Slow boat(s) to Luang Prabang
Trip Start Mar 11, 2007
35Trip End Jul 27, 2007
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Huay Xai is small. The one road that runs through the town is dotted with small houses made of wood and tin. This regularity is broken by a few larger structures, which serve as guesthouses. Actually, most buildings in Laos are multi-purpose, serving as stores, guesthouses, and homes of their propietors. One can easily imagine that this town exists only to mark the point of entry into the country. After reaching the end of the main road in what seemed a like a minute, we looked whistfully across the Mekong at the more developed Thai side where we imagined all sorts of dalliances to entertain us while we stayed the night waiting for the slow boat
Not to say that there aren't any distractions on the Lao side of the river. While exploring the town we passed a swarthy man who greeted us with a quiet voice and a smile. It wasn't until we had passed him that we realized that he had offered to sell us some opium. Before the night was over we were approached several more times by all sorts of characters, including the local travel agent who also moonlighted as the local drug dealer. Content to rely on alcohol as our mind altering agent, we took him up on his offer to take us and our fellow travellers to the local disco. We soon learned that the venue also served as a karaoke night club. We drank a few Beer Lao (there is only one brew in Laos), amused as a Thai woman sang folk tunes while her friends line danced to her shamelessly bad singing. It was very Lao kitsch. Oh yeah, and in case you were wondering Jama cut a rug to some Lao Hip Hop!
The next morning we woke up early to get to the pier by nine only to wait two more hours for the slow boat to depart. Shortly before departure, a well-dressed man began inspecting tickets. We assumed that he was the boat operator. He explained that we wouldn't be arriving to Pak Beng until quite late and that the town had no electricity so it would be difficult for us to find accomodation
The slow boat ride lasted two days with a stop-over in the aforementioned Pak Beng. The ride itself was uncomfortable. The operators try to cram as many people as possible into the boat so we ended up with about 80. The floor was actually more comfortable than the wooden seats which are too high and lack cushioning. Still, the experience of floating along the picturesque Mekong more than made up for the discomfort. In fact, we were fortunate that on the second day our boat broke down and we ended up with more room. After switching boats, the operators decided to tug the second non-working boat down the river so we had our choice of seat on two boats!