Although I had originally switched up my plans, in part to avoid the slow boat on the Mekong I later found myself there anyway. After the multiple vomit inducing, seemingly ever ending bus rides I dealt with in Vietnam and Laos I was ready for a change of pace. Multiple sources (travel blogs, guidebooks and others I'd met along the way) informed me that taking the slow boat was a must during my visit to Laos, thank Cambodia - Angkor, Egypt - The Pyramids. Given these great reviews I figured I had better give it a shot.
Successfully navigating my way downstream with Mr. Neat I then found myself in the tiny town, Muang Ngoi wondering what to do. This post left me with excitement for the town but when I arrived that excitement started to dwindle. I found a beautiful room immediately (thanks to the eager woman that pulled me in) although it was more expensive than I was anticipating or hoping. Once settled in my room I decided to explore the town and that’s when I started to realize what a difference low and high season can make in small places like this. It seemed that half of the guesthouses and restaurants decided to call it quits as there were just not enough tourist to support them staying open. The streets were reminiscent of a ghost town and I only spotted a handful of tourists in the few open restaurants, where was everybody?
After a night of glorious sleep I was up early and ventured down to the boat pier. Mr. Neat (from the day before) was there with his friends waiting, and immediately began laughing. “No people, expensive for you” is what that laughter meant. Low season can mean cheaper rooms and less crowds, but it can also create problems. A boat down the Nam Ou river to Muang Ngoi costs approximately 1 million kip, if split between 8 passengers for a total of 120 kip each. Like Mr. Neat said, no people expensive for me. He quoted me the fare of 1 million but laughed, knowing I wasn’t about to pay that much. We sat there for a while talking, the price dropping every few minutes before eventually I conceded at 400,000 kip. Mr. Neat must have been feeling generous because he mentioned that if we picked up additional passengers along the way he would refund me 50,000 kip. Part of me wanted to think I was getting ripped off but knowing (thanks to Wiki) that a ‘Private boat’ costs 1 million I figured this was fare game. The only thing giving me doubts was Mr. Neats sly laughter as he talked to his friends, and the disapproval shaking head of one of the other men nearby, oh well. Honestly I was just glad to be leaving the city and on to somewhere new.
Often overlooked on the backpacker trail, this is a destination to not be missed. Without the influence of 7/11, Mc Donalds or Starbucks this is a country that offers a raw, rich experience.