By: Jas Mitch
There are a few options you can take for getting from Huay Xai in the north of Laos down to the French inspired town of Luang Prabang. Originally we had planned on taking a sleeper bus but after meeting some travellers going the other way that helpfully described the “sleeper” bus as a 12 hour thrill ride packed with vomit and offroad driving.
We decided to take the boat.
For the boat ride you can take the fast boat that gets you there in a day or the slow boat with a overnight stay in Pakbeng. We decided to take the slow boat along with a few other travellers we had met on the Gibbon experience. All in all it was a very relaxing boat ride down the Mekong with plenty of amazing scenery and riverside fishing villages.
Occasionally we would see one of the “fast boats” filled with tourists looking like they are having the worst time of their lives. The fast boat is not much more than a canoe with a deafening engine. They give you a helmet for “safety” and you cop the summer sun for 6 hours. Nah, we are happy with the slow boat, reading, chatting, playing cards.
On the slow boat, you spend the night in a riverside town called Pakbeng. All I can say is, what a fascinating place. A place of ups and downs. First up we went for a walk around to get past the shops and find some locals. We made our way down to the river and hung out with some awesome local kids who were doing backflips on the river and waiting for their dad to come in with a canoe full of squirrels (for dinner I guess). After a while trying to chat with them we made our way back.
But the locals can be real dickheads here too. Tourists will only ever stay one night here so some locals can be really nasty in how they extract as much money as they can from you (knowing there will never be repeat business). Not to say it was unpleasant - it was more fascinating than anything else.
This is the story of the dickhead restaurant owner and getting given the finger by the hotel owner…
First encounter was for dinner when we went out to this Indian restaurant. On the street, he was the nicest guy and even showed us some of his locally grown spices. Once the orders were placed however the owner turned into a real dickhead and became rude, short and then kicked all of the diners out when he decided to close at 9.
The next was when the hotel owner - since we came in as a group when we stayed we booked 3 rooms and filled up his hotel very quickly (it was low season, so you would think he would be happy to be full). However, immediately he started on us for upsales - to get sandwiches, to get some beers, to get dinner, to have breakfast, to buy some muffins. We did get a pack lunch for the next day but wanted to go out for dinner/breakfast. Well on check out, he started on us again trying to guilt us into breakfast before he would give us our packed lunch so we just said thanks but no thanks and went to leave. Well… he threw a full blown tantrum and flipped us all off and started kicking at the air.
We would never go to either of these places again… but I guess that is the point, you are only there for one night and once they have your money, they don’t care.
On the boat we had a good laugh and moved on.
The trip onward to Luang Prabang was very enjoyable and the scenery got more dramatic as we went along.
Getting in was another experience. Not too long ago the slow boat used to go all the way into town and drop you off there. These days it stops 10km out of the city and drops off all the foreigners (falangs) and they have an organised cartel of 20,000 kip per person to take you in. Meanwhile the locals stay on the boat and get dropped off in the city. Such a scam but I guess the only bit that really annoyed me was that we missed out on getting to see the city from the water at sunset.
Again, not all that unpleasant. Just another experience.