Slow Boat (along the Mekong) and Luang Prabang
When we purchased our slow boat journey to Laos we weren’t sure what to expect. We were told it was a two-day journey; we would stop overnight in a Pakbeng on the way to our final destination of Luang Prabang. We were required to book our own accommodation in Pakbeng, but it is so remote it was difficult to find accommodation options online. So, we figured we would arrive and decide at the time. If it was a small town how hard could it be to find a guesthouse?
We started the slow boat journey a few kilometres past the Thai/Laos border of Houay Xai. The boat itself was a long, old school, open-air wooden watercraft. The seats were basically from a car chop shop – car-seats cut in sections of two, lined up along the boat, sometimes nailed down and sometimes not nailed down. It was like a car-seat graveyard in this boat. They weren’t particularly comfortable either. But here we were for 8 hours on this boat and it’s car-seats to Pakbeng.
The journey was a beautiful one though; the scenery was spectacular and peaceful. Children, living in small villages along the Mekong, came down to the shoreline to wave “hello” to us. We stopped a few times along the way to allow the locals riding with us a chance to disembark with supplies they had purchased for their village.
Finally, we arrived in Pakbeng and were greeted by a mob of the local guesthouse owners trying to sell us on their accommodations. Great! This is exactly what we had been hoping for. We selected a guesthouse that a few of our fellow travelers had also chosen – this seemed like a safe bet. The guesthouse provided free transportation from the dock in the back of a pick up truck. We were dropped off at the guesthouse and given our room – insert horror movie music here. We had a fungus forest in our bathroom (we’re talking giant mushrooms growing everywhere, how does this even happen?) Meghan asked the owner to come in and spray the ants that had taken over, and we definitely slept in our clothes ON TOP of the sheets that night. We were too tired and hungry to even try to change guesthouses. We had to wake up early anyway to get back on the boat; we could tough it out. We left our little shop of horrors, right after “checking in”, and found a delicious restaurant with Indian cuisine. This was super surprising considering the size of the town. We enjoyed our food for as long as we could, dreading going back to the guesthouse with every bite.
In the morning we were eager to get back on the floating chop shop for another 8 hours to Luang Prabang. When we arrived, we had to climb a massive makeshift staircase and we were in the middle of nowhere. It was too far to walk, so we hopped on a taxi/tuk-tuk hybrid to our guesthouse. We settled in and were just hanging out in the room when, all of a sudden, Russell looked up and screamed some profanities. This must be serious because nothing startles Russell. And it was, there was a giant (GIANT) spider on the wall! This was surprisingly scarier than the scorpion in Sri Lanka. Russell tried going after it with a shoe but it was soooo fast he couldn’t catch it, ugh, getting shivers just writing about it. Finally, we pleaded with the guesthouse owner to help us. He grabbed a rag and a ladder and attempted to squish the spider but it fell to the ground in defence mode. We couldn’t see where it went but we had a sneaking suspicion it fell into Russell’s shoe. The guesthouse owner banged the shoe and out came the monster; which, he promptly squashed. Phew! Meghan became interested in what kind of spider this giant monstrosity was and discovered that Laos is actually home to the world’s biggest spider, fantastic. We both slept with one eye open the next few nights.
The next morning we went out to explore Luang Prabang, holy crap was it ever hot. We didn’t get far before we ducked into a cute little café, named L’Etranger, for a late breakfast. The owner of the café is also Celiac. She recommended a dish for Meghan and gave her a list of gluten free restaurants in the town. Now, our story of Laos would not be complete if it didn’t include a quirky traveler named Luke. At this café we reconnected with our Danish friends from the slow boat journey and we were introduced to the previously mentioned Luke. We were all sitting at the café when he came stomping in with his ideals of the world and he was not shy about sharing. He definitely over shared at times, there were a few heated debates. He warned us about illuminati and even recited his interesting poetry.
After our “enlightening” conversation and breakfast – we wandered around some more admiring the cute French colonial architecture of the town. We quenched our raging thirsts by drinking a coconut here and there. That evening we walked back to the main street to visit the night market and found a delicious alley buffet.
The next morning we met our friends from Denmark and shared a ride out to Kuang Si Falls. On the way, they told us about Luke’s appearance at the restaurant they were dining at the night before. He sat at their table, ordered food with his girlfriend, got in a fight and made a scene with his girlfriend, and left our friends with his bill. Oh Luke.
When we arrived at the falls we went for a dip in one of the lower pools before hiking all the way up to the top. Even though it was the hottest month, the waterfalls were still spectacular.
At the bottom of the waterfalls there is a Moon Bear sanctuary full of cute rescued bears. In Southeast Asia, predominately Laos and Northern Vietnam, Moon Bears are captured and “farmed” for their gall bladder liquid. We saw one of the tiny cages that Moon Bears are forced to live in and admired the bears for their resilience to cruelty. They seemed happy and playful in the sanctuary.
When we were back in Luang Prabang, we explored a little more and cozied up in L’Etranger for Movie Night! They were showing “The Killing Fields”; which, was interesting for us because our next destination, after Laos, would be Cambodia. In the morning we said “goodbye” to our friends and Luang Prabang before heading off on our 4-hour bus journey to Vang Vieng.