We were rather excited about the boat trip down the Mekong to Luang Prabang – apparently it’s one of the must-do journeys in Laos. We enjoyed it a lot, but it was not without it’s little annoyances.
We headed out to the pier really early as we’d heard that the good seats get taken up really fast – so we had to be quite kiasu and grab some good seats early! We ended up being the first on the boat, and managed to get the “best of the worst” seats – we had a choice of hard wooden seats with minimal leg room, or soft seats right at the back in between the engine and the kitchen. We chose the hard seats right in front for maximum legroom, and managed to get some cushions to soften them a bit!
The boat started filling up around 9.30am, in time for departure at 11am. By 10am the boat was practically full, but more and more people kept getting on board. 11am came and went, but we were still waiting. It soon became apparent why – there was a huge group of people who’d just crossed the border from Thailand on a package trip, and they were supposed to get onto the boat.
We’d read about the boats being overloaded in the Lonely Planet, and were expecting that they’d try to do the same, so many of us from the boat protested, insisting that the boat was too packed for more passengers. However, the passengers on land did not demand hard enough for another boat, and once the first few started walking across the plank, the others followed suit and we soon had over 100 people packed into a boat meant to take 70!
Finally set off
Nonetheless the journey was rather enjoyable, with good weather all the way to Pak Beng, where we’d spend the night before boarding a similar boat to Luang Prabang. The boat ride itself was uneventful, with quite bland scenery along the way. We were expecting to see more life on the banks of the river, but there was not much happening apart from the occasional fisherman casting his net or a speedboat zooming by. I was quite surprised to see that the river was rather rocky in parts.
Rocky bits of the river
We got to talking with a Canadian guy, who was travelling with his wife and family – five children aged 6-16 years! We’d seen them crossing the border into Nepal at the same time as us in early November, so it was a lot of fun to exchange adventures up to the point we met again in Laos! They had been travelling through Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, India and Thailand, and would be going on to Vietnam and Cambodia before returning to Canada in mid-January. Quite amazing, huh, to do such a huge and long trip with the entire family! Giving us ideas for another big trip already….though that will be a loooong time coming!
Apart from a couple of local people, the boat was filled to the brim with tourists, most of whom were young travellers on their typical gap year adventure. They seemed to be having a good time, chatting and laughing and consuming loads of BeerLao. I guess the alcohol helped make the journey more bearable, as it was rather boring outside.
Our fellow passengers
We arrived in Pak Beng just as the sun was setting, and rushed to find a guesthouse for the night. Just as I was confirming our room for the night, I was pleasantly surprised by a call from Jessica, Daniel’s sister. She was in KL on a stopover on her way back to Melbourne due to the Bangkok airport being shut down. Pity we weren’t there yet, else we could have seen her. Oh well, at least we’ll be meeting up in KL at Christmas, which is not too far away!
Had dinner and walked down the one street of Pak Beng before heading back to our guesthouse for an early night – we’d have to be at the boat by 6.30am to get good seats (super-kiasu, I know!). Next morning, we were greeted by swirls of mist over the river. It was very cold, but very beautiful too. Had a great breakfast of chocolate croissants overlooking the river before I headed on to the boat to grab good seats while Daniel finished off breakfast.
Breakfast at Pak Beng
The boat to Luang Prabang was infinitely nicer than the boat to Pak Beng. We managed to get good seats – soft seats with enough leg room for Daniel’s long legs. I was relieved to see that we were not the only kiasu couple – there were at least two other couples at the boat also with the same plan!
Soft seats to Luang Prabang, woohoo!!!
The journey to Luang Prabang featured more or less similar scenery to the previous day, although there was definitely more life on the river. The river is certainly an important mode of transportation and communication – children go to school by boat in some areas, and boats transport almost everything that the villages need, including rice and motorcycles!
Transporting people, motorbikes and goods
About an hour away from Luang Prabang we were treated to a change in scenery as we approached the Pak Ou Caves, a limestone cave which houses a Buddhist temple. We passed by the caves and enjoyed the view of the limestone formations in the area, a nice change from the scenery of the past two days.
We arrived in Luang Prabang a bit more than seven hours after we’d finally set sail in the morning. It had been a long two days for us both, and we were quite tired, but we’d enjoyed the trip down the Mekong very much and were excited to finally be in Luang Prabang.