River Journey to Huay Xai

The 300-km (186-mile) trip along the Mekong River between Luang Prabang and Huay Xai is a leisurely journey on one of the world's most famous stretches of river. Your boat drifts along the meandering Mekong past a constantly changing primeval scene of towering cliffs, huge mud flats and sandbanks, rocky islands, and riverbanks smothered in thick jungle, the riverscape occasionally interrupted by swaths of cultivated land, mulberry trees, bananas, and tiny garlic fields. There are no roads, just forest paths linking dusty settlements where the boats tie up for refreshment stops.

There are several ways to make this journey: by regular "slow" boat, which holds about 50 passengers; by speedboat (not recommended), which seats about four; or on the midrange Shompoo Cruise boat or the luxury Luang Say boat of Mekong Cruises. All these trips can be arranged in Luang Prabang.

The only village of note is a halfway station, Pakbeng, which has many guesthouses and restaurants along its one main street and seems to exist solely to serve the boat passengers who arrive each night. Once you arrive in Huay Xai (which has little of interest in itself other than the Gibbon Experience), a good way to enter Thailand is to cross the river on the bridge to Chiang Khong and then take a bus to Chiang Rai, 60 km (37 miles) inland.

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