global_adventure travel blog

Long Boat: Cramped conditions but good scenery

Sardines on the move!

Long boat docked at Pak Beng...interesting parking

Views of the Mekong from Pak Beng

Random stop to pick up a family

Views over the Mekong on approach to Luang Prabang

2 Lao faces amongst a sea of Foreigners

In the morning we set off from the guesthouse for the ferry across the Mekong to Huay Xai where we would catch the long boat down south to Luang Prabang. We cleared the immigration checkpoint on the Thai side and provided mild amusement to the immigration official by making our departure on the actual date our visa expired. We couldn't stay any longer if we wanted to!

A 2 minute journey across the Mekong and we were in a different country. After filling out yet another immigration form we changed some money from Thai baht into Lao kip. With 10,000 kip to the US dollar and all notes being the same size we quickly realised that mistaking 1,000 kip for 10,000 kip was going to be pretty easy. After getting a bookfull of cash (only worth a few dollars though) we headed off to the ferry jetty (if you could call it a jetty) to get our 2 day boat.

On arrival at the jetty it was soon apparent that no Lao people were crazy enough or inclined to take this boat. Maybe the prospect of being with a full boat of snap happy tourists deterred them as there were around 80 tourists (no chickens or any other animals at that point as was initially suggested to us) packed into rows of tiny cramped seats. The backpacks were all stacked at the back of the boat, next to the 1 squat toilet that would serve the entire boat. After 5 minutes of being on the boat Kiran had changed positions numerous times, dug his knees into the back of the very understanding Swedish guy in front and blocked the aisle with his gangly legs (along with numerous other people - short or tall). In the clamber for space Neha, sitting (more like wedged) in the inside seats initially, managed to perch on the ledge of the boat for a little while until she was drenched by the Mekong.

After an hour, having lost all feeling in our arses, being prodded incessantly by the people behind us and finding position number 101 to rearrange our limbs, we were able to enjoy the scenery. Being in such close proximity to everyone else did mean that there were several conversations and many friendships made while watching life on the Mekong go by. Most people were travelling through Thailand, Lao, Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma through one route or another and so stories were swapped and information gathered.

Numerous stops later, generally to load goods (notably lots of rice bags) and to take some more people on, we reached Pak Beng - a town who seem to make most of their income on the boat stop. It was a tiny place comprising of guesthouses of various quality. Word had got round the boat that there were only a few guesthouses in town and that they filled up very quickly. Using a 2 pronged attack of Neha finding the accomodation with Ian, a fellow passenger, while Kiran and Katja - Ian's girlfriend - were looking for rucksacks, we were able to get decent rooms in Pak Beng. We also met some other really nice people who we were able to bump into over the course of our stay in Lao. By the end of the evening we were just happy to be able to stretch our legs.

The following morning was deja-vu. We boarded a different boat (with a fraction more legroom. It's amazing how much difference an inch makes - hee hee) and made our way down the river. The journey appeared to go quicker as we quizzed a Belgian lady who had been to Luang Prabang a few months ago; picked up local families with their children, chickens, mats and any other possessions and marvelled at the boatmen's navigation skills through the strong currents ('waterfalls' as they called them - although they weren't!).

We reached Luang Prabang rather tired, cramped and ready for a Beer Lao (sod Carlsberg - Beer Lao is probably the best beer in the world, and Kiran knows!!) and sleep. On direction of a Canadian lady who had been to Luang Prabang before we followed her to a guesthouse she had been to last time. In the baking sun and with heavy rucksacks we walked through the market, with Neha eyeing up the goods worth bargaining for later on that week. It soon became apparent that our Canadian 'leader' was unsure of where she was going and eventually we all took control by finding a decent place to crash. In the end we settled on a lovely guesthouse run by a friendly family and the choice to stay there was clinched by an eccentric Texan resident named Bobby who really sold the place to us.

Luang Prabang looks the kind of place that we'll be relaxing in for a few days.

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