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Published: January 30th 2008
Somehow we managed to choose the one day of the dry season that it rained to catch a boat 6hours down the Mekong River....and it didn't just rain, it poured. We were woken up at about 4am by rain bucketing down and it still hadn't subsided when we boarded at 10am...and it continued ALL day.
The slow boat is one of the 'must do' trips in Laos. It’s basically a 2 day ride down the Mekong River from Huay Xai (on the Thai border) to Luang Prabang in Northern/Central Laos. We had read many horror stories about the trip as the boats tend to be packed full of tourists until they practically overflow - there’s no guarantee of getting a seat, and all the available space is used, including inside the engine room. In order to get a seat we arrived at the boat at about 9:45am...it was due to depart at 11am and by the time we arrived there were already quite a few others on board. By about 11am the boat was perhaps half full...and we were thinking we had chosen quite a good day as it seemed the rain had made people reconsider....turns out that we were
wrong and it was another hour and a half before the boat was deemed full enough to depart.
As it was pouring, we had the joy of looking at beautiful blue tarps for the majority of the first day. The seats on the slow boat are actually wooden benches...so your butt gets sore very quickly. That night we arrived in Pak Beng at about 6:30pm. By that time it was already quite dark and our boat had no lights at all. Anyway, we docked and had the wonderful experience of clambering across uneven, slippery, wet, sharp rocks in the dark with a pack on our backs and a day pack on the front. We eventually managed to stumble across the rocks to the path and made our way through the slippery mud to our hotel for the night.
The next morning we made our way back to the boat at about 8am to get seats for a 9am start, which predictably turned into a 10.15 start. The second day at least had much nicer weather and we were able to see outside for the whole day. The view is nice but it doesn't change a whole lot over
the 8 hours, just jungle and a lot of limestone, with the occasional water buffalo and pigs roaming around. We were both surprised at how rough the river actually is, mainly due to the amount of rocks under the surface. We saw a lot of whirlpools and there were times when waves splashed up against the side of the boat and then 20 metres further downstream the river would be dead flat and a gathering point for garbage and dead animals.
We are now in Luang Prabang which is a UNESCO listed site. We're not actually sure why it’s listed, but it seems to be a pretty little town. We actually saw quite a bit of the town tonight while we were hunting for a bed, unfortunately when you get off a boat with 80 other people at the same time there is a lot of competition, so we have had to settle for a crappy room till we can change it tomorrow. We had dinner at one of the many riverside restaurants and then headed to this 'super high speed' internet cafe. While we have been sitting here there have been about 5 monks come in and use
'Jetty' in Pak Beng
Quite tricky to navigate in the dark
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