The Mekong is a trans-boundary river in Southeast Asia. It is the world’s 12th-longest river and the 7th-longest in Asia. Its estimated length is 4,350 km, and it drains an area of 795,000 km2, discharging 457 km3 of water annually.
Boats along the Mekong and its tributaries are useful shortcuts for the horrible roads, although as the road network improves river services are slowly drying up, and many of the remaining services only run in the wet season, when the Mekong floods and becomes more navigable.
There are so-called slow boats and speedboats – the latter being tiny lightweight craft equipped with powerful motors that literally skid across the water at high speeds.
Many people go from Chiang Khong in Thailand via the border town of Houai Xai down the Mekong to the marvelous city of Luang Prabang. The ride takes two days and is very scenic. Apart from that, it is a floating backpacker ghetto with no (good) food sold, cramped, and hot. By the second day, the novelty has worn off. Be sure to bring a good (long) read, something soft for the wooden benches and patience.
Slow boats generally stop in the village of Pakbeng for the night. Some boat packages will include accommodation, although this is usually at an inflated rate. By arranging a hotel in the town itself, it is easy to get a lower price. Most shops in Pakbeng shut down at about 22:00, so expect to get a good sleep before the second day’s boat ride. This is also a good place to stock up on supplies.
Recently the boats have considerably improved. They now have soft used car seats, and serve pre-fab food, which is not great, but certainly sufficient.