So the morning after the Gibbon Experience saw us up early getting our tickets and seats for the Slow Boat that would take us south, down the mighty Mekong river and into Luang Prabang 2 days later.
Getting the tickets was easy and we were obviously keen as only one couple had beaten us to it. We had heard horror stories that tickets were reissued and unless you are on the boat early you could end up either in the engine room or sitting on the hard wood floor. Both options did not sound an appealing way to spend 8 hours so we quickly grabbed some scram and headed to the boat just before 9am.
It was dead quiet onboard and stayed that way until about half 10 when the boat started to fill, ready for the scheduled departure at 11am. This made us a little miffed about what we had heard but hey at least we had a seat. But then the carnage started. People queuing up the steps, arguing about were to sit and the time continued to tick past midday. Then suddenly the boatmen sprang into life, shouting at people to get on the boat, ‘lots of room, lots of room. Look at back’. Everyone piled on the boat. Their mistake was realised too late, once everyone was on the boat. There were no more seats. It was just a ploy to get the westerners on the boat and away. And no one had a second chance as the boarding plank was kicked away! Merciless… But at least we had a seat and some snacks so that was okay.
The rest of the day drifted by quite nicely as we made our way down river. The sun was shining and we made some great new friends (hey Liam, Emer) and carried on chatting to some we already knew (hey Drew, Naomi), we drank beers, ate and people watched… There really was every walk of life on our slow boat, and that made for a great trip and some good conversations.
All was going well until on one of our turns to drop a local off the captain managed to break the engine. I’m not technical so have no idea what he actually did but the noise of crunching metal certainly told everyone on board that we might not be getting to Pakbeng (our midway stop) as soon as we would have liked.
And so the ‘slow boat’ became the ‘super slow boat’ and we literally drifted with the current to Pakbeng. But we finally made it, and even though many tempers on the boat were starting to fray, everyone got a guesthouse and a good nights sleep.
The second day was all calmness. The sunrise over the Mekong was majestic and the ride down on the boat was peaceful and uneventful. And so now we find ourselves in Luang Prabang. A UNESCO world heritage site and a little slice of France in the heart of Laos. It is a blissfully beautiful place and one of the nicest towns we have made it to on our travels.
Good coffee. Baguettes. Patisserie. I think I could get use to this.