The nice thing about the slow boat between the laidback Lao towns of Huay Xai and Luang Prabang is that it actually goes pretty slow (making it clearly worthy of its name). The journey takes 2 days, in which there is nothing much else to do than read a book (physical or virtual, in my case the highly entertaining copy of The hundred-year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared I bought in a secondhand bookstore back in Thailand), talk to fellow backpackers and watch the beautiful landscapes along the banks of the mighty muddy-brown Mekong river float by, occasionally drinking a beer on the small front deck of the 35m long vessel, preferably while the sun is setting behind the lush mountains flanking the river.
Two full days to travel only around 350km might not appeal to everyone, considering our western tendency to ‘do’ as many countries as efficiently as possible or cram as many different tourist hotspots in our itineraries as we consider ourselves capable to visit in the time we have available. This short-sighted logic of successful mass tourism doesn’t seem to have reached the Lao border yet though.
Alternatively I prefer to – quite literally in this case – go with the flow, and if the flow is rather slow, so be it. Plan ahead only 24 hours and surprises will most certainly cross your path when you least expect it.
My initial idea was to use a hostel as a safe haven from which to discover the chaos of Bangkok for a couple of days, then incorporate a few beach days on some of the scenic islands along the eastern coastline of the gulf of Thailand, visit the world famous temple complex of Angkor Wat and pass the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh to get to former Saigon, after which I would follow the Vietnamese coast all the way north to Hanoi, close to the border with China. Instead I ended up crashing on a complete strangers Bangkokian couch for a couple of nights, meeting Belgian friends in the congested Thai capital, taking the night train to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, experiencing the fact that the hippytrail is still alive in laidback Pai close to the Myanmar border, and eventually crossing into Laos late at night, where a two-day jungle trekking awaited, combined with over 5km of ziplining over the jungle canopy in search for the rare Gibbons, tigers and other big mammals that still live in these forests, only to stay overnight in a treehouse 40+ meters above the ground with an incredible sunset view that still has to meet its equal. That’s how I eventually ended up slowing my way down the Mekong river, direction Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, where more beautiful natural scenery, barbecue streetfood stalls and rivertubing undoubtedly await. After that I will probably be crossing into northern Vietnam, although there is no way to know for sure of course…