Mollidy and myself had joked when we first got to Luang Prabang that it might end up being like Hoi An, meaning three days was a day too many, and when waking up on our last day here, we thought just that. This felt like a place to stop for two days, not three, so we were more than ready to move on, but with a full day ahead of us on the Mekong River in a slow boat, we weren’t exactly champing at the bit to get on it either.
We headed down for breakfast at around 7am and downed it, as we were leaving at 7.30am, and soon enough we were on our trucks once again, but this time the 20 minute drive was taking us to the dock to board our private boat. The temperature was really pleasant, as we have found these northern areas tend to hit just the right heat, though we knew that would soon change as we started heading south after Chiangmai.
Once at the dock we carried our bags down some rather dangerous steps, and what we saw didn’t look like a private boat, but instead a public boat, filled with locals and other tourists. Not only that, it looked very open air, and not exactly what we had been expecting. Though once on board we soon realised that we were actually only using the first boat as a gangway to our boat moored next to it, which we couldn’t tell was a second boat at first, though ours was pretty much just like theirs.
The boat easily accommodated 40 to 50 people, including the captain and the crew, but we had it all for only 20 of us, including the two kids of the family who runs the boat as a business. So though it wasn’t technically what we had envisioned, we were easily able to stretch out and all find a place to call our own. Mollidy and myself grabbed one of the 4 person booths, and we each took a side which was just big enough for short asses like ourselves to curl up on and lie down.
When it comes to traveling on this trip, which we’ve done a hell of a lot of, I’ve come to enjoy and find the bus rides easy, and the train rides not as easy, as the sleeping can be broken. But flying, and now I realise boats, just aren’t my favourite way to travel. Ships would be cool, as there’s lots to see and do, but being stuck on a river boat is about the same as a plane, expect you don’t have the entertainment system to keep you occupied for long periods of time.
The first hour or so was really nice, just relaxing and watching the forrest and river pass you by. There was also a lot of activity on the river and on the shore to keep you interested, such as other boats, fishermen, small villages, birds, goats, cows, and all the debris from the bad weather the day before, as there was a lot of tree and plant material just drifting down the river. After that though the realisation that this was it for another 9 hours kind of sunk in, and even more so when we would be doing the exact same thing the next day.
4 hours into the trip we had lunch served which was nice, and that helped kill 30 to 40 minutes, and then most people just napped, though I only managed 30 minutes. The rest of the time was just spent talking, playing on the iPads, and writing. There just wasn’t really much else to do, another than the odd breaks to look outside the boat at scenery that started to all look exactly the same. Then at 6pm, 10 hours after we left, we got to our destination for the night, Pakbeng, which would also be our last stop in Laos.
Pakbeng really is a one street town, as the dock, shops, restaurants, and guest houses, are all on the one main street, and 150 meters after getting off the boat we were at our guest house, and it looked like the nicest on the street. We checked in and were actually really surprised how good the room was, as Pakbeng really is in the middle of nowhere and the guide books said they only recently got 24 hour power, so we weren’t expecting much.
We enjoyed our room for a bit, which sadly was also the first place without a TV, which might not sound that bad, but when you’ve spent all day sitting playing on your iPads, the idea of just lying on an actual bed and watching a movie sounded rather good right about then. Instead we went out for dinner, and on Triposo, Mollidy found the one and only Indian restaurant in town which was also on the main street and about 100 meters back towards to the dock.
The food was ok, nothing great, but the cool thing was there was a massive lightening storm off in the distance, and so for the second night of this trip we were able to eat dinner while watching the sky light up. We then headed back to the hotel and pre ordered our breakfast for takeaway the next morning as it was going to be an early start, and then it was off to bed.
Though without a TV we ended up just spending a few hours chatting and listening to the ever approaching storm which started making itself known with not only the lights flashing in the window, but all the thunder that was now accompanying it. Though before long, as the storm drifted off into the distance, we too let ourselves drift off to sleep with a 5.30am alarm set.
One thing that I’ve become rather aware of on this trip is how universal English is and how hard it must be to travel without knowing it. It doesn’t matter what nationality you are, when you’re traveling in a foreign country it’s always English you hear people using to communicate with each other. French, Dutch, German, Brazilian, Kiwi, American, Japanese, Chinese, or African, the majority have to talk to the locals in English as it’s pretty much the only common tongue. Really makes me wonder what it’s like to travel the world not knowing a single bit of English.