The Internet has done some of its best fear mongering when it comes to taking a boat to Luang Prabang in Laos. If you choose the fast boat – which only takes six hours – you travel at such high speeds you will most certainly crash and die. If you choose the slow boat – which takes 14 hours, over two days – there are so many people you will be crammed into the engine room, with noise so loud and exhaust so intense you’ll wish you’d taken the fast boat and crashed and died.
Given those choices, Jessica and I decided to go with the slow boat and arrive at the port extremely early to secure a less noisy/exhaust-y seat toward the front. The boat was supposed to leave at 11:30am, so we thought arriving at 9am would put us well enough in front of the hordes of people all also trying to avoid the back of the boat.
That morning we mournfully left our amazing home stay, and made our way down to buy tickets from one of the many tour companies lining the street. We handed over our money and the woman handed us a dodgy piece of paper where she’d written TWO TICKETS FOR BOAT. This seemed very legitimate.
She told us to come back at 9:30am – no earlier- and a tuk tuk would take us to the other port across town.
9:30 came. 9:30 left.
I started pacing around, alternating between checking the street for the tuk tuk and staring dubiously at my handwritten ticket. By 9:45 I was beside myself, imagining all the seats filling up and the hours we’d have to spend in the engine room dungeon inhaling fumes. No one at the tour company seemed the least bit concerned. Clearly these women hadn’t read the Internet. They didn’t realize the wanton misery they were bestowing on us by delaying our arrival.
Finally, the tuk tuk crawled up the street and we managed to arrive at the port at 10:30am. We hurried down to the boat to shove our way through the crowds of absolutely no one and got a perfectly comfortable seat in the middle of the boat.
In fact, once my cortisol level returned to normal, I realized that the boat was kind of awesome. The seats were rows of back seats from cars. The sides of the boat were totally open to the water and there was a snack and drink counter in the back. What was all the fuss about? This is a fantastic idea.
I was so elated for the first few hours, I had a conversation in my head that went something like I love you, trees, I love you, air, I love you, people getting drunk in the front of the boat, I even love you, guys obnoxiously chain smoking next to me.
The six hour ride passed easily. There was something about the jungle, the sun, the sway of the boat that left me so happy – or maybe it was just all that diesel fuel I was supposed to be afraid of inhaling.
At the end of the day, we pulled into the tiny town of Pak Beng for the night. Twenty minutes after we arrived the entire town’s electricity went out (I think as part of an energy saving measure). The shop and restaurant owners immediately pulled out flashlights and candles, leaving us to explore the streets by candlelight.
The second day we had breakfast across the river from elephants (!) and then made our way back to the boat to begin the last leg of the journey.
The day was a bit colder, a bit longer, and the people on the front of the boat were a bit decidedly hungover. But I still maintain that the slow boat is a wonderful choice.
Realistically, traveling by anything for two days is going to be long and somewhat uncomfortable. But it’s still a great experience. You’re on a boat. In the jungle. In Laos. There’s a lot of happiness to work with.