7am breakfast isn’t so bad after falling sleep at 9pm the night before. We wake up and go downstairs to eggs and toast which aren’t bad. The hotel also provides a packed lunch for the boat ride. We meet some guys from England at breakfast who are also on their way to Laos and are taking the same slow boat that we are.
After breakfast we have to go through the process of getting our Laos visas at the border. It’s cheaper to do it at the border, but you can also get them online. Oh how I wish I had done it online. It’s crowded and confusing because there are so many people, all with very full backpacks attached, pushing and bumping around trying to get into Laos. I have to wait in “line” for quite a while, which is just a crowd of people pushing towards the visa counter. There is no order. I’m not the only one though, almost every other person in our group is getting their visa at the border so at least it’s not just me waiting in line alone.
We finally get our entry visas and head towards the pier where we’ll be getting on our slow boat. I believe I am now in Laos. There’s a group of about 20 of us, and we have to sit and wait in a little convenience store for an hour and a half before we can board the boat. We check out the packed lunch the hotel has given us, which consists of a small orange juice, and two small dinner rolls with a mystery filling that looks like lemon jam with raisins on one, and the same lemon jam with an un-identified furry light brown something on the other. Very appealing. We all buy some snacks and sandwiches at the convenience store, because the boat ride is 7 hours long and there won’t be any food available on board.
Once the wait is over, we load our bags up into a car and are driven down to the pier. The slow boat is long and narrow, with used car seats that have been converted into benches and chairs lining each side. There are a couple of locals on the boat, but the majority of travelers are foreign. We are lucky to be on the same boat as the American and Canadian girls from the van, and the British guys we met this morning, as well as some other really nice people we meet from England, Scotland and Mexico. We all play games and drink beer in an open space at the front of the boat to pass the time, which doesn’t feel long at all.
Two local women come to sit down on a bench right in the middle of where everyone is playing games. One is about 70 years old, and SO tiny, and the other is wearing a hospital mask. Neither of them speak any English, and I can’t imagine they enjoy sitting among 15 screaming young travellers, and we try to suggest that they move (to the more empty, quiet are of the boat) they smile and say no thank you. Ah, well. I feel bad about it at first, but at the same time they did choose to sit in the worst spot on the boat for sleeping, and there really was plenty more space in quieter areas.
One of the British guys introduces us to the game “pigs” which is an actual game with a score card and everything, where you literally toss two small toy pigs like dice, and get points based on how they land. It’s pretty hilarious and entertains us all for a long time. I don’t win, but Ilona loses, and has to drink a nasty concoction of all our drinks mixed together as a result.
We realize that today is the American presidential election, well, it was actually yesterday but the 12 hour time difference means the results aren’t in until today our time. (What?)
I ask my mama to text me the results as I won’t have wi-fi until later tonight, and I want to know as soon as possible. I am with Americans, after all. We all breathe a sigh of relief when we find out that Obama has won another 4 years!
We start “the game of life”, where the only rule is that you can’t say the word “mine”. If you do, you have to do 10 push ups. Best/worst game ever because people are way better at tricking me into saying it than I am at remembering that I can’t, but it’s good for my arms!
Once we arrive at our half way point, in a tiny town along the Mekong river, we go in search of a hostel that will take 14 of us. This proves to be much easier than I thought it would be, and we find one basically as soon as we hop off the boat. The cost for double room per night is 50,000 kip ($6.45). We all load our bags into the back of a truck and hop in with them. We are driven 200 meters away from the pier to our guesthouse, which is a salmon pink colour. We go find our rooms, which are surprisingly clean and have individual bathrooms with hot water showers (always a treat). We’re all absolutely starving after not having eaten a proper meal in several hours, so we set out to find a restaurant. There are children playing in the streets, who are all so excited to see westerners so they follow us down the street laughing hopping around and high fiving us, generally being adorable. I give one of them my travel pillow even though we’re asked not to encourage begging in Laos. I don’t count this as begging, they’re too cute.
There are about 3 restaurants in total to choose from in the whole town, so we pick the first one we see with a table big enough for all of us. I order a fried noodle dish with vegetables and chicken which comes from a very small kitchen, with two people cooking different things for 14 people. Epic. Afterwards we head down to “The Only Bar in Town” which I’m sure is legitimately the only bar. We’re the only people in there besides 4 other westerners sitting at a table. The bar has a speaker system with an iPod adapter so we plug in our music and start dancing. We’re in Asia, so obviously we play Gangnam Style, and when we do the bartender comes out from behind the bar to teach us the dance. She’s a pro.
We don’t stay long, and all walk back to the hotel where some of us sit and chat for a little while longer before falling asleep. It feels so late at night, but I’m in bed before midnight. Laos itself is absolutely beautiful and the scenery along the Mekong River is unbelievable. I take some pictures, but trust me when I say the beauty doesn’t translate to pictures the way it should. It’s sunny and beautiful out, like it has been every other day I’ve been in Asia, and cruising along in the boat provides a slight breeze to help keep us cool. It’s absolutely perfect. No bugs either! That’s always a bonus. It was definitely a long day of traveling, but the decision to take a longboat to Laos was one of the best we’ve made so far.