When considering our next destination while in Luang Prabang, northwest into Thailand or south through Vang Vieng to Vientiane were both equally appealing options initially. We had overheard a few stories of there being a boat option either up or down the Mekong River which sounded like a great side-trek to augment the hard riding days ahead.
Hopping onto the slow boat to Thailand as a walk-on tourist, no problem ... prices are pretty consistently set and countless booking agencies chomp at the bit to help you on your way. Looking to do so with two motorbikes, well, that’s when the well-worn traveler path breaks down and you have to be willing to get a little dirty in it. Rarely dissuaded from the path less traveled, a little research is in order!
Speaking with a few agents and other locals that may be in the know, we were learning that there was "a dock" just north outside of the city. This is where the actual boats pick up travelers. Sorting out the wildly divergent and often contradictory specific suggestions, the idea here is as follows. First, make it out to the dock really early in the morning. Then, chat up a boat captain to negotiate your passage rolling the dice on how much they want to charge you for the service.
Full of nothing but
confidenceblind optimism, I trekked out to the Mekong to try and find this "boat dock" area.
What did I find, well, I think I found it! "It" however, ended up being merely but a small sand beach with 4 boats camped out and a gnarly unpaved walkway down to the beach at a steeper than ten percent grade. I figured I must not have been in the right place even after scouring the entire shoreline along a 3 or 4 km section of the river in the pissing rain. Finding another more approachable entry to this elusive beach pitted me against several of the more aggressive canines I've run across yet.
They valiantly protected their domain and ran me off with a cacophonous chorus of barking with pearly whites proudly displayed.
Feeling a bit deflated and relieved that my tires had not been, the cozy guesthouse bed was calling. Looks like we're pushing ahead on the motorbikes after all!
We ended up learning an important bit of info that future adventurers should factor in and research further before making their own plans. When looking to hop a boat on the Mekong, heading from Luang Prabang northwards up towards the border of Thailand can most likely be done throughout the year. During the dry season however, heading south towards Vientiane may be hit or miss due to the water levels of the river. The 'getting there & away' section within the Lonely Planet article on Luang Prabang has a number of additional factors to consider.
Where one path ends, another inevitably begins!