Early in the morning we left Huay Xai in Northern Laos for the Mekong River, planning to get to Luang Prabang the same day. The 150 km journey along the river by speedboat would take half a day, breaks included.
Contrary to the advice given by our Lonely Planet guidebook we had decided to take a speedboat, because our hotel owner in Chiang Mai had recommended this alternative. Traveling on a big, slow river boat would have taken two days and would have required an overnight stay at the harbour village of Pak Peng.
Thai customs office - the adventure is about to begin!
There were lots of people at the pier when we arrived and the small speedboats set out one by one as soon as they were full. We were among the last to board and when we stepped in the boat we saw right away that we had made the wrong choice. There was no turning back however; the low, narrow boat was packed full of people and off we went.
The boat flew on the surface of the water at high speed, at times reaching 80 km/h, and we sat on the hard benches with our chins on our knees, space for each passenger being about 40 x 50 cm. After only half an hour's travel our muscles were cramped and we felt miserable. We watched the passing fascinating scenery with our earplugs on, because the noise from the motor was deafening. The Lao passengers also wore helmets and lifejackets provided by the boat driver.
When the river is low, as it was when we did the trip, accidents happen when speedboats bump into sandbars or sunken logs. Those who have not survived have been mostly local people who cannot swim.
Buying refreshments at a Mekong River gas stop
The shop owner's pride, a handsome rooster
Water splashed on our clothes and soon we were soaked to the skin. The sun was shining and the air was warm but I felt cold. Andy had a pained expression on his face; there was definitely too little room for a big man, particularly for one with occasional but severe lower back problems. I got a cramp on my left leg, but there was nothing I could do about it.
Traditional wooden boats
We had been promised that there would be a break every sixty minutes or so and after what felt like an eternity, the boat indeed stopped. We discovered that our feet had "gone to sleep" and Andy's right foot was totally numb for at least ten minutes.
Luckily there was an additional stop when the boat motor suddenly started to act up. After landing on a sandbank our driver began to repair it and we hoped that he would not get it fixed too soon.
Stepping onto the golden sand dune and warming our sore muscles, we enjoyed our freedom. But then we came to think that we were in the middle of nowhere, only forest on both sides of the river. If the driver were not able to repair the motor, when would there be other boats coming to our rescue? We had not brought any food with us. And how long would our drinking water last?
Lao hunter and his dog
We then saw two hunters walking on a ridge with guns on their shoulders. One was also carrying what to us looked like a wild boar. He came to the shore with his dog, threw down the boar and, unconcerned about our presence took off his clothes and plunged into the water. The dog remained watching over the boar but could not resist the temptation, started to bite into it greedily. When the man got out of the water, he raised hell, and the dog moved aside with his tail between his legs, waiting for his master to calm down. Finally the hunter left with the boar, the dog walking close behind him.
Our speedboat and a NZ couple
Our trip continued. One more hour of speeding down the Mekong and we would reach the next stop, the harbour village of Pak Peng. We had made our minds up; we would get off there and rest our limbs.
When and how we would continue our journey would remain to be seen. A traveler’s tomorrow is always a new adventure!
Lao sustenance farming village on the Mekong River
Lao children of the village
Slow boats arriving at Pak Peng Harbour at dusk
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