The Slooooooooow boat on the River Mekong to Luang Prabang
21.07.2010 - 23.07.2010
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Just two hours after crossing the border into Laos I see my first corpse float past the slow boat on the River Mekong! First thing that morning i had crossed the border from Thailand in a small boat across the river. This was followed by a bit of a scramble up a muddy bank carrying my luggage then a queue to pay the 35 US for yet another whole page visa in my passport, that I am starting to worry will be full way before I reach South America. The boat itself was a bit of a nice surprise. I had been pre-warned that it was going to be a ‘challenging’ journey on wooden benches, with more passengers than actual seats for 8 hours a day over 2 days.
What were these people talking about? I tentatively get onto the boat, armed with a big soft cushion for my behind, and it appears I have struck lucky, the luxury version, proper seats AND A BAR!! So i settle down with a smile on my face, meeting other travellers from all over the world, taking in some amazing scenery along the river, little villages on the river banks. I get my first taste of the local brew BEER LAO, liquid gold, just the best. This is about the time the bloated, grey, rotting corpse floats past. I thought at first it was a pile of logs and straw tied together, then I thought it was a dressmaker dummy, then OMG NOOOOOO its a dead body eugggghhh. Only a few of us who were standing up at the time actually saw, but it didn’t put me off my beer! And check me those who know me only as a wine drinker, I am loving the beer in Asia, is the only thing to drink in this heat. I am a changed woman! Beer Lao though, the first of many surprises for me in this amazing country, I want to start a campaign, get it exported all round the world.
After about 7 hours of enjoying myself we stopped off at a village, Pakbeng, to rest for the night. Another scramble up the muddy river bank and this time nearly toppling over with my backpack. Very basic guesthouses here but I was actually pleasantly surprised that there was electricity here atall. See the traveller I have become? Always expect the worse and then be happy when things turn out not so bad after all, is the best way!! This was all giving me false confidence though as come the second day, the final stretch to Luang Prabang, they SWITCH OUR BOAT! Yes Ian, the boat ride from hell!! Bring out the cramped wooden benches and NO BEER!! Everyone was so much grumpier today, the journey had transformed from a pleasant, scenic river cruise to feeling like cattle being transported. It also rained most of the day so the side shutters were down and there was no view to enjoy. Being rainy season, the Mekong was at quite a high level and there were areas of swirling ‘rapids’. The first day I had quite enjoyed the bits where the boat would start spinning a little, on this second day it was just annoying and uncomfortable.
Everyone was so relieved to reach Luang Prabang around dinner time. Big greetings of ‘Sabaaideeeeeeeee’ the Laos equivalent of Thailand’s ‘ Sawatdi ka’ as I checked into a lovely French colonial style guesthouse near the river, where I managed to get a hefty 50% discount, as long as I ‘didn’t tell my neighbours’! Getting good at this kind of thing!