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.
The entire trip takes two full days, which is off putting any travelers who may be in a hurry, but let's be honest, Laos doesn't attract too many of that type. The trip is fairly similar whether you embark from Thailand or Luang Prabang but, in my opinion, more comfortable if you take the later route, as I did. Many tourist follow the "popular" route from Thailand into Laos which causes these boats to be packed to the max and likely an uncomfortable seating arrangement. Thankfully my trip went in the opposite direction and occurred during low season so I had plenty of room to spread out and get comfortable. About half way through my 8 hour journey I was extremely appreciative of this fact, doing this same trip in cramped quarters did not sound like much fun.
The boats are equipped with seats resembling restaurant booths as well as an aisle of old mini van bench seats in the front and back. On my first trip (day) I shared a table with two Dutch boys but they were more like zombies, half asleep and not very talkative. The girl across from me wasn't as lucky with her table mate, who I later discovered was Chinese, spoke NO English and apparently was excited to find someone he could communicate with. I'm almost certain he did not stop talking for more than 5 minutes of our 8 hour journey down the river, poor girl.
It was during this long boat ride that I really started to regret the fact that my laptop was broken (stupid Apple) because a Korea Drama definitely would have helped pass the time. Instead I pounded through a great Emily Griffith book, did lots of journaling and of course plenty of staring out the widow at my beautiful surroundings. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous as well as intriguing. Not only did we have the river and mountains but there were numerous little villages a small huts that left me wondering what life is truly like along the Mekong.
The time passed surprisingly fast (at least until the final hour stretch) and upon arrival in Pakse (our overnight stop between journeys) we were greeted by a myriad of guesthouse owners. I'd be willing to bet that the standards "same, same but different" phrase greatly applies here, so I wouldn't' bother trying to comparison shop among the guesthouses. Each room seems to come with a price tag of 50,000 kip (in low season anyway), air-con, hot showers and packed lunch options for your journey the next day. There isn't much to do in town other than eat dinner, buy snacks for the next portion of your journey and enjoy the view, it's a good one.
The early night led to another early morning, allowing me enough time for a round of morning yoga before grabbing my bagged lunch and making it to the pier for our 8:30 departure. There were less people on board than the day before so I was able to secure a 'private' table and settled in for the day ahead of me. I skipped breakfast so I had to break into my packed lunch a bit sooner than expected, but lost my appetite after only a few bites. I failed to mention but I was lucky enough to be fighting a stomach bug during my final days in Laos, I guess my luck ran out with the whole 'eating and drinking random street food without getting sick' thing. The rest of my day was spent in much the same fashion as the first but with some added stretching and pacing around the boat, I can only sit for so long without getting stiff!
Finally, at the end of another long day on the water we arrived in Houay Xai where we were left to our own vices in finding a place to rest our heads before venturing into Thailand the next morning. I decided to join forces with two other travelers, the 'talker' I previously mentioned and his table partner. I discovered that she was actually from Taiwan and quickly became his best friend (not sure if those feelings were mutual) as they both spoke mandarin. Rather than stopping at the first guesthouse we spotted we decided to take a walk into town and test our luck. Just about every room was 70,000 for a double but eventually we found one for the same price that would fit all three of us. It's amazing the different (sleeping) situations you'll find yourself in when traveling, especially when it involves saving some pennies.
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.