17th-18th April 2012
Crossing the border control, John, Matt and I were whisked to the Slowboat office, who we booked tickets with whilst in Chiang Mai. As we were being whisked off, Leonie and her travel mates Lauren and Alannah pleaded with us to wait for them. Their passports sure were taking a while to be processed with their visa on the Laos side. Their luck was certainly not with them. Assuring that we would, we procrastinated by looking for some food and drink, however, I was soon captured by the friendliness of the Lao family that ran the shop. Definite striking differences between the Thai and Lao people. The Lao people were constantly smiling and certainly were not in your face to ask you to buy something from them. The Lao people would ask for your well being and strike a conversation with you. I could see myself liking the country already!
Buying a baguette, the girls managed to get their passports sorted out and we all boarded on the bus to take us to the Slowboat pier. Grabbing a beer Lao (it’s very smooth!) we were talked to by the travel agent about the Slowboat itself.
There would be 2 slowboats on the first day that will take all afternoon (it was 11am already!) to Pak Beng, the halfway point of the Slowboat journey. We would be staying there overnight and then all of us would cram onto 1 Slowboat from Pak Beng to Luang Prabang, our final destination.
However, our ticket didn’t include our overnight accommodation and would we want to book through with him to organise accommodation in Pak Beng? Seeing as we would be late to Pak Beng, we saw no reason not to. However, as there were 3 of us and rooms only can hold 2 people, it looked like one of us would have to pay a whole room to themselves. But we were chatting to a Belgian girl earlier as we waited for the travel agent to start and I knew she was travelling on her own. We talked to Muriel if she wanted to share and luckily, she said yes. We didn’t know this would shape up to be a great nifty group in the days to come!
Then finally! It was time to board the Slowboat! It wasn’t I was expecting. I thought it would be a pretty big steamer kind of boat but it turned out to be an extra extra large version of a long tail boat. As we were queuing, I was with Muriel and we ended up chatting to more people. I tell you this, the Slowboat is a brilliant fantastic way to meet people to go travelling with.
Boarding, I found Leonie and Matt at the back on the floor. Thank god for our cushions to sit on and John, the lucky bugger, found a seat at the front and spent most of the day reading his book.
Playing card games, we ended up chatting to more people particularly to a group of people travelling together namely Justin, Corianne and Ben who hailed from Canada. It was a pretty multicultural boat.
It was absolutely so much fun on the Slowboat even if it was chatting and bantering with the people. I got to know lots of people very well and met some Dutch, Germans, Chileans, etc and I was pretty impressed that I could actually understand what they were talking about amidst the background engine noise. To be honest, I find these guys speak better English than the English people!
The boat did stop off at various points along the River Mekong to stock up on supplies (beer Lao) and we did see the locals fishing and frolicking on the banks of the river. But the best thing? The view. Oh my god. I’ve never seen landscapes like it and the soaring hill mounds on a flat landscape did give somewhat of an avatar film feel. Quite often I would be staring out and possibly have a lion king moment.
I loved it that we could sit on the side of the boat and thrust our legs in the water and watch the sun go down. Magical moment indeed.
Before I knew it, we arrived in Pak Beng. The whole afternoon whizzed by and I was properly buzzing. It was great to meet like minded backpackers, and we were a very good looking bunch. FACT.
It was pretty dark when I got to Pak Beng and after losing my mates and taken up the wrong road by a Lao who wanted me to stay at HIS guesthouse, Justin and I found everyone else but there was a problem. The place where the travel agent booked us was overbooked so it meant quite a few people were left without a room, myself included. John and Muriel managed to get a room but Matt and I didn’t. So what to do? We argued with the owner, through no fault of his, we managed to get a refund and found another guesthouse just further up the road. It was pretty nice and much better than the one we were originally booked in. Mosquito nets, towel and fans were supplied so we were pretty happy.
We went out for some food and I got to know Alannah and Lauren much better as they actually got on the other Slowboat by mistake. Refusing to make our fruit shakes ‘happy‘ (magic mushrooms), the disappointed restaurant owner kept muttering that the happy shake would be ‘same same, but different’, a phrase we would hear constantly in Laos. He asked if we wanted lunch packed up and did we want it happy? It’s a no again. He walked away dejected, his chance to sell weed gone, and served us our dinner. I had a banana pancake (he kept asking if I really wanted it happy) that was absolutely delish. Checking our the nightlife on the other road, we stumbled across a shop selling more fruit shakes and access to wifi woo woo! We chilled out on the steps drinking beer Lao and before we knew it, it was time for bed. I had a great day.
Having one of the deepest sleeps I’ve had, I was soon roused by a carphony of cockerels roosting their heart out and the banging pans of what we discovered was a kitchen directly below us as we could see through the floorboards. We were also let entertained by the Belgian girls who shared a room next to us by their attempts to sing Barbie Girl in the shower. I promptly joined in. What?
Grabbing our baguettes and making sure they weren’t happy, we rushed to the pier and boarded, well jumped onto the Slowboat. This time, it was pretty packed and there wasn’t any floor space. But Leonie, Justin and I managed to grab a row of seats and Matt, Alannah got a row and Lauren shared with a kid. Aw bless. It was a cute kid!
Catching up on my reading and nattering to Leonie, the boat was getting more and more packed as we kept stopping off a lot to bring some locals on board. We couldn’t sit on the sides as this was a different boat that had barriers. We were sweaty beasts by the end and I tried in vain to find somewhere cooler and I did. Pass through the engine room, you step OVER the engine and you could find a small balcony off the back of the boat that could fit about 10 people. I spent a long time there with various people and got to know some British Backpackers who I would constantly bump into throughout Laos. A lot of banter was done! Particularly with the Essex Boys!
A highlight of the day’s trip is that we had a Lao family sit with us back at the seats and it was amusing to watch them try to entertain the kid especially when they brought out a pet cricket tried on a string. Watch the video!
I thought they were pretty cool!
As the sun started to set, Luang Prabang appeared in the distance and everyone gave a cheer. It has been a hot sweaty day on this single boat.
As we pulled in, I thought how amazing the last 2 days have been. I was dreading that the rest of my SE Asia travels wouldn’t be as good as Chiang Mai but you know what? I absolutely loved the Slowboat and what a start it had been to Laos.
Amazing highlights have definitely been the view, the banter, the Slowboat experience and especially meeting the best bunch of backpackers who I’ll end up travelling with for the next week.
Laos, you rock my world.
Have you been on the Slowboat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang?