Friday, November 4, 2011

Slow Boat - 1 of 2

One of our lovely blog readers tipped us off in the direction of Luang Prabang, Laos. Her boyfriend had been and raved about it. We had no plans to go to Laos and knew very little about the country, but upon some research, decided it would be a neat little detour out of Thailand.

In order to get to Luang Prabang from Chiang Khong, Thailand, we needed to take a boat or a wretched bus. We opted for the slow boat down the Mekong River, despite taking 2 days and 1 night! It sounds crazy, but it's known as one of the most legendary backpacking trips in South East Asia and we were stoked to experience it.

We boarded a strange-looking long wooden boat (to me it looks like a mobile home on water) with a crowd of mostly tourists. Tables and uncomfortable wooden benches lined both sides of the boat.... kind of like a train but cooler because there was no glass in the windows and it was a smooth ride.  It was chaotic at first and we were questioning if we made the right decision.... so many vendors were selling boat tickets and we were unsure where to go without being ripped off, then there wasn't enough room on the boats for all the travelers, the Lao people either didn't speak English or pretended not to speak English, everyone was confused, and we left an hour or two behind schedule (but then again, transportation in Asia is rarely on time).

Once we set off, we were transported back in time. The scenery around the river was spectacular and almost untouched. Every now and then we passed a tiny village of bamboo huts whose only access to the world is the river. We passed by naked children playing on a beach or women in traditional sarongs bent over the banks of the river washing clothes in big shallow bowls. We passed a lot of other long boats like ours and waved out the windows. Mostly though, we saw greenery, craggy mountains, and wilderness.

With ten hours on the boat, most of the people on board got to know one another. We shared a table with a couple of guys from Germany. It was a very friendly and laid back environment. The front of the boat had no roof, and it soon became packed with a rowdy crowd of young backpackers sunbathing. The boat sold an incredible amount of Lao beer which helped people loosen up and pass the time since there wasn't much else to do.

We arrived at our halfway point at dusk-- a small town on the river by the name of Pakbeng. We checked into a guest house with lizards all over the walls, went out for dinner across the street, and hit the hay early because the electricity in the town turns off at 10 pm. We were woken up at dawn by a rooster crowing.

Day 2 on the slow boat coming next.

- Julia

These small boats took us across the river in the morning from Thailand to Laos, where we stood in line at border control. It was very busy.

We got this paper at the border along with our passport stamps.

Finally we arrive at the boats that will make the 2 day journey.

Dinner at a restaurant in Pakbeng was very rewarding that night. A nice break from the hard wooden benches of the boat.