to the crew, the captain and his excellent wife the cook and jumped into the waiting minivan. Mekong Smile provide this final bit of transport to drop you directly at your hotel in the total price, if you were on the public boat you would have to stump up for an overpriced Tuk tuk.
Is it worth getting the slow boat with Mekong Smile Cruises?
In short, yes. It of course depends on your budget but around a month into our trip this is the first thing that we really splurged on. We really enjoyed the space and comfort of the boat combined with the quality transport, food and accommodation included.
As mentioned in the Slow Boat Day 1 post, there are other cheaper ways to go but sometimes you have to weigh up if you are using the river just to get to the next place or if you want to really explore and enjoy it. If it’s the latter then consider taking a ‘posh’ slow boat.
Have you taken the slow boat on the Mekong River? How did it compare? Do you want to and have questions? Let us know in the comments below…