Pakbeng: Overnight Stay on Slow Boat to Luang Prabang

Sunrise at Pakbeng

On the two-day slow boat ride to Luang Prabang, the overnight stop is in Pakbeng, halfway between the Thai border at Huay Xai and Luang Prabang, Laos. After being on the boat for 6-7 hours, you will want to get out, stretch your legs on firm ground, eat, and hit the sack. However, the arrival of the slow boat causes such a sensation at the Pakbeng pier that it helps to know what to do before you arrive. Here is everything you need to know about how to make the most of your overnight stay in Pakbeng.

Sunrise at Pakbeng
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Arrival in Pakbeng

Slow boat arrival to Pakbeng

Looking out the open window as the slow boat nears the pier, you can see the Pakbeng villagers gathering. It seems the whole village has come out to see the tourists. It is a bit overwhelming with all the Pakbeng guesthouse representatives shouting out in Lao for your attention. Hopefully, you have planned and secured accommodations so that you can go straight there. The good thing is that Pakbeng is a small place, so it won’t take long to walk to whatever guesthouse you choose. If you haven’t chosen one, there are plenty of options for you to pick from.

Pakbeng Village

Pakbeng main street

Wandering around the village is an intriguing way to see how Laotians live with tourism. The village comes alive in the evening with the tourists and backpackers enjoying a meal in the restaurants or checking out the local watering hole. Several guesthouses and restaurants have sprung up specifically catering to travelers who are only here for one night, and almost all depart early the next morning. Even knowing this, I enjoyed walking around and capturing the essence of Pakbeng with my camera. Be forewarned that Pakbeng is built on hills, so be prepared for some leg work while wandering this wonderful village.

Where to Stay in Pakbeng

BKC Villa and Restaurant in Pakbeng

Guesthouses and prices for an overnight stay vary in Pakbeng depending on if you want luxury or just somewhere to lay your head for the night. I made all the arrangements using the Agoda app for the entire Laos adventure. The majority of my decisions were based on cost/night. For Pakbeng, I chose the BKC Villa. I liked that it had a great view of the Mekong River. The double room cost me less than $25 for the night and included a free breakfast.

My adventure through this foreign country was not without trials and unexpected situations at each destination. Nothing sets the tone for a trip than to have Niagara Falls erupt in the bathroom in the middle of the night. Yep, we woke up to the gushing sound of water at 3 am. A pipe burst under the bathroom sink, leaving water standing on the bathroom floor. The only thing that saved our bags on the bedroom floor was that the bathroom floor was lower than the bedroom. We tried to shut off the water, but no such luck. So, we just went back to bed with flowing water sounds as our background music. Don’t worry; we told management of the problem first thing before breakfast.

Flooded bathroom at the BKC Villa

Where to Eat in Pakbeng

Khopchaideu Restaurant in Pakbeng

There are numerous choices to eat in Pakbeng. My travel companion wanted to eat Indian food; I was always up for trying new things, so in we went. The Khopchaideu restaurant’s kitchen was still open when we showed up late. I ordered a mild chicken dish (in Asia that means saying-no spice) and Naan bread. Yummy!

What is there to do in Pakbeng

The hills of Pakbeng and the Mekong River

Truthfully, not much. Pakbeng sprout up because it is conveniently halfway between the Thai border to Luang Prabang and the perfect stopping point for supplies and overnight stops. Most of the local activities are evening-based, as that is when the travelers arrive. If you have the energy to stay up late, knowing you have to get up early for the boat, the nightlife offerings are the Hive Bar and the Happy Bar. However, if you choose to stay an extra day, you can visit the day market to buy local goods, visit the two temples nearby, or the Mekong Elephant Park.

Happy Bar

Happy Bar in Pakbeng

I was too tired to participate in the Pakbeng nightlife. But, I did go and check out the facilities in the morning. It sure looked like they had fun. There was evidence of a beer pong game left on one of the tables. I found out later that if you are looking for something a little more authentic, you have to ask for the “Lao Lao bong,” which is their local moonshine. This drink is made from fermented rice and water and is one of the local delicacies in Laos. If you try this, make sure you drink it through a straw like the locals. The other nightlife spot is the Hive Bar, which is open later than other spots in town where you can get your dance on.

Mekong Elephant Park

Mekong Elephant Park in Pakbeng

The Mekong Elephant Park is located along the Mekong River and directly opposite Pakbeng. This elephant sanctuary opened in November 2017. Did you know that there are only 300 wild elephants and 400 captive elephants left in Laos? The Mekong Elephant Park offers a natural environment for eight elephants within the forest eating their natural food and is a wonderful destination for visitors to experience these big Pachyderms. Visitors can learn about the importance the elephant plays in Lao culture and witness the daily bathing ritual. This elephant sanctuary raises travelers’ awareness for the protection of Asian elephants.

Elephants bathing in the Mekong River

A surprise gift in the morning was to watch two elephants taking a dip in the Mekong River. This was a delight, and I could have spent hours watching these two gorgeous creatures. Learning about these wonderful animals in Thailand made me appreciate how special they are and how much they need to be protected.

Breakfast at BKC Villa

Breakfast view at the BKC Villa in Pakbeng

Part of my stay at the BKC Villa was the free breakfast, making the whole stay special. Watching the elephants frolic in the Mekong River while enjoying my omelet was an experience I won’t forget, along with all the other activities along the river. Who can say they have experienced this? Even with the drama from the night before, I would stay at the BKC Villa again.

Summary

Heather watching the elephants and a slow boat on the Mekong River

Taking the 2-day slow boat ride on the Mekong River and stopping overnight in Pakbeng was a great start to the crazy adventure Laos was going to put me through. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even the imperfect trips make the most interesting and the most memorable. Have you had any crazy adventures on your vacations?

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Further Reading

If you are exploring Laos, Thailand, or Asia, check out these posts for extra travel inspiration:

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