Best Companies to Cruise down the Mekong (Houy Xai to Luang Prabang)
Taking a luxury cruise down the Mekong is a wonderful way to travel from Thailand into Laos. It offers two great days of relaxation, beautiful scenery and likely comradery with fellow passengers. It is 2 days that people often hold as their best days while traveling in South East Asia. This post will outline the various options for the luxury slow boat cruising. Check out my other post here for more general information about Cruising the Mekong. Click on the name of the Cruise to go to the website.
Luang Say is the top luxury option of the boats down the Mekong. It is by far the most expensive but offers a high level of service along the way. If you like nice things and have the money, this is your go to option. You will stay in the nicest hotel in Pekbang, get helped across the borders, they also offer things like blankets and slippers on board for if you get cold in the morning. The boat was surprisingly not as nice as the Shompoo boat. It has wicker chairs and just did not look as nice or comfortable. You make several guided stops over the two days, 2 local Lao villages and Pak Ou caves on the way to Luang Prabang. Pricing is $285USD if you book in advance if you book just a few days before and they are looking for more passengers the price drops to $180USD. From speaking with people and reading online it seems like everyone enjoys themselves with Luang Say, they just seem to take great care of you. If you can get it for $180 this is your best option (likely only in the shoulder or low season). Luang Say departs downstream to Luang Prabang Monday, Thursday, Friday from Oct 31st to March 31st and Monday, Friday, April 1- Sept 30th.
Has 4 boats that it currently charters, in the next high season they are adding an additional 2. Shompoo is supposed to be the second nicest of the cruising companies. The trip will cost you $150USD per person with no accommodations. I would highly recommend you don’t book accommodations through them as a couple because they really over charge. Ex. The lowest level of accommodation in Pekbang through Shompoo is DP Guesthouse, Shompoo charges $20USD per person, Agoda $21USD for the night for two. If you are a pair you will save more than enough to pay for dinner. The food was surprisingly great on the boat and the boats themselves looked the nicest of all the boats we saw during the two-day trip and after in Luang Prabang. Shompoo stops at 2 local Lao villages and Pak Ou caves on the trip. Bring school supplies for the kids if you are interested. Shompoo departs when they have a minimum number of people for a specified date. They go almost daily in high season and 1 or 2 times a week in low season. They are closed in August.
Nagi of the Mekong is the best deal in my opinion especially in the shoulder/low seasons, when they throw in extra nights stay in a hotel (Chiang Khong) they offer both pick up and drop and help through the border. Nagi is quite full service as it includes accommodations in Pekbang and most of your food during the 2-day trip. the boats feature bus like seating and some tables. They are not as nice as shampoo or Luang Say but a huge step up from the public boats for both comfort and experience. While they do not depart as often as Luang Say or Shompoo during the low season if you can make the timing work this would be my top choice for $130USD. In high season the rates go up to $150USD but include our accommodations in Pekbang still making them the best value. Nagi also stops at 2 local lao villages and Pak Ou Caves.
Smiles is the newest of the cruising companies. They have only been around for 1 season and I could not find anyone who had used the company. I did find some information from their website and speak to a Thai lady who compared them to Nagi of Mekong (or slightly lower) in terms of service level and the boat. Smiles will set you back $130USD with no accommodations in Pekbang. They do however pick you up at your hotel in Chiang Khong and bring you over the border. Smiles also makes 3 stops, 2 at local villages and 1 and Pak Ou Caves.
The public boat is the cheapest of the options. You can buy tickets once you get to the pier in Houayxay. If you go with this route nothing is included. A seat is not guaranteed as they generally have about 40 seats and let up to 100 people on board. The seats are the benches pulled out of cars. There is only ever 1 squat toilet for everyone, lines can get long. There is no food or drinks provided and no stops where you can get off. You can buy tickets in Thailand that include pick up at the Laos border and a sandwich for around 1200 baht.
A speed boat is the last of the options which I would never recommend. You will sit on a wooden bench for 7 hours, not able to talk due to the extremely loud engine, wearing a helmet and life jacket because the speed boats are known to flip… often. Just don’t do it if you value your life. These guys go ridiculously fast and seem to not have a real concern for safety.
Here is a handy dandy chart comparing what each company offers:
|Luang Say||Shompoo||Nagi of Mekong||Smiles|
|Hotel Chiang Khong (CK)||Included||Low/shoulder season only|
|Transfer (CK to Laos)||Included||Tuk Tuk 150 BHT
Bus 25 BHT pp
|Advance Customs Doc’s & Help||Provide at Thai Border||Drop off forms night before||Provide at Thai Border|
|Transfer to Boat||Included||Included||Included||Included|
|Breakfast, Dinner, 2 lunches, & fruit as snacks||2 lunches, & fruit as snacks||2 lunches, & fruit as snacks||2 lunches, & fruit as snacks|
|Unlimited tea, coffee, water||Unlimited tea, coffee, water||Unlimited tea, coffee, water||Unlimited tea, coffee, water|
|Guided Excursions||2x Lao Villages, Pak Ou Cave||2x Lao Villages, Pak Ou Cave||2x Lao Villages, Pak Ou Cave||2x Lao Villages, Pak Ou Cave|
|Hotel in Pakbeng||Included||Included|
|Meals in Pakbeng||Dinner, Breakfast||Breakfast|
|Transfer to hotel in Luang Prabang||Included||Included||Included||Included|
Are you planning to head down the Mekong? Which will you choose? Any experiences with any of these companies? Let us know in the comments below!