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Published: April 26th 2008
We caught a bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong and had a relatively painless crossing into Laos! We stayed one night in the border town of Huayxai which only consists of one main street. It has a temple on the top of the hill which has great views out over the Mekong and to Thailand. Once climbing the many stairs to the top we were approached by 2 youths!! At first we made sure to have a tight grip on our valuables but we've been living in London too long as these boys just wanted to practice their English!! They had some scraps of paper with 'typical' questions on like 'How many people in your family?' Are you married?' 'What is your profession?' It was quite funny as the list kept on going but they didn't really understand much of what we said! They hang around the temple everyday after school as it is a good place to catch tourists and practice.
Afterwards, we bought our slow boat ticket and 2 cushions!!! The slow boat along the Mekong would take 2 days to get to Luang Prabang stopping overnight in Pak Beng. It is 7 hours each day on
the boat and we heard it was very uncomfortable so hence the cushions!!
Arriving at the pier early we got on the boat and optimistically took one bench each (one bench seems to be made for 2 Asian bums and not 2 Western!!). As the boat neared departure, it got fuller and fuller!! We ended up having to share a bench with very little leg room - but we were the lucky ones!! After the seats filled, people were getting the floor! They seem to sell far too many tickets for the boat - there was about 100 people on there and less than 60 seats! Overloaded we began our journey, stopping en route to pick more locals up (and their produce!). The journey was incredibly uncomfortable but very scenic! As we were overloaded we hit a rock and managed to ground the boat sending us all flying!! The boat staff got out and after about 10 minutes managed to get it back in deeper water. We stayed the night in Pak Beng before getting up early to make it to the boat before everyone else to ensure we weren't on the floor!!
This boat was slightly longer
so there were more seats and we thought it would be a bit more comfortable!! Wrong! This captain again kept picking more people up en route but his biggest mistake was deciding to stop for 4 Laos women and their hundred (50kg) bags of monkey nuts!! We sat there for 30 minutes while they loaded these bags onto the roof and watched as we got lower and lower into the water! We were all a bit worried but everyone shrugged it off! Finally we pulled away, rocking a bit and listing slightly but we were told repeatedly not to worry as all was OK!!
Already listing with no vacant seats, people on the floor and the roof full, the captain tried to stop and collect more people and their produce! There was a revolt!! Luckily there was a Thai lady on the boat who spoke the language and stood up with her husband and marched to the front to say what everyone was thinking! In turn, everyone else started shouting at the captain and pushing away from the shore to prevent more people getting on! He finally listened and moved on. All was good for about an hour and
we were reading our books when suddenly the boat lurched to one side and we were face to face with the water, before it rolled back and dipped in the water the other side! Everyone was thrown about and panic ensued! People were screaming and crying while Laos 'translators' were yelling at us all to stay calm and not move! Rocking precariously the boat made it to the side of the river and they shouted at us to jump overboard and up the bank! We only had to jump in up to our knees and then made our way up the sandy bank - it was like the first scene from 'Lost' with everyone walking around disorientated!!
We must have hit more rocks as the rudder was bent in half and there was damage to the underside of the boat. We were all a bit shook up as although it is just a river - it has quite a strong current and we could have been trapped on/under the boat with the 100 others and 5000kg of monkey nuts!!! A smaller boat passing went to the next village to get another boat as this one was going nowhere!! After
about an hour, the other boat turned up and we loaded our bags from one boat to another. The captain started to try and put the monkey nuts onto the new boat but was pinned against the wall by some angry Westerners until he agreed to leave them!! So our last hour and a half to Luang Prabang was in the dark but we were extremely happy to arrive! Looking back, we laugh and it was probably not as bad as we thought but at the time it was very scary!!!
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