Monday, August 5, 2013

Lao Trip 4.2c - Slow Boat to Pak Beng

The two-day slowboat from Huay Xai (pronounced “Hok Say”) to Pak Beng and then to Luang Prabang, along the Nam Khong (Mekong river) had to have been the highlight of this trip, although other moments of less duration would rival it for top honors.

Of the 70 or so passengers, the boat was almost entirely Falang, except for the crew, the bar keeps and a Japanese guy. The main groups of Caucasians were the Italians and the British, but other sizeable groups included Canadians and Americans from the U.S.

Nearly all the Falang were college-aged kids – “backpackers” I guess the term is. All moved as members of sub-groups. The Japanese guy and I seemed to be the only solo travelers on the boat.

There were two or three older couples close to my age, so I wasn’t the only Oldie But Goodie slow boating it down one of the great rivers of the planet.

The scenery was stunning. So many untouched as well as deforested mountains down a river whose color reminded me of milk chocolate or café au’lait.

One of the great things about the ride was you didn’t need to go anywhere to see vast tracts of land and river. The scenery was constantly changing and “the movie” went on for hours, along with sensory inputs like smell and touch and interaction with fellow “viewers.”

Staying in your seat – if you had one, which I didn’t that first day; just like on buses, there are always some people who took up two seats instead of one; never could figure that out. Were they just so dense or did they just figure their ticket for one entitled them to two? Anyway, staying in your seat all the time would have been boring, no matter how great the limestone karsts. So, most everyone moved around the boat occasionally, as much as space would allow.

The engine room was deafening, but interesting and you usually had it all to yourself, with the same great scenery moving past you. Back of the engine room, towards the stern, there was always a party going on and hard alcohol (40-proof) the major drink, along with the boat’s overpriced Beer Lao (5% alcohol) that was copiously drunk throughout the boat.

Towards the bow, at the front end of the boat, the captain sat, along with one or two of his friends. It was a nice perspective from here cuz you could really get a good idea of how the boats navigate the river.

The vast majority of the seating was between the bow and the engine room. At the rear of the seating area was a small bar serviced by one or two Khon Lao, usually with children. In back of the bar, before the engine room, was the lavatory. Some boats have two.

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