We decided to leave Luang Prabang by slow boat- we had travelled down the bumpy Lao roads by bus and taking a slow boat up to Huay Xai over two days seemed like something worth trying.After a short research project I found there are basically 3 ways to do this- public boat,private VIP boat or Luxury boat.There is a fourth way called speed boat otherwise known as sudden death or suicide mission.The thought of hurtling through the water very fast with no safety,a roaring engine and no crash helmet did not appeal.So regarding the other options- the public boat is apparently crowded, noisy and you chance ending up seated on the engine on a hard wooden seat for two days.The two other options seemed much the same except that the Luxury one costs twice as much,and the only difference is you overnight at Pakbeng (the halway point) in a fancy hotel.This didn’t seem to justify the expense so we plumped for Nagi of Mekong, a well publicised outfit which boasts long boats with about 50 padded bus seats, tables, a toilet and lots of room to walk about.Since we were going off season and upstream (most people go the other way) the chances were the boat would not be full.As it happened Adisak,the owner answered me promptly by email and replied to all my questions, and booked us on with just our passport numbers and contact info at the hotel.We would be picked up at 6.15 and depart the pier at 7.00. It indeed turned out that we had tons of room as there were only another 3 guests on the boat (a Canadian couple and their lovely 12 year old son) and the crew of driver,guide ,cook and boss lady.So we had lots of room to lie down and sleep, read, eat and walk about during the 2 day trip.
The price of the two day trip was $150 each which included breakfast and lunch and the overnight hotel stay in Pakbeng,plus a visit to the Nam Ou Buddha caves, a steal as it turned out.
The next two days passed like some mesmerizing dream.The boat was cool when it was baking hot outside, comfortable and relaxing.The gorgeous scenery drifted by and we saw kids swimming,fishermen, water buffalo, cattle grazing on the river bank, people washing their clothes, and even an elephant.It was like being in a National Geographic movie at times.
On the first day we stopped off at the Pak Ou caves,with their thousands of buddha statues. The next day we visited a small very remote village which had no electricity or water and no school. Most of the inhabitants were out working in the fields, leaving the grandparents and small kids at home. Pigs and chickens ran around and kids gawped at us as if they had never seen outsiders before. The overnight stop at Pakbeng was nothing amazing- it’s just a small place all the boats stop off halfway between Luang Prabang and Huay Xai with just backpacker places and restaurants.
Along the way Khae our guide told us various things about the places we saw, and answered all our questions.He told us about his ex wife who wasted all the money provided by the sale of 4 buffalo his father had given for their wedding, and told us things about his ethnic group,the Yao.
It is hard to convey in words how wonderfully relaxing this trip was, how the scenery glided quietly by,how the rhythm of the boat lulled us into calm.This was really only brought home to us as we left the boat and arrived at Huay Xai. Khae helped us board a tuk tuk which took us over the Friendship Bridge and back into Thailand,where we spent the night in Chiang Khong,the Thai town over the border. Here too we saw the Mekong from our guest house balcony- but it was all different.