This I will say is the way to travel. I have been recommending it to everyone since I got off.
Yes it is slow, but the pace is acceptable, the boat is comfy and it is worth every penny. I paid 300,000 kip. The first part of the trip was roughly a 7 hour journey from Huay Xai to Pakbeng. The Mekong is a beautiful sight. The countryside, fishermen and other boats making this memorable. Layers of hillsides, the sound of the boat as we chugged along. The sun shined and it was peaceful journey.
I felt like a Victorian explorer, drinking beers with a Belgian girl – Valentine and soaking up the surroundings. There were two boats that first day and the young crowd were on the other one but Valentine and I agreed to find a room together that night and the day just seemed to fly in.
Pakbeng is a quiet wee riverside town. Where weed seems to be the main crop. We got off the boat around 6 and took a shot with a guy who had a truck to take us to town and a guesthouse we could stay at. Two Swiss guys Andreas and Stephan we met on the boat were already in the truck and in the time we waited for the very animated, giggling local to round up some others we could have walked. It is a tiny town! We paid 25,000 kip each for a twin room which was cheap and acceptable. Then met the Swiss for dinner.
Whilst waiting on the guys, a local named Litto introduced himself. He was crazy! Teaching us Laos, smiling hard and bouncing around. Later he told us we should live for him as he was number six of eight children and he had to provide for them.
He wouldn’t leave the small town and I felt sad amongst the communist flags.
We ate at the place he’d recommended and got free whisky and buffalo lao lao (larb) which is mince and fresh lemon, not spicy with rice and beers.
We played a game Andreas invented we named Borders. Ripping up napkins to create the shape of our country, and invited a German guy to join us. We had to add to Germany for scale! I wasn’t accurate in my placement of the countries but learned about Switzerland and Belgium and my islands kept blowing away when someone laughed.
We wandered to Happy Bar on the riverside for a drink and met with people from the boat. Bed and then breakfast after a chat with a German guy at 7 am about his right wing views and communism. Too early for that kind of talk in my book!
We were all packed on one boat at 9 am. With a lot of extra locals this time! The wee guy above is probably a opium addict. He had a gun (I think a starting pistol of some kind) when we first sat down. A real tragedy.
We had beers, and read and talked. It was blissful. I met Glenn MacDonald - a Canadian who had Scottish heritage and made a fair attempt at a Scottish accent. He loved the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and him and Prinston from Bangalore drew doodles in my book. Lots of cool English folk on too and some nice Germans. A great crowd to spend a day with.
We stopped to let locals off and this felt like a commuter boat for them. Lots of children running down the beaches, pigs cutting about and we did see an elephant working. Pulling a huge log with chains. We arrived in Luang Prabang, a little out of town around half 5 and had to pay 20,000 kip to get a tuk tuk to Valentine’s hostel where I hoped to get a room.