Two-Day Slow Boat into Laos – Tom Sawyer did it and Tina Turner sang about it, but this wasn’t exactly a do-whappin‘ ride that merrily, merrily took us gently down the stream. We enjoyed our full two-day slow boat in Laos during a trip down the Mekong river. However, I think we will all be rather stiff and sore for a couple of days as we iron out the aches.
As weary as the I was at the end of the trip, the slow boat into Laos is a must do along the backpacker trail in South-East Asia. The usual slow boat begins in the Thailand border town of Chiang Khong. We crossed over on day thirty of our thirty day visa and stayed overnight in Huay Xai on the Laos side. Our guesthouse helped us with buying our tickets for the two-day slow boat, and we spent the rest of the afternoon buying some Kip, the currency here in Laos.
And we were off early the next morning….
DAY 1 – We are not off to a very promising beginning. The “large ferry” is actually quite small with 2 rows of wooden benches and a floor filled with holes. After waiting an hour to ensure that every available inch of seating was filled, the engines revved and we started to back out. Then we stopped and plastic stools and lawn chairs were pulled out and placed in the aisles as more backpackers tromped down the hill to the boat. I think there were 80 or more of us by the time we actually left! However, even though the gray sky threatened rain and we knew that we had two full days on the boat squished together, everyone was in friendly spirits, especially when the little Lao man at the front of the boat began selling huge bottles of yummy Lao Beer.
It would be difficult not to enjoy yourself when floating down the Mekong river, surrounded by the best that Mother Nature has to offer. If Thailand is beautiful, then Laos is simply stunning. Huge, rocky cliffs jaunt upwards along the banks and the vibrantly lush hills reach up, up, up until they are shrouded in blankets of mist and disappear into the clouds above. We pass many tiny fishing villages, long boats of every shape and size, and beach huts in every imaginable color of canary yellow, vivid blue, and pale green. Storybooks are coming to life before my eyes!
Backpacker passenger camaraderie – Day 1 passed rather uneventfully, except for one harrowing ride down some angry rapids and rocks. Books were traded back and forth and Oreo cookies, chips, and beer floated up and down the aisle. Just as the sun was about to dip behind a magenta dotted hill and cloak the river in shadows, we pulled over to a small dock and the engines stopped. Those of us in the boat were rather confused for there wasn’t a house or lodge in sight. We were simply confronted with a huge set of concrete stairs looming on the hill in front of us. After much encouragement and arm waving from our boat driver, we learned that it was our destination for the day so all 80 of us jumped out of the boat to stretch our legs and meander up the hill. Well…79 of us did. I stayed behind in the boat to lug 79 backpacks out the window into 79 eagerly waiting arms. However, I was pleased to discover that mine was not the heaviest pack among the bunch! After mastering the huge staircase (only falling once!), showering, a meal, and a close inspection of our bunks for rats and spiders, we slept quickly and were back on the boat by 7:30 the next morning.
DAY 2 – Today is sunny!! I’ve been watching the skitterbugs skate and dragonflies circle overhead as we smoothly glide down the Mekong. We just passed a herd of water buffalo bathing along the banks. They are not very attractive animals. The quarter inch padding on the wooden seat does little to provide comfort today, and we are all wiggling around trying to situate ourselves for the eight hour journey.
Around three in the afternoon, we are trapped with a quick rain shower. Everyone pulls down the tarps that serve as windows and our boat pulls over to the side to wait out the storm. It passes rather rapidly and we are once again underway with the smell of rain in the air and mist rising off of the river. Arrival in Luang Prabang finally arrives at 5:30. We eagerly stumble off of the boat and hike up yet another hill towards town to find accommodation for the night. The town is damp from the recent rain and delightful smells drift up and down the street, beckoning weary travelers to come eat! I think I will!!! More to write after dinner!