Packrafting Laos

My girlfriend and I went packrafting in Laos in November of 2005. Two short trips: 3 days on the Mekong from Huayxai (on the Thai border) to Pakbeng (deeper in Laos) and then caught a ride up to the Nam Ou (the major tributary feeding into the Mekong within Laos) for another three day trip. Both trips were great - the locals were very friendly and I’m sure had never seen packrafters before. We mainly camped out at night, but spent one night in a village on the Nam Ou as guest of the chief. Nothing over Class II on that part of the Mekong, but we did have huge crazy hydraulics that would appear and disappear again…as well as weird rippling currents that would appear, rip across the river and run themselves out. The Big Muddy Mekong reminded me more than a bit of the Yukon. We had a few fun Class III wave trains on the Nam Ou. On both rivers: lots of jungle, birds, water-buffalo and a few snakes as well. And lots of Lao fishermen casting their nets into the rivers. And a lot fewer tourists than Thailand. So many rivers in Laos and so much opportunity to paddle…I would love to go back.

The locals were just starting to comment on the unnaturally low water level of the Mekong caused by the building of Chinese Dams upstream just across the border…the few fishermen we spoke to about the dams had never heard of them and didn’t know what to make of the strange water fluctuations. Not good for fish migrations or river travel. And fish is a huge part of the Lao and Cambodian diet. We saw a lot of material poverty in Laos - relative to the U.S., but everyone seemed quite happy and well-fed. Last I checked China was making no plans to alleviate the negative downstream effects of their dam building, yet all the energy created by the dams was destined for domestic consumption.

Ryan Hickel

Last time I was in this area I took the fast boat from Houayxay to Louanphrabang, and I like what I saw. I’m heading that way again in a couple of months and I’m thinking of floating down south on the Mekong from Louanphrabang back to the Thai border. Anybody know anything about his route? How many days? Dangers? Scenery?


I was Fall 2002 with a folding kayak in the region. Packraft would have been better due to low water in Laos, but I cam from seayaking in Indonesia. The Menkongs right sided tributary (Thailand) was called Mun, The Menkongs left sided tributary (Laos) was called Se Noy. We paddled here from Von Xai Bua Thong to the Mekong und further on it to Savannakhet.

I have a full report, but it is in German, but you can watch the pics at least (90% from Loas):

if you like to check out in full length though:



My friend bought and then paddled a Laos fishing longboat from Luang Prabang down towards the Thai border in 2003 or so. Don’t know how far he made it, but he and a friend spent 7 or 8 days on the river. His name is Brett Roth and his email is He would be more than happy to give you some info on that route.

Ryan Hickel

Thanks Ryan

I’ll write to him and see if I can make this trip work.