In keeping with the transport theme, two days ago I made the risky and rash decision to take the slow boat to Luang Prabang, in Laos, a journey of two days with an overnight stop. A bad idea, I thought, having an ingrained distrust of boats from too many viewings of Titanic at an impressionable age.
However, I am the first to admit I can sometimes (rarely) be wrong. I spent two days floating down the Mekong in a state of blissful relaxation and happiness, beauty worshipping as I went. Imagine Scotland’s most beautiful loch, combined with exoticism that featured small boats wielded by people in triangular straw hats, the calling of weird birds on shore audible from the boat, and palm trees.
The first day passed quickly, after the first furore of photo taking. We stopped off to drop Lao people at improbable stops on the way, huts in the middle of no-where, beaches, rocky outcrops. I began to feel as if I could happily sail down the Mekong for days on end. At this point, somewhat inevitably, I began to be slightly irritated by my neighbour, one of those Western men often found in Asian countries, slightly racist and over-familiar. He remarked on the beauty of a actually extremely pretty Asian woman sitting in the front of the boat, then added ‘of course, for an Asian’. Other companions included a boy accompanied by bike, with ‘keep right’ penned on his arm, a woman with a basket of crabs, and an enormous lizard.
We stopped for the night at Pak Beng, a village apparently created to serve the needs of the two boats that stop there once a day. I ate at a restaurant with a sign that read ‘my wife is a very good cook’, and was kept company by a dog, a cat and about a billion biting insects.
The second day passed more slowly, as the novelty value of the boat had worn off a bit. Despite the majority of passengers being tourists, of the 18-30 variety, the boat still performed a local function, picking up and dropping off post, supplies, lizards…
At one point, to general amazement and laughter, the boat passed by an elephant, a working one, but an elephant nevertheless, loading some (illegal?) logs into another boat. A party of people on a similar boat going in the other direction caused as much, if not more of a stir, with mutual photo taking and waving.
We arrived at Luang Prabang to find a tiny romantic city, halfway up a mountain, drowned in rainy season wet and noticeably lacking the motorbikes and tuk tuks of other Asian cities encountered so far on the trip.