A trip down the Mekong to Luang Prabang in Laos for many starts in Chiang Rai Thailand. Chiang Rai is the staging point for many travellers going on a Laos Mekong River cruise. The Shampoo Cruise journey starts in Chiang Khong Thailand.
The boat to Luang Prabang with Shampoo Cruise starts on the border town at Chiang Khong in Northern Thailand. We met our tour company representative at the Thailand side of the friendship bridge with Laos.
She was highly organised and walked us through the paperwork that is required to enter Laos, some of which was really confusing. We moved through Thai immigration easily after her help. We had our passport stamped out of Thailand and the waiting began for the bus. A transit bus will be awaiting you but they do like to wait a little while to see if they can fill the bus before taking off. It may be a short or long wait for the bus, as it does not move till its full.
After you start your journey across The Friendship Bridge, this is where you will get your first site of the mighty Mekong River. This wide brown expanse of water flows through 7 countries in South East Asia. The bus takes you over the Mekong and delivers you at Laos immigration. The bus ride is easy, comfortable, air-conditioned and it only takes around 5 minutes to cross the bridge.
Another representative from Shompoo Cruise will be there to meet as you get off the bus. Your first guide has already given you the details but as a busload of people are scrambling for either window number 1 or forms to fill out, it can quickly become a stressful situation. If your paperwork is filled out properly it should be an easy process. You hand your passport into window 1 and pick it up when you pay your $30 USD at window 2. It is cheaper to pay in USD than Thai Baht.
Be warned they will not accept any USD bills with tears or marks on them.
Luckily as we were met at the Thai border all out paperwork was already completed and all we had to do was join the line for our visas at window 1. (Even if you are not met at the border you have plenty of time to do the remaining paperwork while you wait for the bus) The representative from Shompoo to meet us at the Laos border was Song. Song directed us to the immigration windows and through to our minibus. After meeting us at the border Song would also be our tour guide for the 2 days while we were cruising the Mekong River with Shompoo.
We were lucky as there was only 8 of us on the cruise so it was an easy and quick process getting our visas. We piled into the minivan and headed for the river about 25 minutes away.
The boat was banked and ready for boarding as soon as we arrived. The 8 of us found a communal area and started the introductions as the boat pulled into the flowing waters. Our guide Song gave a quick chat telling us it was 330knm to Luang Prabang. Chatted about the driver and the safety precautions.
The Mekong River Shompoo Cruise has begun
9.30 am and we were off. For the next 2 hours, we marvelled at the scenery that seemed to breeze past us on the banks of the Mekong. From jungles to rocks, sandbanks and villages. We all took moments from the group chat to go and marvel at what was passing us by.
We were served a freshly cooked lunch that is made in the kitchen onboard. It was some of the best food we have had on our trip. Our buffet consisted of 5 different plates including chicken wings, sweet and sour chicken, an eggplant dish and a bean dish all served with rice. This was followed up by a fruit platter with dragon fruit and pineapple. We were all feeling very full and happy with our meal.
Shompoo Cruise will also cater to you if you have any allergies or are vegetarian. You just have to let them know as soon as possible and they will do their best to make you something amazing.
We cracked some beers, Lao Lager which you can purchase on board. A large bottle will cost you 20,000Kip. Tea, coffee and water are complimentary. The Lao beer is a really good drop. For those still hungry, you could purchase a snack such as Pringles at around 30,000Kip or oreo biscuits at 10,000Kip as well. Soft drink cans are also nice and cold. They will cost you 10,000Kip each
The Mekong plays such a huge part of the lives of people living on its banks. We saw fishermen, kids playing in the water, fast and slow boats ferrying passengers and cargo boats. You will even see the occasional wreck that has come to grief in the fast flowing waters of the Mekong.
A few of us dropped
We visited a hillside village on our first day. Song took us through the town to show us how the people lived. The houses while small had all that the people needed in them. Most were high off the ground with the families animals underneath.
Pigs, chickens and dogs roamed freely around with the tiny chicks being a favourite with us all as they chirped and chased their mum. Families would peer out from their houses to see us. One even had a solar panel so the family had a TV.
Back on the boat and our guide broke out the Lao whisky. Shots were happening with many laughs happening all around. We approached Pakbeng around 4.30 with day one of our Shompoo Crusie wrapping up. Everyone made their way to the accommodation for the night.
Shompoo Cruise can organize accommodation in Chiang Kong the night before departure, Pakbeng for the overnight stopover and Luang Prabang for the night of arrival for you.
Alternatively, you can do this your self through Booking.com, Trip Advisor, Agoda etc.
On day 2 the boat was set to leave at 7.45 am. We would have 6 hours straight up on the boat. We quickly chatted about our evenings in Pakbeng.
Our tour guide Song would come and check with us every hour to see if we wanted tea and coffee or if we needed anything else. By this time we were all very comfortable walking up to the bar to get anything else, we may have wanted throughout the day.
It was a great approach as Song would come along not too much and not too little. Sometimes you get these guides that are always next to you asking are you ok etc. When Song was with us he was a heap of fun and had us laughing all the time. He was very knowledgeable and was happy to share stories with us too.
We saw water buffalo on the banks and birdlife in the air as we headed downstream inching away at the 170 kilometres we needed to cover on day 2. One thing we all loved spotting was the whirlpools that formed in the water. You had to be really quick in spotting them though as they were soon well past the boat.
Another amazing lunch was served this time consisting of spring rolls, lemongrass pork balls, curry chicken, hot cucumber salad and Asian stir fry vegetables.
Things to bring for kids
The girls were keeping themselves occupied with YouTube videos they had downloaded the night before.
For kids it can be two long days looking out of the side of the boat. There is no wifi on board but there is 240 volt charging for all your electrical equipment and gadgets.
List of things to bring for kids on a cruise down the Mekong
The first stop for the day after 6 hours was the Pak Ao Caves. These caves are important to the Lao people as a hiding spot for their Buddha statues. The Chinese came to Lao 400 years ago and tried to destroy all the images of Buddha. Today 4000 Buddha statues remain in the caves.
Back on the boat for 30 minutes till we pulled into the Lao Lao Whisky Village. They make all types of whisky here. You find whisky infused with a cobra or scorpion in the bottle for medicinal purposes. We had a tasting session of the different whiskies available. And most of our cruise buddies ended up buying a bottle to take home with them.
If alcohol is not your thing you can also have a look at the ladies weaving there. They are making some beautiful traditional Laos skirts and scalves. It is a real pleasure to watch them so easily do something that looks extremely hard.
Next stop was Luang Prabang. We headed up river for 45 minutes chatting away swapping Facebook and Instagram handles with our fellow travellers. Shompoo Cruise had porters to carry our luggage up the steps and a minibus waiting to take us to our hotels. We sadly said goodbye to Song but eagerly excited to start our adventures in Luang Prabang and the rest of Laos
There are many slow boat options for a Mekong river cruise to Luang Prabang in Laos. Shompoo Cruise provides an excellent service with a comfortable first-rate boat, amazing food and a knowledgeable guide. We can’t recommend Shompoo enough.
For booking and prices check Shompoo Cruise website >> HERE
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About the Author
Mark Wyld is a father, husband and traveller. Having been to over 30 countries worldwide I think I know a thing or 2 about travelling with kids. I have been writing about travel on our website for the last 4 years and have featured on numerous other websites. When I am not talking, dreaming and planning travel I can be found working in disability support .