Thursday, May 27, 2010

Picture yourself in a boat on a river.

I do a lot of things so that I might look back one day and say, "I endured that." This is one of those things. Isn't it romantic to take the slow boat up the Mekong from Luang Prabang to Thailand? For awhile there, the water level was too low for the slow boats and they stopped the service altogether. I was quite pleased to learn that the boats were running when I wanted to leave Luang Prabang. I had heard horror stories about wooden benches with no cushions, so I was prepared to endure.

This was my first glimpse of boat 008, which would take me from Luang Prabang to Pakbeng.

But can you imagine my delight when I saw that instead of hard wooden benches, I would get to sit on a re-purposed bus seat?

This is a luxury riverboat if ever there was one. It looks like a shiny new camper or something. I can sit for 8 hours in a car seat. I've done that plenty over the last few weeks.

The water level is still quite low, and there are some nifty rock formations visible poking out of the water, like this:

And other, invisible ones scraping the bottom of the boat. The boat chugged along, though, slowing to a crawl as it navigated up rapids and taking me all the way to Pakbeng.

(I like to think that this is a family who decided to build their house on a barge, just because. And then they adopted a baby elephant for each of their children, and when they're not taking things up the bank of the Mekong, the elephants run and play on the barge like it's their own big backyard.)

It was not a eight hour ride. It might be eight hours downstream, or eight hours when the water level is higher. Today, it was not eight hours. Today, I was very ready to get off of the boat after ten hours.

Pakbeng is where the boat stops and you have to find a guesthouse. As usual, there are representatives from various guesthouses at the dock, or the top of the rocks you climb up when you get out of the boat.

There is nothing else in Pakbeng. There is no Internet. There are no karaoke bars. There are no bookshops. And the only way out in either direction is 10 hours of death. (Death is a boat, Guildenstern!)

The boat out of Pakbeng was this:

Here were the wooden benches with strict, tall backs.

Early in the ride most people abandoned the benches and built nests on the floor with backpacks, stolen cushions, and (thank you, Past Emily) travel pillows.


Maybe it was the different speeds that the water, land and clouds were moving, or maybe it was the fact that I had had my face buried in a book most of the day, or maybe it was that I had been dead for two whole days, but my eyes started playing tricks on me and the planks of the boat started moving. I didn't feel remotely nauseated, but I was pleased for my sanity to arrive in Huaey Sai, at sunset on the second day.

The ferry to Thailand wasn't running anymore, so I stayed the night and woke up bright and early to come back "home" to Thailand.

No comments:

Post a Comment