“Live for the journey, not the destination”
Before my trip on the slow boat to Luang Prabang in Laos I didn’t really know what this meant. I hadn’t even heard it before.
The night before we were to get on the boat we were in Chiang Rai, Thailand. This is a border town next to Laos and short drive away from the port on the Laos side. The tour group put a load of us in accommodation here for the night. This was honestly the worst accommodation I have ever stayed in; holes in the wall big enough for rats to crawl through, spiders scuttling up the walls and the worlds thinnest mattress and god knows what stains covering it. I’m quite happy living it rough but I couldn’t deal with it.
I walked through the town to find some alternative accommodation for the night and found a nice place with no spiders/rats for £10. I returned in the morning to where I was meant to stay just as everyone was getting up and it wasn’t long before we were all in a van on the way to the Laos Border.
In the van I met 3 very British guys; Brogan, Joe and Alex as well as 2 Yanks; Nick and Samantha. We were to stick together throughout our adventures in Laos and Vietnam.
I don’t know if it was in the van or later, but pretty early on Nick said the famous line “Live for the journey, not the destination” and it kind of stuck with me.
We went through Laos border control where we received our visas and we carried on our journey to the port along the Mekong River where we would get on our slow boat.
They call it a slow boat because it is exactly that – very slow.
It’s not designed for speed, really I don’t know what it’s designed for – but whatever it is designed for it has turned out amazing.
The base of the boat is made out of an old barge with a wooden structure built on top of it to provide some walls and a roof. The walls have big open windows along the side where you can sit on the ledge with your legs and feet dangling out the side and watch the scenery roll past. Inside the boat there is a mixture of van and what seem aeroplane seats arranged in rows for the seating. You can also head up to the front of the boat where the captain sits and ask if you can sit at the bow. If he says yes you can walk out of the wooden structure onto almost a patio section right at the front for the boat where you can watch the river flow by.
The journey is a total of two days and one night.
On the first day you set off from your port and travel along the large and powerful Mekong surrounded by forests and mountains as far as the eye can see. This scenery is occasionally interrupted by passing a small farming town where the children come running out of their houses in the forest in order to wave at the passing boat. The boat will also occasionally stop off at these towns (they’re quite often just 3 or 4 buildings made out of wood and reeds) in order to pick up some locals.
You’ll find out that the area the slow boat travels through is known as the golden triangle. This is basically the cocaine capital of the world. You never normally see the industry in action but on the slow boat journey we caught a glimpse.
As I was sitting on the ‘patio’ at the front of the boat I caught a glimpse of something poking out of the water as it whizzed toward our boat. It definitely wasn’t an animal and it was travelling at some speed. As it came closer I said to myself “that’s a periscope” and before you knew it the little submarine had whizzed past our boat and down the river.
When it was passing, the captain pointed at it and laughed to one of his crew. It was a drug smuggling submarine. There was probably just one little person in there smuggling millions of dollars’ worth of cocaine down the Mekong for the drug lords. It was a glimpse of a world people rarely see.
Shortly after this we arrived at Pak Beng for our overnight stay.
Upon disembarking at the very makeshift peer, we were greeted by the towns’ kids begging for money and food. It kind of catches you by surprise and loads of tourists gave them there left over Pringles and change.
Accommodation at Pak Beng wasn’t part of the package apparently so the hotel owners were waiting at the port for us shouting out how they had the best rooms and how much they were. They could have said any amount of bullshit and we wouldn’t have known if it was true or not. So we went with the least dodgy looking.
Our accommodation was a short journey away and the accommodation owners herded as many of us into to back of a pick-up truck and whisked us away.
I forget the name of the hotel where we stayed at but the owner offered us weed multiple times and my friends became possessed in their sleep.
On the second day they had overbooked the boat so we stayed in the back section where all the pots and pans are. These things happen a lot in these countries so you go with it and it was actually really cool. The area had shorter walls, was very open and it was like our own private little area; no one else came back there.
On this journey we got a completely different view as we saw the scenery disappear into the distance behind us instead of coming towards us. We also got to see how strong The Mekong River is as the currents often produced white water around the boat.
After a few hours we arrived at a port a couple of miles outside Luang Prabang.
We hopped into the back of a motorcycle taxi with the guys and headed to a hotel we found on TripAdvisor.
We had arrived at our destination. But it was the journey that will stick in my mind as the best part.