Small boats cross between the Thai and Lao border checkpoints, and cost 20 baht per person. The crossing only takes a couple of minutes, but there are no life jackets on board and the river can be quite deep.
The most popular transit route to and from Huay Xai is by slowboat down the Mekong. Tickets can be bought at the slowboat pier for 75,000 kip to Pak Beng, or in travel agencies and guesthouses around town for B650-700 to Luang Prabang, and B350 to Pak Beng. Tickets can also be bought in Chiang Khong at an inflated rate of B1,350 from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. It includes however pick up from your Chiang Khong guesthouse and transfer across the borders and to the pier. Locals are understandably upset that the Thais are catching tourists before they arrive.
The journey is gorgeous, but the quality of the boats can differ wildly as local boat drivers use their own boats and take it in turns to do the run. Sometimes 60 or more people are packed onto one boat, which can make for a crowded and uncomfortable journey. Make sure you bring your own water and food as there are usually no stops to purchase anything.
Luangsay Cruises offer the deluxe version of this journey: two days on a luxury boat, a night at the Luangsay Lodge, all meals, entry to Pak Ou Caves, border transfers and an English speaking guide. Cost depends on the season, but ranges between $199 and $300.
Tel: 071 252 553, Fax: 071 252 304, Mekong Cruises.
It is also possible to travel down the Mekong to Pak Beng and Luang Prabang by rocket boat, the extremely noisy speedboats that make each leg from Huay Xai to Pak Beng and Pak Beng to Luang Prabang in 2.5 to 3.5 hours. The noise can be intolerable, and travellers have reported temporary hearing loss, as well as a number of other catastrophies due to boat troubles and inexperienced drivers. It is advisable to wear the supplied life jacket and helmet both for safety and to cut down noise and exposure to the elements.
Tickets can be booked at any travel agency and most guesthouses in Huay Xai. A full day's journey to Luang Prabang costs B1,100-1,200, while Huay Xai to Pak Beng costs B600. Speedboats will leave when they are full, which means six foreigners or eight Lao. If there are not enough passengers, you will need to pay for the entire boat.
Speedboats can also go north to Xieng Kok. Tickets can be bought at most travel agencies and some guesthouses. A minimum of four people are needed for the boat to leave. Tickets are B1200 per person and to hire the whole boat is about B3,500. Departure time depends on the wishes of the customers, and can be any time between 8.00am-12.00pm. The journey takes about four hours.
Huay Xai, Laos transport information including timetables and costs where available.
don't do it. it's extremely dangerous and you won't be able to walk straight for a week afterIt is also possible to travel down the Mekong to Pak Beng and Luang Prabang by rocket boat, the extremely noisy speedboats that make each leg from Huay Xai to Pak Beng and Pak Beng to Luang Prabang in 2.5 to 3.5 hours.