In the early morning light, the long, dark wooden boat sat low in the Mekong River on the edge of Luang Prabang, Laos waiting for us as we worked our way down to board it. We had booked a two day passage going north up the Mekong to Huay Xai to cross Friendship Bridge Four and make our way into Thailand and down to Chaing Rai. There were about a dozen travelers in total on the boat. It was nothing but deck with tables and built in lounges, no walls, but with a roof overhead-necessary during the rainy season but now important for shade. The captain, and owner of the boat, drove from a small wheel house at the bow while the toilets, kitchen, and the owner’s residence were at the stern.
We settled into our seats and were pleasantly surprised to be served coffee and croissants as we pushed away from the shore and into the river.
The trip takes two full days with an overnight stop, as navigating the river at night is unwise. One can make the trip on a speedboat in six to eight hours, however we witnessed several of these boats and everyone, driver and passengers, were wearing motorcycle helmets and from what we could see holding on for dear life. The speed boats looked to hold six to eight passengers. While infrequent, death and injury are common place enough that only those in a real hurry opt for the speedboats.
Over the course of the first day we made a stop at the Pak Ou caves (a separate blog post) and were served an exceptional buffet style Lao lunch of fried fish, curry vegetables, rice, and chicken.
Often on this trip, and in life, it feels like we are moving through the world whether running to catch a train, figure out our next place to sleep, or what to see or do. Being on the Mekong was the opposite. It felt like we were sitting calmly watching the world go by. Aside from reading and talking, there was nothing else to do but sit and watch the herds of water buffalo, the passing boats, children playing on the river’s edge, a family carrying water up to their crops a few meters above the river’s edge, the occasional saffron colored robes of monks and the river itself. Long train rides have the same feeling. But on a train one is looking out the window while on the boat, with no walls, we could feel the breeze, hear the sounds and smell the jungle.