Starting the journey through Laos
Getting the slow boat from the Thai/Laos border to Luang Prabang is a popular choice. I had no idea what I was expecting. Something along the lines of a ferry that we would spend the night on. It turns out it was more like a bigger version of a long tail boat. The one we had on the first day was one of the better ones as there were tables between four. Usually the owners of the boats live on them with their families.
Myself and Orna were joined by Dutch Antoon and Cho who were travelling solo. I’d heard tell that the slow boats can be great craic, that everyone drinks together and the entire boat becomes best friends by the second day. It wasn’t quite like that. It was more about having chats along the quiet, brown Mekong river watching green hills and time pass by. There wasn’t much else to it. The Mekong flows in weird, mysterious ways. It appears to swirl in many places that the captain tries to avoid. I imagined been sucked down a whirl pool never to be seen again. The odd time I saw a water buffalo or some local people unloading a boat. It was pleasant to have a few beers and share stories with others on the five hour journey to Pakbeng, where we spent the first night.
Pakbeng–The sleepy riverside village
The sun was starting to set as we docked in Pakbeng. There was a collection of locals and kids there to greet us. They had pictures of guesthouses and rooms to rent to us. It seemed that the small town was only there for the daily arrival of tourists from the slow boat and the kids seemed to be there out of curiosity and boredom. Myself and a slew of others followed a lady up a hill at dusk (our rucksacks had gone up in a pick up truck–I was slightly wary of this but I’d nothing to worry about). It turned out to be the best accommodation in town as two ladies had checked out a few places before settling on our choice. We walked back down the dark, unlit hill to go up another to the village for dinner. It seems we joined most of our slow boat in a nice Indian restaurant.
Shockingly, I had my first hot shower in about a month in this random town. Asia never ceases to amaze!
Day two didn’t go that differently than day one. A lot of people got up earlier to try get a good seat or onto a boat with tables etc. Turns out there were no tables this time and I sat beside a Scottish guy while Orna sat beside an unsociable girl with headphones in the entire way. The other two were down the back close to the engine so they could hardly hear what the other was saying. Getting there a little earlier would have helped it seems.
Foreigners get scammed
The boat docked at a point a kilometre or two from Luang Prabang. Apparently at one time they used to stop at the town centre but it seems they’ve devised a scam for tourists to be forced to pay a few euro extra in a tuk tuk to get to the final destination even though it’s the slow boat to Luang Prabang and not the ‘slow boat to a few kilometres down the Mekong from Luang Prabang’.
Paying a euro or two for a tuk tuk wouldn’t be the problem (if it was included in the slow boat price we wouldn’t even know about it) but paying for one that is blatantly created to scam tourists was pretty annoying.
Yes, it’s not fun to be scammed (especially when there are a few scenarios like this devised when you first enter Laos) but in the end these people are just trying to make a living. The boat will continue to stop a few kilometres away (too far to walk in my opinion with a heavy rucksack like some others did) so the tuk tuk journey needs to be factored into costs too.
I ended up loving Laos and it’s people so these tiny first impressions were thrown to the wayside.