Luang Say Cruise
On the Mekong, Laos
At a Glance
This trip is a unique journey through remote mountainous stretches of the pristine Mekong River and is a highlight of any trip to Laos
A great way to see local river life
Delicious traditional Asian cuisine served on board
The one night's accommodation is in one of the more comfortable lodges in Laos
Enjoy your time on the Mekong aboard the Luang Say Cruise to areas relatively untouched by modern society
Best time to Visit
Good time to visit
Average time to visit
November to April is the best time to visit Laos with dry and warm weather, with March and April being the hottest months. October and May are also good months to visit with only a bit of rain. July to September are the wettest months in Laos.
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Traveling by boat is the way to really explore the lush and more remote parts of this extraordinary and idyllic region. The Luang Say Cruise makes this journey from the comfort of a luxurious converted rice barge and is a highlight of any trip to Laos.
The Luang Say Cruise runs up and down the Mekong River from Luang Prabang to the border of Northern Thailand and vice versa. The boat is a 34 meter stunning converted antique rice barge that journeys along the river, taking in the sights and sounds of traditional Laotian life. There is a large communal deck, bar as well as games and reading facilities to keep all passengers comfortable and blissfully content as they drift along this pristine stretch of river.
The trip takes two days passing through jungle, teak plantations, mountains and farmland, experience first hand how simple life can still be in these remote areas. Step off the boat to explore the Caves Of A Thousand Buddhas and visit fascinating riverside hill-tribe villages.
You will spend overnight en route at the charming Luang Say Lodge, located at Pakbeng and is a simple, tranquil place to stay. Set on the banks of the Mekong in wooden lodge-style rooms you will really get a chance to experience what serene rural river life in Laos is all about. It has 20 Lao style bungalows constructed almost entirely from local materials with shutters surrounding each one and decorated in simple but comfortable furnishings with en suite bathrooms and hot water showers. On the huge veranda overlooking the river there is ample space for relaxing and taking in the view, reading or playing games. For those more active there is plenty to do and see with short walks, village visits and trekking which can all be easily arranged.
Luang Say Lodge has 20 large comfortable wooden bungalows with ceiling fans, mosquito nets, en suite bathrooms with hot showers and wonderful river views. These bungalows all connect to the restaurant by wooden walkways.
Children are welcome on the Luang Say Cruise and at Luang Say Lodge but there no specific facilities for them and they will have to join in with the activities of the adults of the group. However, children with a sense of adventure will absolutely love the boat journey and staying at the lodge and all the exciting things there are to see and do en route. Children's life jackets are available on board the boat.
The boat is very comfortable and can accommodate up to 40 passengers. There are two western style toilets on board. Lunch is served on the boat as you cruise down the river and the lodge has a restaurant overlooking the Mekong serving buffet dinners and continental breakfasts with strong Laotian coffee and there is a fully stocked bar and free Wifi.
Each boat has both a French and English speaking guide on board who are there to answer any questions and point out anything interesting along the way. Visits can be made to local villages, caves and other points of interest as the boat makes its way down the river.
Most slow boats are high on atmosphere, low on comfort, but the Luang Say cruise has indoor and alfresco seating, excellent food and a rooftop sun deck. I snooze, sporadically sitting up to watch water buffalo browsing on blonde beaches, fishermen, and solitary gold hunters panning through sediment where streams slice into the main flow. When our barge makes one of its regular village stops after lunch, I have to rediscover the use of my legs. Gon Dturn is a farming and weaving center where tak taks – long-handled tractors resembling a poor man's Harley Davidson – are parked under stilt houses. An animist shrine with stepladders for the spirits reflects traditional beliefs, but village life is changing. Electricity arrived five months ago, after families sold buffalo to pay the $200 connection fee. Most houses have satellite dishes and a Chinese corner shop flogs everything from spanners to plastic robots. One elderly gent sits smoking a monster pipe on his new concrete porch with ornate porcelain balustrade and natty pagoda roof – his satellite dish clearly picks up Kevin McCloud and his Grand Designs. As the day closes, the jungle gets denser, its palette of greens more intoxicating. Tropical night falls suddenly and we're swaddled by forest in the teak and rosewood cabins of the Luang Say. There's fine food – coconut chilli chicken, marinated beef – and a surreal array of single malts, but the real luxury is isolation. I open my shutters, climb behind the mosquito net and dose until inky blackness gives way to a soupy dawn light.
Evi-Elli La Valle (Staff)
This is the most wonderful way to see the Mekong and a fantastic experience that also gets you comfortably from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang by boat. As you cruise along the Mekong, it is amazing to see how simple the villages along the banks are. They are mostly Khamu or Lao Lueng and you can tell the difference as the Lao villages have Buddhist temples and the Khamu are animist. Most of them are really just a handful of wooden houses, mud, animals and children everywhere. The boat and Luangsay Lodge are basic but I found it to be a very special experience to get to this otherwise inaccessible area.
Highlights of Northern Thailand and Laos
Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Pakbeng, Luang Prabang, Bangkok
from $6800 pp 12 nights
- The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang is famed for its waterfalls, temples, monks and trips on the Mekong.
- Chiang Rai is part of the "Golden Triangle", with its stunning views over to Myanmar and Laos.
- The Luang Say Cruise is the perfect way to explore life on the Mekong and is a far more relaxing way to travel than flying.
Location & directions
On the Mekong, Laos
You can choose to travel down the Mekong river from Chiang Khong / Huay Xai (the Thai/Lao border) to Luang Prabang or upriver from Luang Prabang to the Thai/Lao border at Huay Xai.