East of Laura — East of Laura

16 мая 2014 | Author: | No comments yet »
Crownline 239 DB boat

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey: Taking the slow boat to Thailand

The muddy Mekong

After an absolutely top notch week in Luang Prabang, I wrenched myself away from biscuits and beerlaos, and traded my life of leisure on land to take to the rivers. Boat travel in Laos is more than just a tourist trap. With roads scarce through the mountains, the river is stil the main way locals cover long distance travel. And after the minibus ride* up to Luang Prabang, I was more than happy to have to do it again!

* Oh, you mean I didn’t mention the worst bus ride ever to get to LPB? I wonder why not. Lets just say it was five hours through winding roads that the van driver did not believe in slowing down for, and consisted of me clutching (although, luckily, not using) a plastic bag the entire time, despite the abundance of Dramamine in my system.

But back to the boat! To head west in Thailand, it’s a two day journey on a long boat. We left the boat dock at about 8 each morning, and pulled in to our next stop after 6 each night, so you’re looking at 20 hours of travel over two days. But it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. Most of the journey is picturesque, with jungle and mountains and rice parties dotting the banks. Even in monsoon season, the river was mostly calm and completely pleasant to be on. And the boat is set up restaurant-car style, so it’s easy to mingle with all your fellow travellers (who you get to know VERY well after 36 hours in close proximity). And between the 9 or 10 of us, we had a deck of cards, a set of iPod speakers, and a whole bunch of reading material. Can’t ask for much more than that!

After the first 10 hours on the river, the boat docks in a town called Pakbeng, although to call it a town is really being generous. Honestly, it’s more like a short street that starts at the boat dock, contains about 10 guesthouse/restaurants catering to those getting off the boats, and that’s it. The one single street ends about 200 meters past the dock and its all jungle after that.


Chaparral 200 SI boat

Upon arriving in Pakbeng, we followed some touts promising the best rooms in town up the street. Usually what I look for in a room is pretty simple: a good lock on the door, a mostly clean bathroom and free wifi. If I’m feeling particularly high maintenance, I like hot water, too. Pakbeng was not one of those days, though. My needs became simpler in this town, completely by default. Like I said, we follows this tout to his guesthouse, where he took us to see some rooms, and when he flipped on the lights, there was a whole lot of. nothing. I actually felt a bit guilty leaving him standing there, swearing up and down that the power would be back soon and that we could half price on the room, but I have to tell you, it’s really hard to be enticed to pay for a room without electricity.

By the end of our progression down the row of guesthouses, all that clean bathroom and hot water nonsense was out the window. All I wanted in a room was some power. The little things, right? We finally found a place who could at least guarantee lights and place to charge our phones till 10pm. With an offer like that how can you refuse? But positives! At least I got to make some use out of my headlamp! And when the town goes pitch black by 10pm, it’s pretty easy to get a great nights sleep.

After a night in Pakbeng, it’s another 10 hour back on the boat to Huay Xai. Coincidentally, the boat gets in juuuuuuuust after the Thai border closes,but that worked out fine for me as I didn’t want to cross till the morning to save the day on my Thai visa. There can’t be more than a few thousand people in town, but with its 24 hour electricity and ATMs, it seemed positively cosmopolitan!

So moral of the story is, boat rides in Laos drastically trump bus rides!

Chaparral 200 SI boat
Chaparral 200 SI boat
Chaparral 200 SI boat

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