The Slow Boat to Luang Prabang

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January 21st 2012
Published: January 29th 2012
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The Slow Boat to Luang Prabang!

21st Jan ’12 Crossing into Laos at Huay Xai

Again getting into Laos was quite straight forward, we just filled in a couple of forms, handed them, our passports, a photo each and $72 dollars over and a few minutes later we had full page visas and we were in! We showed our passports to a soldier on a stall a couple of steps up the road and a lovely lad welcomed us to Laos!

A quick walk up the bank and we were in the village – just one road with a few guesthouses and bars and an ATM! We found a guesthouse and got a reasonable room then had a walk along the road and back.

While I typed up the blog Howard walked down to the slow boat pier (about a ¼ of a mile away) and found the booking office shut. Back in town he booked tickets for tomorrow through an agency who guaranteed we would get seats – now let’s just wait and see!

Dinner tonight was a big mistake, we saw a bbq set up over the road with what looked like lovely pork and chicken on it and decided to have some. It turned out to be just about all bones but we did have a bit of plain rice that wasn’t too bad!!

Walking along the one road in the town we came across a lad with a shop holding up signs that said order your sandwiches for the boat here, no like no pay and buy one get a free banana! So impressed with his initiative and with the prospect of a free banana we duly ordered our sarnies and arranged to collect them at 8.30am.

So we bedded down for the night with alarms set and Howard full of anticipation and me full of trepidation!

22nd Jan ’12 Huay Xai to Pak Beng (first leg of the river journey)

So we woke up miles too early (helped by the cockerels) and decided to get up and get some breakfast before getting our sandwiches. All this was done really quickly and rather than hang about we went down to see our boat ticket lady even though we were about ¾ of an hour early!

Much to our astonishment and pleasure she was as good

Immigration at Huay Xai
as her word and produced our boat tickets and we had seats no. 6 & 7 right at the front! She also sent us down in a tuk tuk to the boat even though she reckoned we had plenty of time…… and how right she was…… we walked past the little restaurants trying to lure us in and telling us we had ages for the boat, as we still believed it left at 10 or possibly 10.30am we ignored them and carried on.

We got down to the boat and saw that it did indeed have comfy seats – they use old bus or car seats (some still had their little trays attached) they are bolted on to wooden planks and then can be moved or arranged however the boat staff want them! Each seat had a piece of paper with the seat no. on (until the captain’s little daughter decided running off with them was a good game) and again the lady was right we were right at the front and our seats were facing inwards, the others in the main part of the boat were all forward facing and I’m still not sure which would have been better. However the advantage of the front ones were you were away from the very noisy engine and the one toilet.

There were about 8 of us on the boat at this point and we all got chatting, what surprised me was that everyone was travelling like us for a couple of years or so and also how many people around our age there were on the boat in the end. Anyway we waited and waited and people came on in dribs and drabs, then some guy came on and said as it was high season we wouldn’t be leaving at 10 but at 12!!! Still we had seats, good company and the time actually passed quite quickly.

Eventually all the ‘young backpackers’ with their cases of beer started to appear – from the Thailand side and by 12.30 the final bus load from Chiang Mai boarded and off we set.

The journey itself was fine, nice scenery, loo wasn’t too bad, I started reading a Game of Thrones and the 7 hours passed quite quickly. Again Howard was in his element – examining the engine and bobbing up and down like a blue arsed fly armed with a camera! We passed some fine mountains/hills and negotiated some tricky rocky patches – the captain had to shout at the passengers who had gone out on the front of the boat and just stood taking pictures of said tricky patches and completely blocking his view – unbelievable!

Then we spotted Pak Beng village up high on the side of a steep cliff, the boat pulled in and the only space was a long way from the concrete steps, which were blocked off by other boats. Then the chaos started, people trying to get off while the crew opened the hold (which a couple of people had already fallen in while getting on the boat at the start) and bags were chucked out.

Howard scaled the cliff and came back down to say he had found us a guest house so once we had the rucksacks we both scaled the cliff ( I kid you not) and at the top on the road were all these guest house owners with pictures of their places trying to get you to stay with them. Our lady had a pick up truck which we got in and went up the hill to the village.

The room was fine, clean, comfy bed, hot water, ideal for the night. She even had a menu so you could order breakfast for the morning and sandwiches for the boat. She told us the truck would take us down to the boat at 8.30am as it left at 9.30am and that would be plenty of time to get a seat, so we believed her. We walked up the village road and found somewhere to eat, then it was alarm on and off to bed.

223rd Jan ’12 Pak Beng to Luang Prabang

Up, breakfast, sandwiches were ready, got on the truck…. And it wouldn’t start! Some young lads got off and pushed it and it finally got going, down the hill, scrambled down the cliff and got on the boat…….which was full! They used different boats on the 2nd day so seat numbers had no relevance and it really was first come first served – so if you do the journey get down there early, you need to! By now lots of other people were waiting on the cliff so we reckoned there would have to be another boat so we attempted to get our rucksacks out, however the crew couldn’t find them – surprise surprise. In the end Howard spotted one free seat which I got and he ended up on a plastic chair right at the back of the boat, next to the engine and the 2 loos and what also became the smokers area. So he ended up surrounded by young people having a smoke and when I went down for a fag they were discussing the best places in South East Asia to smoke ‘weed’ and which ones had the toughest penalties if caught doing it, all said as if they were the first people in the world to have ever thought of this!

As more and more people appeared they brought another boat but in the end had to stuff even more onto ours and they ended up just sitting on the floor for the entire trip (another 7 hours) so I guess we didn’t do too badly after all in comparison. Among the last on were a young American couple, he looked like a bit of a biker but that notion was soon dispelled as he spent the entire journey with some kind of a music player dangling from his belt blasting out Funk as he snake hip boogied up and down the boat, she sat on the deck holding court with other young people and teaching them how to do the appropriate arm/hand dances to the tunes whilst talking at the top of her voice the whole time.

The journey again was more of the same, again Howard loved it and I virtually finished my book (there is only so much greenery, rocks, small villages you can take and still be impressed with after 14 hours of them).

We pulled into Luang Prabang and this time we had steps to get up to the road which was a blessing and it was as if we had entered a different world! It’s a lovely little town and it has wide PAVEMENTS, yes real pavements – heaven. Unfortunately though it has a very strong French influence and is full of pricey eateries, little boutiques and lots of French tourists. However the baguettes are amazing!

We stayed in a tiny little guest house just over the road from one of the Wats which was lovely. We ate in one of the pricier places tonight as we were starving (well I was) and I couldn’t walk any further without grub, so a big fat juicy steak in red wine sauce it was!!! Mmm!!

After the shaking had stopped and my belly was full we carried on up the road and into the main part of the old town where we found much cheaper places to eat (big sighs from Howard lol) and the Night Market which was stowed out with Chinese tourists barging and shoving and ignoring the no smoking rule!!

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