The Mekong. As far as rivers go, that’s a pretty famous one. So, despite my book’s insistance that the slowboat is something to be endured like a badge of honor, we just had to do it.
From low expectations spring pleasant surprises. It’s an ongoing theme of travel.
We were packed onto a long narrow boat like cattle. Not the best start. We carved out a spot on the floor and hunkered down for the grueling ten hour trip, expecting little more than rowdy foreigners and numb bums. Strangely it was the lack of seats that saved our bums. The floor allowed us to sprawl out on the 2 dollar cushions that we’d purchased with great foresight at the Chiang Rai night market. We settled into a routine: eat some snacks, take in some scenery, read a bit, play some cards, chat about something random and so on.
The scenery really was something to ponder. The river was lined, alternatingly, with powdery sand beaches and rocky outcroppings. Every now and then a little garden would appear on the shore and a tiny thatched village would peek out from the lush hillside. Children would wave as the boat made quite a spectacle. I found myself imagining life in each village, accessible only by boat. It seemed pretty nice.
Just as we were wondering how we’d pass the remaining four hours, we arrived at Pak Beng, the halfway point where we’d spend the night. Ahead of schedule? Highly unusual north of Singapore. Or anywhere, really.
The following day passed just as pleasantly as the first and we arrived in Luang Prabang ahead of schedule as well. Again, how odd. So there you have it, our boat ride to be endured was a pleasure. Guidebooks can be such nonsense sometimes.