We spent one more night after the gibbon experience in Huay Xai as we were headed out on the slow boat the next day. We stayed close to the slow boat pier in a guesthouse for less than we had paid previously (70 000kip) so that we did not have to walk too far in the morning. The evening was made more bearable being back in Huay Xai as we had dinner with others from the gibbon experience. The majority of people that we met at the gibbon experience were also headed to to Luang Prabang the following morning. We planned to travel on the slow boat but the American family we had met had spoken to someone on the pier about chartering a boat so we met up with everyone at 8am to attempt to charter a boat with about 15 of us.
Unfortunately this did not come to fruition as the slow boat captains refused to take less people than they could fit in their boats via normal slow boats as they could charge a lot per person and these are usually full. Instead we were just incredibly early for the boat! We got our tickets at the pier (the ticket office is up the stairs and not signposted) for 210 000kip per person for the two-day trip to Luang Prabang. It was good to be at the at the boat early (although not as early as we were!) as despite being given seat numbers on the tickets these are just ignored and people sit where they want. Each boat is different our first boat was quite comfortable with old bus seats that were not bolted to the floor so we could adjust our leg room for the trip. We avoided the back of the boat as the engine room can be very noisy. In peak season when the boats are packed if you get there late then you sometimes have to sit in the engine room which would not be an enjoyable experience! We took a group of seats together and then set off in groups up the road by the pier to buy supplys for lunch- baguettes, snacks and beers. As the hours went on the boat slowly got fuller. It was due to leave at 11, and we thought that we had got lucky with having a reasonably empty boat however at 11.15 hoards of people joined us that had booked with tour companies or hostels in Chiang Mai/ Chiang Rai and had just crossed the boarder into Laos that morning.
We left at about 11.40 which was much more on time than we expected to leave. We set off along the Mekong watching the landscape turn into jungle with large trees, watching fisherman casting lines out into the river, children playing on the shores and numerous water buffalo. We cruised slowly along and the day consisted of reading and talking to others on board about their travels. We also saw two elephants being transported on a huge boat chained to the bow of the boat looking very regal but an unexpected thing to see on the river!
We arrived to Pakbeng at 5.30pm and were eventually off the boat by about 6pm due to commotion with people trying to collect their luggage which they had to get out from the stores underneath where people were standing to get off of the boat. As soon as we were off the boat we were swarmed with children begging and requesting food. We were also hounded by lots of locals offering us rooms at ridiculous prices and had rides ready if we want to go with them. Instead we walked up the road to the right where all the guesthouses are. We checked the price at the first decent looking one where we were again quoted a huge amount of money for Laos so we continued walking up the hill where prices steadily decreased (it is up a hill so often people just go for the first places they see). We met a lady who offered us a private room for 80 000 with a bathroom and wifi which probably wasn’t the cheapest we could of got a private room but we were bored with walking up the hill. We checked the room first and it was fine for the evening (always ask to see the room first before you agree to spend your money on it). We went briefly for a walk around the town which consists of a street filled with guesthouses, restaurants and stalls selling fruits, baguettes and large cakes that definitely looked better than they were. The view from points along the road though is stunning with large cliffs, the river and greenery.
We met up again with the others from the gibbon experience and went out for an Indian meal, which was nice but not as flavoursome as we would have liked. We spent the rest of the evening sat with them on the peer drinking a beer, listening and sharing music and discussing space whilst looking at the stars.
Before setting off on the boat the next day we bought cheap sandwiches (ones for breakfast and lunch), cakes and drinks. The second day was a longer day and we were on the boat for 8am. This boat was different to the other with it having half bus seats and half of it being small wooden booths. These looked inviting and more sociable however when four people had to cram into them you had no leg room. Being on the boat fairly early we moved instead to bus seats again. The boat got fairly full by 8.15 and was basically full by 8.30am. There were still some late comers though that casually arrived at 9.15am, not appering to be in a hurry for the boat which was supposed to leave at 9am. Whilst waiting for everyone to arrive we saw a couple of elephants on the other side of the river with their mahouts being taken to bathe and drink. They were gorgeous and majestic but gone after a few minutes.
The second day was very similar in terms of scenary, equally glorious the whole way. We spent the day reading, catching up with writing blogs, eating and playing cards. The whole experience was very enjoyable and spent with good company making the hours fly by. A few years ago the slow boat stopped going into Luang Prabang and now stops at a pier 7 kms away so that you are forced to get a tuk tuk into town or walk for a while with your luggage. You buy a ticket for 20 000 kip and then board a tuk tuk to town. We did hear from a few people though that if you walk towards town for a few minutes the tuk tuks will stop and instantly offer you a lower price however we didn’t think 20 000 was bad for the journey anyway as it dropped us off at our hostel.