Sprawled out on an old bus chair, watching the world go by, I struggled to think of anything more scenic and relaxing as floating down the Mekong river, catching the slow boat to Luang Prabang. Forested hills, rocky outcrops and sandy beaches reached out from the shores of the meandering waterway, forming an entrancing backdrop to accompany our slow-paced transport. Passengers slept, read, played card games and drank rum; in no particular rush to reach our destination. With nowhere to go but upstream, confined to our open-aired vessel, we admired the beauty of the Laotian landscape with patient awe.
Our journey’s end was Luang Prabang, the sleepy town in Northern Laos. While there were a few different options of exiting Thailand on our way to this South East Asian nation, the two-day slow boat ride held a sense of intrigue and allurement in our minds. We had heard stories from many backpackers that this was the most appealing way to enter Laos, and the tales proved to be true.
We boarded the long, narrow boat in Huay Xia, Laos, armed with supplies that ranged from fruit and snacks to beer and rum. Fully charged music players and a few good books and we were well-prepared for the voyage. We took our seats and got comfortable for the first days mission. Keeping in harmony with the pace of our expedition, we were late to leave the dock, but no one seemed to mind. An air of calm was already drifting up from the commuters.
Once underway, we began to make friends with those around us, and before too long we were trading traveller stories and tips, enjoying our new company. As is to be expected of backpackers, it also took very little time before the beers were cracked open and the liquor began flowing. As the first day wore on, the relaxed chatter became more excited and inhibitions were abandoned. Bounded by the surrounding river, friendships grew and stories were exchanged.
After 7 hours of travel, we arrived in the small village of Pakbeng, edging on the shore of the Mekong. A short search for accommodation found us a spacious and cheap lodging option with a spectacular view, and we hit the town for dinner and drinks. Matching the mood inspired by the trip, the nightlife was relaxed and we found ourselves in bed before midnight.
Awakening well-rested, the second day started in much the same as the first; Gliding along the river admiring the stunning views of mountaintops and waterside villages. The vibe on board was even more leisured, and many spent the morning hours napping and gazing out at the scenery, enjoying the tranquility. By the afternoon, the alcoholic beverages made another appearance and life on the river picked up where it had left off the previous day.
With our final destination of Luang Prabang steadily closing in, many of the locals disembarked at small rustic towns set in the attractive countryside. Our new-found friends began to rally together to make plans on where to meet once we had found accommodation. Passing around a final bend in the river, we caught sight of the dock where we would alight from our slow boat. Card games were halted abruptly, beers were finished in quick succession and belongings were gathered. In a moment we gently touched up against the jetty, and we smiled.
All that was left to do now was make our way downtown via one of the waiting tuk-tuks. We hoisted our backpacks over our shoulders, climbed the steep stairs and paused to look back at the flowing Mekong. A final glimpse of our boat naturally drew our eyes up the length of river, and onwards towards the hills. The landscape was majestic and mysterious, and we wondered what lay around the next bend.
Smiling, we turned and continued walking away from our waterborne highway. More than a simple mode of transport, the ride had become a journey, and that journey had sparked something inside of us. We could not imagine taking another alternative instead of the slow boat to Luang Prabang. The joys of choosing the leisurely route had been enticing. Now when the option allows, we shall always rush to take the slower passage.