I was a little apprehensive to take the slow boat down the Mekong River to get to Luang Prabang, Laos. I’m not exactly the most sea-worthy person and I was thinking that being on a boat for two days would really suck if the sky was hazy and you couldn’t see any of the views and had motion-sickness.
But aside from the hour long wait at the border crossing to get our visa, a fight between two Laotian hotel touts on our first stop, and a protest staged by the passengers on the boat when we arrived in Luang Prabang, the trip was incredible. Not that l’ve ever taken a bus into Laos, but I think that the slow boat is the way to go.
The views were absolutely gorgeous and surreal. I couldn’t believe I was just floating down the Mekong River. The boat itself was kind of an odd thing. The seats looked like they came straight out of a minivan and they weren’t bolted down to the floor. The engine was just sitting in the back of the boat, and there wasn’t too much between it and you if you were walking towards the toilet. But the ride was smooth and the Beer Lao kept flowing.
Our first night, we stopped in a small town called Pakbeng. We were all standing on the deck waiting for our luggage to be offloaded when a fight broke out in front of us. One more reason why you should just ignore the hotel touts when you get off the boat. Just grab your bag and make your way up the hill. Accommodation is abundant and cheap and only a quick walk away. I had my first Lao dish: buffalo laab. Delicious.
The second day was much of the same, but the views never got old to me. If you take the slow boat, don’t sleep and miss the views. Otherwise, you might as well just take a bus. When we arrived in Luang Prabang, they dropped us off at a new dock before you get into the old city. This caused much confusion amongst everyone, because they never told us beforehand and we were all expecting to be dropped off right in town. So a majority of the passengers refused to get off the boat until they took them further downstream to the original dock. According to the Laotians, they moved the landing dock 2 months ago to avoid the crowds in the main street of the old city. Apparently it was just getting too crowded with all the tourists coming in.
My travel companions and I decided that we didn’t want to participate in the protest, so we took a tuk-tuk into town. Later we ran into a guy who stayed on the boat. He told us that at some point, a passenger stole the keys to the boat and the boat driver (with reason) became visibly upset and called the police and the tuk-tuk drivers refused to take anyone into town. I’m so glad we avoided that fiasco.
So far, Luang Prabang has been my favorite place on this trip. The weather is cooler, the air cleaner, the people friendlier and baguettes. Oh my god. I forgot how much I love bread. I have been hanging out here for almost a week just taking it all in and enjoying every minute of it. So much so, that I keep forgetting to blog about it all. But it’s coming, don’t worry. Tomorrow: Another elephant experience (a good one this time), Buddha Cave, Kuang Si waterfall and in case you think that I’ve forgotten all about crafting: traditional Laos weaving (yup, I learned how to work a floor loom and dyed some silk yarn).