Lao Landscapes – Boat Ride to Nong Khiaw

Imagine having to sit, in all your adult fullness in the kindergarten chairs of your youth, perhaps a bit smaller…for 10 hours and without access to a bathroom. And we paid money for this.

Woman Looking at the Boat - Luang Prabang, Laos
Boat ride from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw

The boat we took along the Nam Ou River from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw snugly fit about 12 people and their backpacks. Our trusty captain didn’t say much, but he navigated our rickety little boat through dry-season shallows and swiftly up small rapids with impressive skill. Every now and then he’d stick his hand out and the other boat traveling astride would float over and hand him a lighter to light his cigarette. Not a man of many words.

Due to a severe shortage of space (or creative use of little space, depending on your point of view), there were no bathrooms on board. Around hour number four, an eerie silence descended upon our boat when thoughts turned from the beautiful scenery to one’s bladder. When the boat finally made a pit stop, the urgency and pending relief was palpable. We haven’t seen people move like that since the Black Friday release of the Cabbage Patch Kids.

Kids Waving from the Riverbank - Nong Khiaw, Laos
Kids waving from the river bank near Nong Khiaw.

For our troubles, we were rewarded with beautiful scenery the entire way. Limestone cliffs, mountains, village scenes, water buffaloes lounging by the river and scores of waving kids crossed our field of view like well-scripted cinematography. It was worth every bit of discomfort – including the three to four days worth of sore bottoms.

Photo Essay – Mekong Boat Ride: Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw

Video of Mekong Boat Ride: Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw


Practical Details – Boat Tickets from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw

  • Tickets: Can be bought at most travel agents in Luang Prabang for around $10. No one seems to make a phone call when they sell you the ticket, indicating that no one keeps count against the number of seats on the boat. So when you arrive at the pier, getting a seat is like shooting craps in the middle of musical chairs. It seems that everyone gets a seat eventually, even if it means launching more boats and moving people from one boat to another. Arrive early to secure a good seat and bring padding for your tush if you have it.
  • Take food and drink with you: As opposed to Vietnam, there will not be Oreo and Pringle loaded boats sidling up to the boat, nor forced shopping stops along the way. Stay hydrated, but limit your liquid intake – we only had one potty break during the entire trip.

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  1. Ying says

    Hello there! I was wondering whether you would be able to tell me how long it takes to get to Nong Khiaw from Luang Prabang by boat, and also how frequent are the trips on a daily basis?

    thank you!

  2. says

    Ying: When we traveled, there was basically one boat that set off in the morning (if more people show up, another boat will appear and it will travel in tandem). Our trip took the whole day…around 9 hours. Depending on the season (and corresponding water level), the trip could take a little less.

  3. Justin Turker says

    Thank you for the info.I would like to do the same trip.But I have a question.Is it possible to come back to LP.( by bus) on the same day. Or better to stay 1 nite in NK.
    Thank you very much.


  4. says

    @Justin: I’m not sure it would be possible to return by bus from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang on the same day. Regardless, I’d advise at least one night in Nong Khiaw, if only to recover from the boat ride.

  5. Sarah says

    Hi Daniel. Your description sounds great! I am thinking of doing the reverse – Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang on the boat. Any tips? Thanks. Sarah (London)

  6. says

    @Sarah: We didn’t do the trip the reverse way (Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang), but I imagine it would be pretty similar as I don’t remember the current being particularly strong. Just be sure to have lots of water, snacks and perhaps a pillow for those wooden, uncomfortable chairs. Enjoy!

  7. says

    Hi Daniel and Audrey,
    Great post. We looked into doing this when we were in Luang Prabang in May 2014. We were told there is a dam about halfway now and we could do it but we would have to get two boats and that was going to be expensive. We were gutted, but we ended up buying motorbikes and took a boat down the river in Nong Khiaw. We loved it there, in both Luang Pranbang and Nong Khiaw.

    • says

      Hi lesh,
      Thanks so much for the update from May 2014. Didn’t realize that there was a dam built along the river. Glad you were able to still take a boat trip in Nong Khiaw. Such a peaceful, beautiful place!

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