Sailing slow along the Mekong River is what dreams are made of.
Think calm waters, vast jungle, mountains and wildlife. Life is slow along the Mekong River and that’s the magic.
The kind of magic most of us don’t get very often, so when you do you grab onto it tight and don’t want to let go.
Leaving Chiang Rai, Thailand, and entering Laos through the Thai/Laos border was much easier than expected. From door to door it took 4 hours, 2 buses, 2 border check points and 1 tuk tuk (see more on How To Cross The Thai/Laos Border here). Two days spent in Huay Xui and we were ready to embark on this slow boat cruise down the famous Mekong River.
This trip is a 2 day 1 night luxury slow boat river cruise of the Mekong in Laos, from Huay Xui to Luang Prabang, stopping at local villages and sailing through incredible scenery, offered by Secret Retreats and Luang Say River Cruise. A true luxury experience it certainly is.
Boarding the boat felt like leaving behind the rest of the world, your digital footprint and day-to-day routine and stepping into what life is really about – being present in the moment, embracing it and the experience hands on.
On board the boat with you are a few other guests are 5 staff – the captain, tour guide, two chefs and an assistant. The boat is long, wide and spacious enough for you to have your own private space.
Never before have I felt so in touch with nature and it’s majestic storytelling scenery. On the boat you’ll sail through glassy smooth waters, witness the locals fish and search for gold whilst the animals roam along the riverbank. Water buffaloes, goats and cows graze the grassy banks and cool off in the water the entire way along the river. A moment to never forget.
The mornings are fairly chilly and crisp, so the perfect cosy concoction of tea and biscuits are given not long after setting off. You get to take it in the scenery with a cuppa in hand whilst sailing along a couple of hours to the first stop, Ban Houy Pha Lam.
This remote village along the Mekong River has a surprisingly bigger population than anticipated, of over 500 people. The people of Ban Houy Pha Lam are known as the Khmu or “middle mountain people”, they have their own language and like to live 600-800m from sea level, hence the reference “middle people”. There are 3 levels at which locals live along the river, all named depending on the height one lives at – low, middle or top. The houses here are built on bamboo stilts and are all made of wood. In the dry season the locals of Ban Houy Pha Lam hunt for gold along the riverbank and make brooms out of pampas grass. During the wet season they all farm and grow sesame seeds, maize and hops to sell to visitors of the village. Even though the village is so remote, they still have WiFi which was not expected at all. Getting to experience this village and meet the locals for yourself is a great way to see what local Laos river life is all about.
Lunch is served on board whilst you sail along for a few more hours to your lodge for the night. The chef cooks up a storm of local Laotian cuisine such as stew, slow cooked meats and fish with rice and fresh vegetables. This was the first introduction to Laotian food and it’s one I’ll never forget – the flavours are just incredible.
Arriving at Luang Say Lodge just before sunset is like a moment out of Jurassic Park. There’s nothing around but your boat, the people on board and nature. You get to spend the night watching the sunset on the open terrace before being served a delicious Laotian dinner and cosying up in your private lodge.
The Jurassic Park moment doesn’t stop at sunset. It’s even more real at sunrise. You open your wooden shutters to the sun peaking over the misty mountains and you hear nothing but the slow moving river and birds.
Breakfast is served and then it’s back on the boat for another day of slow sailing, exploring and soaking up the local life along the river.
After a few hours, the mist rolls back over the mountains, you see even more wildlife than the day before and you arrive at Bor Model village. This village is smaller than Ban Houy Pha Lam, with around 300 people. Here you get to try local Laos rice whisky (Lao Lao) and watch the locals hand make and sell cotton/silk scarfs. They’re so beautiful I had to get one for myself. Further into the village you can watch the local whiskey be made. The process is actually very simple and the outcome is a very strong alcohol (around 35-45%). They soak sticky rice for several hours then cook it before leaving it for several weeks in a sealed container so that it can ferment. This breaks down the alcohol properties. Then to distill the alcohol from the rice they boil it in a sealed barrel until the alcohol rises and funnels out the top into a clear glass bottle. It was something you have to try and great to watch. The Laos people love to drink it straight. For us, not so much.
Then it’s back to cruising slowly downriver, taking in scenery and enjoying a delicious Laotian lunch until you arrive to Pak Ou cave. There are 2,500 Buddhas in the cave. It was built in the 8th century for worshipping spirits, later transformers into Buddhist save temple around the 18th century. 200 stairs up from the Pak Ou Cave is the Upper Cave, a deeper and darker cave home to 1,500 buddhas.
One more hour on the boat until you reach Luang Prabang. Sad to say goodbye but what an experience to remember.
I can recommend this to couples, families, solo travellers – anyone looking for a slice of real nature exploration and 2 days of being in the moment and disconnecting from the world.
You can book your trip with Luang Say River Cruises, a member of Secret Retreats by clicking here. Or to discuss directly, their concierge email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This trip is a gifted in collaboration with Secret Retreats*