How to take the Slow Boat from Luang Prabang to Chiang Rai

After arriving at Luang Prabang on a pretty tight schedule we began with a quick-fire tour of the ancient city (backpacks and all). Arriving in any city after a hefty night bus can be daunting and disorientating, but Laos’ Northern gem made us feel welcome and intrigued. It is a relatively small city, with a calming atmosphere and a peaceful vibe. Temple hopping is a tourist must in Luang Prabang, and you’ll be spoilt for choice. All in all, it was an easy city to discover and explore, but moving onward to Thailand was when the difficulties kicked in…


Information about how to reach Thailand’s Northern cities from Luang Prabang seemed sparse. The hostel we stayed at didn’t offer up any information on transport and the bus terminal itself was quite far out of the city (and the complete opposite side to us, obviously) The only transport information I could find online consisted of crazy expensive luxury cruises which were, needless to say, out of our budget. Disoriented and pessimistic, I wandered to the port in hope of some advice on catching the slow boat and that’s when the next leg of our adventure began.


Leg One: Luang Prabang to Pakbeng


To begin your journey from Luang Prabang, make your way to the slow boat terminal at Luang Prabang Port. The unassuming little office down a dusty path may not look particularly hopeful at first glance, but this is where a ticket can be purchased. The boat towards Thailand leaves at 8 am every day, I would recommend arriving around an hour early to secure your ticket. Per person, the ticket will cost you around £20-25, and this will secure your travel to Huay Xai (a town on the Laos side of the Laos/Thailand border, from which you will go by bus to Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai).


As well as the transport cost, you will also have to account for two night’s accommodation (one in Pakbeng and one in Huay Xai) but no need to book in advance as there are plenty of cheap hostels in both places.
After boarding the boat there will be a sense of relief- everyone here is doing the same thing and going in the same direction; once you’ve taken your seat the journey is very straight forward.


‘Slow’ however, is definitely the word. You will spend two long days aboard this boat. But with the sun beaming down, and the beautiful mountain landscape surrounding you, time will hopefully fly. The boat will sail past remote rural scenery and small Laos communities, parts of this stunning country that you would never glimpse from a bus window on a main road. Even if it takes a little longer, this is the best way to see the Northern region of the country.


When you arrive at Pakbeng on the first evening you will most likely be surrounded by hostel owners offering you cheap rates. It’s a small place, and most hostels will cost a similar amount, so you can’t go too wrong here. A private double room was less than £10 and there are plenty of places to get a cheap and delicious meal.


Leg Two: Pakbeng to Huay Xai


Day two will be another early rise. The slow boat leaves Pakbeng port at 8 am, so after a brief breakfast or grabbing some baked goods for the journey, you’ll be back on your way. This leg will be a similar length to the first day’s journey (approx. 10 hours) and you should reach the Laos own of Huay Xai around 6 pm. Unfortunately, you are unlikely to reach the border (which is across the river and could be a pricey taxi ride) before it closes at 6 pm. So instead of rushing through to Thailand, enjoy one more night in Laos. Similarly to Pakbeng, Huay Xai is a small and functional town, full to the brim with affordable hostels and nice places to eat.


Leg Three: Huay Xai to Chiang Rai

If you’ve got this far and are now just not feeling another looooong boat ride, then you’re in luck: this is the simple bit. Most hostels in Huay Xai will be able to book you on to daily busses which cross over the border to Thailand. We chose a bus to Chiang Rai, which took roughly 5/6 hours (this will depend on how smoothly the border crossing goes), but many tourists chose to go straight through to Chiang Mai, a favoured city in Northern Thailand.

If you have time to spare (and are on a tight budget) then the slow boat is the best way to see Northern Laos, and it makes such a nice change to stuffy bus journeys. This fantastic journey will become one of those adventures that you’ll be retelling over ad over again!

The Journey Through Java: Jakarta

Jakarta Buildings

If you ever want to experience culture shock, without travelling particularly far, fly from Singapore to Jakarta. At a first impression, the two cities seem to be complete opposites. Everything clinical and hyper-organised about Singapore was suddenly whipped away from beneath our feet. The comfortable, air conditioned, polite world we’d just come from now felt like another planet.

After we managed to figure out which cramped bus was headed for the city centre, faffed around for a while at the train station-come-bus-interchange, sweated our way to the bus stop nearest our hostel, our haven was finally in sight. There was just one more challenge to face: crossing the road. Honestly, I think you should get some kind of recognition (perhaps a certificate?) for every road you manage to successfully navigate in Jakarta: the roads are CHAOS.

Ryan and I, two polite and nervous Brits, stared across at our would-be home for the next two nights. The Wonderloft hostel is painted bright yellow and looks incredibly inviting after you’ve trekked across the busy city with a backpack. But for a minute there, I didn’t think we’d actually manage to get to the front door. Anyway, this crossing the road saga probably isn’t the insightful and informative travel info you tuned in for… Although you’ll be happy to know we made it in the end. I never quite mastered the art of confidently walking into traffic, one authoritative hand outstretched in a ‘stop’ motion, but Ryan took it in his stride (perhaps the traffic stopping power went to his head?)

Other than the road crossing drama, our few days in Jakarta went pretty smoothly. It is a big city and could be given much more time for a thorough exploration, but with the short time we had, we mainly stayed around the old town area. Fatahillah Square turned out to be a great place to start. Flanked by museums on all sides you have an instant selection of arts and culture to choose from. I somehow got my way and managed to drag Ryan to the Wayang puppet museum (instead of the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics or the Jakarta History Museum) which was rich in Indonesian culture, but super creepy.

The puppets were all intricately decorated and the craftsmanship behind each style was amazing. Each piece was initially made as part of a Wayang performance, in which the puppets would be used to tell traditional folk stories. As impressive as the puppets were, and as much as we appreciated the artwork, wandering through those dimly lit rooms full of menacing looking characters without any other humans in sight proved enough to give anyone the creeps. Getting back into the scorching daylight and managing (quite skilfully) to avoid what was shaping up to be a perfect slasher film premise came as a relief.

As we’d already seen in Singapore, Jakarta’s colonial history was difficult to avoid. We ate at cafe Batavia which had a balcony overlooking the old town square and the whole vibe of the place, from the architecture to the framed black and white pictures of British royals, was heavily colonial. It seemed strange in relation to the rest of the bustling city.

Jakarta is a shockingly ‘real’ city, compared with the metropolitan dreamland that is Singapore. It definitely grounded us back in reality. The hectic life there was so interesting to be a part of, even in the brief whirlwind of a couple of days. Creepy puppets and death defying road crossings may not be the regular tourist itinerary, but I enjoyed Indonesia’s fast-paced capital nonetheless!

The Journey Through Java: Yogyakarta

Prambanan Temple

One of my favourite parts of travelling is turning up to a new city that you know next to nothing about. Sometimes these unknown cities prove to be underwhelming, a brief pitstop in your journey that comes and goes with little impact. Some however, turn out to be perfect surprises. These places are perhaps quieter than big tourist destinations, with a more ‘untouched’ quality. Yogyakarta was our first pleasant surprise.

The main reason we visited was for the famous temples. The city is surrounded by breath-taking religious relics. The to the North you have Prambanan (9th-century Hindu temple) and Borobudur (9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple) We spent a day exploring Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Southeast Asia and the whole place was truly amazing. You know the setting from the Jungle Book, where King Louie lives, ruling over his monkey empire from the relics of an ancient temple? Singing that iconic tune? Well that’s the closest reference point I have for this impressive site. And I challenge anyone to visit Pranbanan temple and not come out humming ‘ooby doo, I wanna be like you-oo-oooo…”

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As well as the main temple, it’s definitely worth having a wander around the rest of the historic site. Other, smaller, temples such as Sewu will also take your breath away and be far less rammed with tourists and selfie sticks.

After taking in these historic wonders, we decided to spend an unplanned day exploring the city centre. One of the wonderful things about Yogyakarta was how friendly all the locals were. Many seemed eager to share a bit of the city’s culture with us: what shows were going on, where the best places to visit were and when to go, and a bit about the local art forms, particularly Batik.

At one point we found ourselves in a small Batik gallery above a shop on Malioboro street (the bright and bustling shopping district  of the city). The owner of the gallery was lovely, offering us a free cup of tea and talking us through the fascinating process of Batik printing. Tourist trap or not, it was interesting to learn about this custom and see the creation of some beautiful batik prints first hand. Also, the general push to promote local artists was so nice to see.

After our batik lesson we continued with our sightseeing mission, exploring Yogyakarta’s other attractions such as the Taman Sari Water Palace and the bright bohemian neighbourhood surrounding it. The street art, murals and brightly painted houses that characterised this area turned it into an Instagram-able gem- definitely worth a wander!

After a days’ worth of city sightseeing we were desperately in need of nourishment (nourishment… coffee… whatever you want to call it) and Yogyakarta did not let us down on this front. After visiting the Water Palace we called in at a small, almost hidden café which specialised in the famous Luwak coffee.

If you haven’t heard of it before here’s a bit about the odorous origin of luwak coffee: Once the coffee beans have grown in a plantation, small furry creatures called civet cats come along, gobble them up, and right on cue, poop them back out. The poop is then harvested and processed to make the infamous brew. Pretty gross right? But people spend a LOT of money on this shit (pun completely intended). A cup of Luwak coffee can fetch up to $50 and you could even fork out $100 for a bag. Something about the fermentation process going on in these coffee cats makes the coffee highly desirable and, to be fair, pretty tasty. We got to try this rare treat and even had the pleasure of meeting one of the plantation’s civet cats in person. She was called Louise and was very friendly.

Other than luwak coffee, there are loads of lovely little places to grab a refreshment on Yogyakarta. If you’re on a strict budget there is also no need to worry; we had a delicious meal at a quaint veggie café called Fortunate Coffee and it cost about a fiver in all for both of us. The food was just what we needed, and the staff were friendly, I would strongly recommend for anyone after some budget veggie grub!

Yogyakarta is a small city, and it doesn’t take too long to explore. Saying this, the region is surrounded by natural beauty and plenty of opportunities for day trips: caving, mountain climbing, and sand boarding to name a few. If you’re ever in Java, it is not an area to be missed!

On the road again: Southeast Asia

After saving up for the past year (working an actual job, oh my) I’m off on adventures again, and plan to share all the best bits! I’ll probably also share the strangest bits, tastiest bits, most picturesque bits and, should they happen, the most challenging bits.

At the beginning of October, my boyfriend Ryan and I flew from London to Singapore, on an insanely cheap flight by the way- check out Norwegian air if you’re on a budget. 13 hours later we stepped out into the super fancy Changi airport (I’ve never been so hyped for smooth airport security and plant-based interior design), and then into the CRAZY HUMID city streets.

Before we arrived at our lovely Air BnB, in the Choa Chu Kang area, I had already seen the biggest wasp in existence (chronic fear of buzzy things over here) and had serious fears that the humidity would be the end of me, badly chosen skinny jeans and all.

But we got there and- spoiler alert- I did not die. So, we begin another adventure… watch this space for twists, turns, oversharing and lots of chatting on about food.

Oh also, I’ve made it my mission to incorporate a reading diary/book review section to the blog. I’m going to try and read a book about each place I’m in, or a book by an author from each country. So expect a bit of a mishmash of travel stories, local tips and book reviews- these are a few of my favourite things!