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Kat & Andrew's Worldwide Adventures

Slow Boat & Luang Prabang, Laos

LAOS | Thursday, 3 October 2013 | Views [1656] | Comments [2]

Lieke, Palle, Carrie, Andrew and I travelled from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang by slow boat on the Mekong River which took 2 days. Originally Andrew and I were going to get the overnight bus but we heard reports that the road was horrific and during the wet season, landslides and 20 hour waits with no food or toilet were common, so we decided to stick with our new family who is fantastic company. There was also the option of a speed boat which takes a total of 6 hours but it has a high record of deaths. We saw people zoom past the slow boat wearing helmets. Quite a bizarre sight!


The boat was a basic wooden long and thin structure and is quite popular with foreigners, the boat were full of them, many of which were boozing it up. The chairs are pulled out of cars so relatively comfy and within a few hours, they were all turned around to face other to accommodate groups travelling together. Unfortunately the weather of the first day was fairly dismal and we had a leak in the roof dripping over us from the rain. There are plastic covers that pull down over the sides of the boat that obstructed our view and made it hot and stuffy. It took under 6 hours to get to Pak Beng where upon arrival, we were surrounded by locals forcing us to stay at their guesthouses. We managed to find a fairly nice one for $7.


Pak Beng was a lot nicer that I expected. It is a tiny town that’s sole existence is based on the boats that arrive each day. There are plenty of cheap or luxurious places to stay as well as a selection of restaurants all perched on the side of the Mekong River. Meals in Laos cost anything from $3-10 per person at non-fancy restaurants.


The second day took 8 hours but the weather was much nicer (although the boat was slightly different and seats not as comfy). We read, played cards, talked and just enjoyed our beautiful tropical jungle surroundings. I kept feeling like I was in Jurassic Park! We overheard another traveller saying that he did the same boat trip in the dry season and it wasn’t anywhere near as beautiful as it is now in September. We passed many small simple villages where locals would hitch a ride with us, children frolicked naked in the river and adults were fishing. All the foreigners would constantly rush to the side of the boat to take pictures capturing this very different way of life.


I’m in two minds about this. I would love to capture such a different way of living from the one I know by taking photos to preserve my memories and to be able to share with others what a unique experience we are getting but then again, I don’t agree with making these people tourist attractions. I don’t think I would mind if a tourist wanted to pose with me in a photo but I think I would get incredibly annoyed if I was trying to work or my children were just playing with their friends in our backyard and a big group of tourists started taking photos like we were in a zoo…. I feel the same about monks. They are so fascinating in their bare feet and saffron coloured robes with baldheads that I would like to photograph them but it just seems so rude.


We arrived in Luang Prabang as it began to get dark and were once again bombarded by locals trying to get our business. The boat stopped on the side of the river 10km out of the city which seemed unnecessary seeing as the river snakes right past the centre. There may be a valid reason but were thinking its just so they can charge more for tuktuks. We got taken by tuktuk to see one guesthouse but it was dirt cheap and looked it, so we decided to pay a little more (still only $12!) for a nice clean private room closer to town on a pretty side street. So far it is the nicest place we have stayed at with the most comfortable bed! We only needed a fan this time as it was hot, but not disgustingly humid like it had been.


Luang Prabang has a neat vibe but relaxing air about it. It is a UNESCO protected place with a peninsula of temples & French villas. This city is becoming very hip & catering to foreigners deep pockets but still has the lovely ancient Buddhist feel to it with groups of monks sighted often. 


The next morning at our breakfast meeting, since it was such a beautiful day, we decided to hire a tuktuk and go to Kuang Si Waterfall. There were protected endangered sun bears in enclosures that had been rescued from poachers – so cute! The waterfall was surrounded by lush green bush and the water was a beautiful pale pastel blue. It bubbled over many different levels throughout the trees with one huge drop at the top of the hill. In one area the locals were swimming & jumping off trees into the water - fully clothed (as they don’t wear revealing clothing) - some were even in jeans! The current was quite strong and the ground covered with rocks where it was shallow enough to touch it but the water was so refreshing & the area so scenic.


Then it was time for a massage! 4 of us went searching for the best deal and asked for an oil massage. Seeing as you have to get relatively naked for that I figured this time it would be a lot more private than my experience in Thailand, but I was proved wrong. For a country that doesn’t like revealing clothing, they sure don’t seem to care about privacy when it comes to massages! We were all in one room next to each other on a mattress on the floor (no fancy tables with holes for your face – although I’m sure the more expensive spas cater to this). Carrie and I requested a curtain to be closed between us and Palle & Lieke to keep things modest. The massage was nice, with the entertaining soundtracks of American pop love songs in the background, but my massuese only spent 2 minutes on my shoulders which is the part I wanted attention on the most. Ah well, not bad for $10! Afterwards we explored the night market and checked out all its clothes and trinkets.


The following morning we hired bicycles and enjoyed pedaling around the small towns streets in the Old Quarter and along the waterfront past the pretty buildings and many trees. The roads were relatively flat and not too busy but it was weird riding on the right side of the road! We visited 2 temples, one with very colorful & pretty mosaics and an impressive royal gold chariot, and the other high up on a hill overlooking the area. The view was stunning! I had heard that Luang Prabang was so beautiful but when we first arrived I felt like it was just another dusty little place, but after scratching under the surface it has revealed itself to be a little gem. From the temple we could see the little rows of streets with no tall buildings that seemed to be swallowed by endless palm trees, 2 brown rivers snaking its way around the town and rolling hills covered in jungle as far as the eye could see.


It was incredibly hot so we enjoyed a cool drink at a fantastic zen garden bar called Utopia that had cushioned loungers on a bamboo balcony overlooking the river. I could’ve easily sat there reading my book all day or participating in one of their yoga classes but unfortunately our stay in this town was rushed. After lunch, we got picked up by a tuktuk to take us to the bus station and it took a tedious hour of waiting on the side of the road in the heat and picking up other customers to the point that we were uncomfortably sitting on top of each other. Unfortunately we were stuck with a group of loud Aussies and Brits who had had a few drinks. I’m sure they were all lovely people but I was not in the correct headspace to tolerate being in their rowdy bubble. An hour late, we were in a shuttle van heading to Vang Vieng. If we had more time I would have liked to stay longer in Luang Prabang. I never knew just how beautiful Laos was and I wish we had allocated more time in this lovely country.




Your testimonial is oh so precious. I hope you enjoy the shaded confines of your walled garden with oriental accoutrements ^_^

  Gaylord Jan 30, 2014 7:25 AM


I was wondering whether you booked your slow boat in advance or whether you turned up early that morning and picked a boat which looked good?

  Charlotte Cachia Jan 19, 2015 6:42 AM

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