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There are three ways to make the journey to Huay Xai from Luang Prabang on the river: by regular "slow" boat, which holds about 50 passengers; by speedboat, which seats about 4; and by luxury cruise.
The regular boat is at least a 12- to 14-hour journey over two days. You'll spend the night in Pakbeng, in very basic guesthouses whose owners come to meet the boats and corral guests. The fare is about $30 per person; slow boats depart daily from the riverside near the morning market in Luang Prabang.
Speedboats make the journey between Luang Prabang and Huay Xai in six hours. Speedboats may be fun for the first hour, but they are not safe, and become extremely uncomfortable after the novelty wears off. The seats are hard, the engine noise is deafening (earplugs are advised), and the wind and spray can be chilling. If you're determined to take one, bring a warm, waterproof windbreaker, and be sure to get a life jacket and crash helmet with a visor from the boat driver. Speedboats cost $45 per person, and leave daily from a pier on the northern outskirts of Luang Prabang.
Much more comfortable than the regular boat and speedboat, but far more expensive, is the LuangSay luxury boat, which is specially designed for leisurely river travel. The river cruise includes accommodation in Pakbeng at the very comfortable LuangSay Lodge. The LuangSay departs from Luang Prabang every Wednesday and Saturday (and Tuesday, October through April), and returns from Huay Xai every Monday and Friday (and Thursday, October through April). The cruise costs $500 all-inclusive ($320 from May to September). 50/4 Sakkarine Rd., Luang Prabang. 071/252553. www.mekong-cruises.com.
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