So we are now up to part 3 of our two day adventure on the slow boat!
You can go here to read about parts 1 & 2
After being sucked into currency exchanging and booking a room we patiently waited to go to the slow boat. By this time we had enquired about the departure time and were told all the boats leave at lunch time – there’s no early departures unless you book a private boat. Who knew?!?!?
A kind of theme park trolley arrived to pick us up and once again we loaded up our backpacks and ourselves. The “taxi” took us down to the end of the street (!) and deposited us at a general store. Here we discovered we could buy lunch. There were baguettes with our choice of topping for something like AU$1.50 each so we all ordered one! And we got drinks and snacks for the boat for a couple of bucks.
The group was growing larger by the minute as more and more people were deposited at this store. We met up again with the other groups from the same place we stayed the night before. So much for getting an early start and beating the rush! Everyone ended up together to go to the boats anyway!!
If our guide had ever turned up it would be about now that I would have given him a piece of my mind. Of course I just smiled and carried on!!
Finally it was time to go to the boat (or we’d spent enough at the store and were now allowed to leave!) We walked down one more street in our big group. Yes, the damn boat was only one street away from where we were held captive!
There were loads of other stores along this one street, all with no customers in them. Some of them called out that they were selling drinks etc trying to entice us in but we were all fully loaded! Someone mentioned that they saw our storekeeper give some money to the person leading us to the boat. I guess our store was paying more than the others!! By now we weren’t even shocked at the kickbacks.
On arrival at the boat we had to walk down a heap of steep, sand covered stairs with no handrails We ended up split up as I was very gingerly taking the steps (I broke my tailbone a few years ago slipping on some stairs and I’m super careful these days!!). Gert and Jono were already on the boat before it became apparent that it was very full with still around 40 people to get loaded on!!
We’d been warned about this and I got myself ready to make a fuss so they would get another boat for the overflow. I’m not really good at having a hissy fit unless I’m furious so this was going to be a big ask!!
Thankfully a few others had the same idea and refused to board the boat – 7 hours of sitting on the floor wasn’t calling their name either!!
After a bit of waiting and some back and forth in Thai/Laos between the drivers, guides, bystanders etc someone came down the stairs saying “of course the next boat is for this group!!”. Like, how could we have imagined they were trying to save money by cramming us all into the one??
We wasted no time climbing aboard before he could change his mind!! Gert and Jono had to retrieve their stuff from the first boat and clamor onto the second! Our boarding was actually through the first boat and jump over an opening into the second. Easy to do without a pack, quite a bit more difficult with 15kg on your back, in a skirt, wearing flip flops on your feet!! I got a bit stuck in the opening (imagine – both boats are MOVING!) but I managed to clamber aboard without falling in!! Just!!
We got ourselves settled and the kids insisted on sitting in the back section that had chairs facing each other. This turned out to be party central for this journey so was fun for them!
I should mention that the seats are old car seats. And they aren’t bolted to the floor. If you hold the one in front as you sit down it is likely to end up in your lap if it isn’t occupied!!! And some of them recline just like in a car!! We had all bought soft cushions for these boats as we understood they had hard wooden seats. Turns out they are starting to put the old car seats in all the boats! But the cushions were good for resting our heads!!
The boat ride is really nice. It’s not the super noisy journey that we expected. The motor is up the very back (where I was worried we’d end up sitting if we got on the overcrowded one) and the boat sits quite low in the water. It pretty much glides along with very little rocking. There are a zillion rocks in the river and the driver will take the boat from side to side avoiding anywhere we could come unstuck. Here’s some of our pics of the rocks we passed. We couldn’t quite stop photographing them as they were all different……
OK – I kid – I don’t have good pics of the animals all the way on the shore, but these two old guys asleep on the boat are surely the next best thing?!?! My eyes are still burning!!
We saw people swimming, washing and fishing on the shore and in boats. There was quite a bit of activity at different times.
We even saw some elephants working to move timber though we didn’t get a photo of them!
The party was heating up in the back of the boat. The younger crowd were drinking beer and snake whiskey and getting to know each other. Britt was so glad to hang out with some people closer in age to herself. She’d been suffering a bit and had written this post on her girlinasuitcase blog so we were glad she got to hang out with them too!
There were also a heap of stops along the way. We let the odd person off. Then we went a bit further and let the odd person on. A bit further we collected some boxes and various other stuff. Some of these stops used the jagged rocks as the jetty. The people just scrambled over and jumped on!! I would have been in the water!!
It was a leisurely journey down the river and one I can highly recommend. I imagine it was the nicest way to get to Luang Prabang. Not a quick flight where you don’t see any of the countryside and not a long bus journey over less-than-awesome roads!!!
And Gert and I could doze off and enjoy the lack of nagging from Jono!!
It took about 7 hours or so for us to reach the halfway town of Pak Beng. Apparently the slow boats aren’t allowed to work at night due to the rocks in the river so there has to be an overnight stay.
When we get there, it’s a mad scramble to get off the boats!! There’s touts everywhere trying to get people to book a room. There’s little kids grabbing your bags to carry them up the very-steep hill in the
expectation hope that you’ll pay them. And I mean little – 7 year old little!! And dressed in old clothing with dirty faces, just for good measure!
As we are waiting to get off the boat, I notice money changing hands at the front of the line. As I get closer I discover there is a man selling drugs to the passengers as they get off!!! Off the boat I almost fall again in shock!! I’m not sure if it was because it was right there in front of us or if I was more shocked that tourists are still stupid enough to buy drugs from strangers in unfamiliar countries!!! Don’t these people watch the news?????
Either way I glared at the seller on my way past and he was smart enough not to offer me anything!!
A little kid steals my small day pack and with a big grin announces “I carry”. I say “yes please!!”. Gert is wrestling with another kid to get his bag back but I don’t care – I’ll gladly pay a dollar for my new friend to carry it – I’ve caught site of the big fat hill we have to walk up!!! He even holds my hand as I stagger down the big step from the boat!!
We find the man who belongs to the rooms we have booked and follow him up the enormous hill. There is really only one main street in Pak Beng so everything is easy to find. He shows us to the room and the kid carries our bags right in and puts them on the bed! Out comes his hand so I give him 20000 kip and tell him it is for my bag and Kate’s bag that he carried (she’s in another room). He nods eagerly and shoots out the door.
A couple of minutes later I find him in Kate’s room hitting her up for cash to carry her bag! She’s trying to tell him we already paid!!
Being impressed with his wilyness I give him another 5000 kip and he promises to come back tomorrow to carry them back to the boat!! That’s fine with me!!!
We get cleaned up and head out in search of dinner. Of course almost every restaurant will let you pay in Baht (contrary to the lying currency exchanger’s advice near the border!!)
The place where we eat has several other people there from the same boat (including Lisa who will end up stalking us through SE Asia!). We make small talk and scoff down our dinner. The owner has the cutest kid there and we give her one of the little Aussie koalas we are carrying. His other small child is sleeping in one of the chairs.
Brittney now abandons us to go hang with the other backpackers. There’s a 12 o’clock curfew in Laos so we know she won’t be back late!!
We are having internet withdrawal so we go to a second restaurant to get pancakes and use their wifi. The owner tells us if we want to pay in Baht it will be 200 Baht per pancake!!! He seems amused when we leave to go elsewhere!
We find an Indian restaurant and eat banana pancakes for the very reasonable sum of 60 Baht each!! The owner is watching the cricket and we get chatting to him about our trip and what it is like in Australia. He seems keen to visit but can’t get a visa. This is becoming a common theme with many of the people we meet – Australian immigration is apparently not so friendly if you are from a developing nation!!
Finally we fall into bed with a plan to meet the boats the next morning at 9am……
Read part 4 (the finale) this week where we lose Brittney and our boat breaks down leaving us stranded on the water….!
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