2 day slow boat to Huay Xai
23.01.2013 - 24.01.2013
It was time to leave Luang Prabang and start making our journey north for the Gibbon Experience which is based out of the border town Huay Xai. We had decided that instead of getting on another bus we would take the slow boat on the Mekong. It would take us two days to get there with a night stop over at Pak Beng. We had got our boat ticket to Pak Beng directly from the dock and would get the onward ticket from there to Huay Xai on the boat the following day. This was cheaper than the through ticket that the tour operators in town were selling.
We were up early to go to the morning food market to pick up some sticky rice and chicken to have as our lunch on the boat and also stopped off at one of the stalls for a noodle soup breakfast.
To get on the boat we had walk across some planks and I some how missed the first one and went into the mud! Such a muppet! The boat was meant to leave at 8.30am but we got there about an hour early to try to get good seats. We had heard that it was better to get a seat near the front of the boat to be further away from the engine as the noise can be a bit intense particularly for 8 hours a day! We were some of the first people there so got seats near the front. Luckily they were the more comfy ones that were basically car seats that had been put in the boat rather than the hard wooden benches. I'm not sure if that cushion would be very comfy after a few hours.
It was a misty morning on the Mekong, we had not seen it like this before as we had not been up early enough before!
The boat soon started to fill up with people, bags, goods even some very fresh fish still gulping for air in a plastic bag. We were sitting right next to where all the bags were being piled which meant we had something to lean on, once I'd double checked I wasn't leaning on the fish.
Whilst waiting to leave we chatted with some of the other people on the boat and met Kate and Sam, a brother and sister from New Zealand. It turned out that they were also heading to the Gibbon Experience and we were booked in on the same 3 days Once the boat was full we set off upriver, waved goodbye to Luang Prabang and settled in for the long journey.
I was glad I had my fleece as it got quite cold on the boat even when the mist had started to clear, but fortunately we could get a hot cuppa to warm us up!
We made several stops along the way to drop people off at villages along with the goods that were on the boat and gradually the pile next to us started to get smaller. Here are some of the views along the river...
We got to Pak Beng just as the sun was starting to go down and found a guesthouse close to the dock for the night. We met up with Kate and Sam at an Indian restaurant which seemed to be the most popular place to eat. We found out again what a small world it is when Sam mentioned he had done an exchange and worked at Gordans School which is not far from where I live and he used to go out at The Chameleon and Yates in Woking!! We shared tales of Woking and Guildford which was fun although a bit random There is not much going on in Pak Beng and it was surprising how tiring just sitting on a boat all day could be! So early night for us.
Down at the dock the next morning we could see just how many more boats there were. This route was busier heading in the opposite direction from the boarder with Thailand to Luang Prabang. I was glad we were heading the other way as there were so many more people and we saw some boats with only room to sit on the floor. Of all the boats only about 2 of them were going in our direction.
We managed to be one of the first people at the boat again and good seats secured we waited for the boat to fill up. People had to clamber from one boat to the next to get to ours as there was not enough room to get it right up to shore. As we waited I noticed some movement on the otherside of the river, can you see what I saw...
Yep an elephant!
The mahout was driving his elephant down to the water to drink, whilst texting on his mobile phone!
Before we left the wife of the captain prayed by wheel of the boat and lit two candles for a safe journey. I'd also noticed the white threads tied around the wheel much like the white threads we had been given with blessings of good luck at our welcome ceremony.
There was a bit of drama before we left between identical twin sisters. It seemed they had fallen out over something, my suspicions were it was about a guy they had both been flirting with on the boat the day before, and now one of them was refusing to continue the journey. After tears and urgent whispering she jumped ship and got on a boat heading in the other direction back to Luang Prabang. The other sister went to cry it out in the toilet only for at the last minute the deserting sister to jump back on board. Having made her point she had decided to go to Huay Xai after all! This lead to a lot of confusion with the ticket sellers who had already swapped her over to the other boat but it got sorted in the end.
As we pulled away from Pak Beng we could see there was more development happening on that side of the river, maybe to try and tempt people to stay longer than one night on their way further into Laos. This time we had some live pigs on board!
There's not much to do on the slow boat, I was on my second book already and Dan was getting more addicted to his game.
But what was good about the slow boat was getting to see life on the river...
There is a quicker way of making the journey on the river and that was by speed boat where you can travel the same distance in a day. We saw several of these and it looks like a very bumpy ride and the people on board wear crash helmets. Although faster this is a lot more dangerous way of travelling as they go at break neck speed and there are hidden rocks in the river. There were several times our boat had to carefully navigate areas where you could tell by the swirling surface and movement of the water there were obstacles underneath to avoid.
As we approached Huay Xai we could see Thailand on the otherside.
The sun was setting again and the four of us headed off to find the Gibbon Experience office to check in with them before the office shut. The directions we had been given were vague to say the least and it was a lot further from where we were dropped off than we had thought. When we arrived to our dismay the office was shut already, earlier than the time we had been told. Fortunately one of the staff had waited to see if we turned up and told us to be at the office at 8.30am the next day. We found rooms in a hotel over the road, bought gloves and a torch and found somewhere for dinner.
Tomorrow we would be flying through the jungle like gibbons!! Eek!!