Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Boat trip on the Mekong - Huay Xai to Luang Prabang

Read our previous posting.

The next morning (28th December) we boarded our boat. Ironically, the most comfortable seats in the boat were a dozen or so (narrow) bus seats, identical to those we had sat on the previous day. The remaining seats were little more than church pews, but without the prayer cushions. (Cushions were purchased separately and were well worth the pound). Ensuring a comfortable seat for the journey meant arriving painfully early for the boat, cancelling out the benefit of the better seat.

The journey consisted of six hours to Pak Beng (day one) and eight hours to Luang Prabang (day two). The scenery along the river was stunning and got more varied the closer to Luang Prabang we got.

Our most vivid memories from the journey are:
  • The boat being boarded by hyperactive child sellers, trying to tempt us with snacks.
  • To kill some time, Andy decided to chat with the man next to him. He turned out to be a complete know-it-all, and Andy regretted starting the conversation within the first five minutes. Ooops.
  • Watching our boat load of tourists unleash their bulky Canon cameras with long lenses every time the boat got within two metres of the riverbank. Unsuspecting locals were greeted by an onslaught of photography.
  • Watching some people take the most mundane photos and videos that clearly wouldn't inspire anyone. The girl in front of us must have taken well over a thousand 'river and jungle' snapshots. A posh camera is no substitute for a good eye for photography.
  • Feeling sorry for an eight-year-old girl who was having a maths lesson on a boat full of distractions. Why did her parents feel this was necessary, particularly during the Christmas vacation?

Our backsides are still sore from the hard seats, but the trip was well worth the pain. It was very relaxing to float down the river for a couple of days just taking in the scenery. We had expected to be on a boat packed full of locals, but the majority of fellow passengers were tourists. Luckily there was one motorbike, a bamboo cage of chickens and a handful of locals to make it feel a bit more authentic.

Against Foreign Office advice, the speedboat might look like a fun and attractive way for thrill seekers to zip down the river. However, we could certainly appreciate the high risk of death - fatalities are apparently “not uncommon”. There were lots of rocks which we could see (and many we probably couldn't) lurking in the water. The current and the whirlpools would certainly have spiced up the journey too. In the picture, some people are wearing crash helmets for 'protection'.