When looking into ways of traveling down the Mekong river, you quickly learn that the famous slow boat ride is a bit of a risk. An overbooked, crowded and uncomfortable boat ride where people in some cases have ended up without seats. We weren’t really that intrigued by the thought of having to stand up on a boat for 6-7 hours per day for two days, so we started looking for different alternatives. That’w when we found Shompoo Cruises.
Shampoo Cruises takes you on a more “luxurious” cruise down the river. You get your own tour guide for the stops you make along the way visiting villages and caves, you get free food and a lot more space on the boat. We booked the “premium” package which meant that during the overnight stay in Pakbeng we stayed at a more luxurious hotel right by the river with dinner and breakfast included in the price. The premium package costs about 225 USD per person, so it’s a little bit more pricy than the slow boat, but it’s so worth it. All the entrance fees at the stops you make are also included in the price, you also get free coffee, tea, drinking water and fruit during the cruise.
If you’re taking the down river cruise as we did, and you’re crossing the border over from northern Thailand, the company actually helps you cross. When we arrived to the border there was someone waiting for us on the “Thailand side”, and she then guided us all the way over to Laos. If you’ve never crossed a border before, or if you’re unsure about how to fill out the visa forms, it’s good to have someone there helping you out.
The first day of the cruise looked something like this. The boat left around 9 am, and by 11.45 am we were served a lovely lunch buffet with all sorts of different dishes including chicken, fish, springrolls, vegetables and rice. At 1 pm, we reached our first stop for the day, a beautiful traditional lao village. We got a guided tour around the village and our guide told us so much about the history of the Lao people. There were cute kids running around everywhere and they followed us around the entire time. The people were so nice and ew had a lovely time.
Around 4 pm we reached Pakbeng and everyone was dropped of at their hotel. Which hotel you get dropped of at depends on what type of cruise you book, we booked the “premium” one so we stayed at Sanctuary Pakbeng Lodge. At 7.30 am the next morning, after having a lovely breakfast, we got picked up by the cruise company and were transferred back to the boat. By 8-8.30 am we were back on the river. And by 11.45 am we got served another lovely lunch.
Around 1 pm, we stopped by the famous Pak Ou caves, or the 4000 buddha caves as they are called. Just as the day before, the guide showed us around and told us about the history of the caves. We explored the caves for about 1 hour, and after that we got back on the boat and headed for our next destination.
Around 3 pm we stopped at yet another village, but this particular villige was known for their making of rice whiskey. The guide told us about the process, we got to taste the different whiskeys (some bottles had snakes and scorpions in them), and we got to meat the locals.
You arrive in Luang Prabang around 4 pm, and I have to tell you, it’s pretty hard getting off the boat. After the first day the boat starts to feel like home, you get to know the other guests and after a while you become really good friends. We had such a great time, even though we where the youngest people on the boat. We can’t recommend this cruise enough. Although it is on the pricy side, it’s really worth every penny considering the good service, the free food, you get to visit all these beautiful historic places and you will have an absolute wonderful time.
Our favourite was the stop at the first village, we just fell involve with the kids. They were all running around, laughing and playing. Some of them were a little bit shy, which made them even cuter. We just loved it there!