After hearing stories about how uncomfortable the two day slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang was, we started having reservations about the tickets we had purchased. So it was a pleasant surprise when we jumped aboard to find that we had old minivan seats instead of the wooden bench that we had been expecting.
Stocked with our baguettes, coke, beer, Pringles, cards, books and ipods we settled in for a long day of floating down the Mekong. Although the boat was packed to capacity, and possibly beyond it, we were perfectly comfortable. Well, with the exception of a cold I had caught on the last day of the Gibbon Experience. I struggled to breathe for hours and would’ve killed for some cold and flu tablets. But floating down river, listening to The Cat Empire’s ‘Days like these’ with the sun setting to my right and a remote Laos village appearing to my left, I thought to myself Mondays could be much worse.
That evening we stopped in at Pakbeng, a small village that mainly caters for overnight stays. We grabbed our backpacks and dashed up the hill to grab a room with river views, a hot shower and wifi for $10. What a bargain. That was until the front door, with a less than effective latch, opened at 3.30am. Niall woke up and gathered I had left the bathroom light on. It wasn’t until 7 the next morning we realised it had been wide open for hours- woops.
Adequately restocked with rice and noodle packed lunches, we settled in for another long day on the Mekong.
Between cards and reading we spent time entertaining the little girl who lived onboard. She loved swiping her fingers across our tablet and when I switched the camera on she proceeded to fix her hair and check her teeth. The expression on her face when she realised it could take her picture was priceless.
Then it was time for a standoff. We had heard rumours that the boats had recently started dropping off passengers 10 km out of Luang Prabang to the benefit of tuk tuk drivers. So when we pulled up in the middle of nowhere everyone stayed put in the hope that they might eventually take us into town. Of course when the family live on the boat your hopes of outstaying them are pretty slim. After a while we grabbed our bags and with a bitter taste in our mouths trudged up a sanddune (a good indicator that this was definitely not the Luang Prabang dock) and reluctantly jumped in the back of a fixed price tuk tuk. Apparently, this standoff happens daily and the customers are yet to win.
However, despite this unfortunate end to an otherwise enjoyable experience, we would probably take the slow boat again after chatting to friends who had taken the night bus from Huay Xai. Unsealed, bumpy roads, broken toilets and shared, small beds are not conducive to an enjoyable night’s sleep.
Luang Prabang is lucky its such a lovely town that people soon forget how exactly they got there.