Slow Boat To Luang Prabang : A Tale Of Scams, Drugs and Blood.

LAOS. It's the third country I went to as a solo traveller. The most difficult country to like and travelling to Luang Prabang on a Slow Boat was the longest I ever had  to travel to get to a destination. It took two days! Two-gruelling days on a boat and believe me, they weren't joking about it being SLOW. It was very very slow.

The thing is, your overall journey really depends on the crowd that you're stuck with on the slow boat. If you get a small crowd with a bunch of locals and a few farangs then your trip could probably be very pleasant and quiet. But, during the high season this is very unlikely. Especially since this route is pretty popular with the young tourists because of one particular reason : Drugs.  Apparently, our stop over for the night is a very popular place to get drugs (particularly Marijuana) in Laos.

 "Anne look, their boat is much better than ours! They have tables" Anne eyed the boat and immediately agrees with me. "Yeah, this must be one of those VIP boats. The SLOW VIP" She said. Something about the word SLOW and VIP being in the same sentence made me laugh.

My slow boat crowd range between the drunken party people and the quiet locals. In between, there were solo travellers, travellers with friends, old people, couples, exhibitionist lovers and a whole bunch of Germans. We made a pretty good crowd. The party people were drunk most of the time but they were polite and they didn't make any scenes on the boat. They walked around the boat like it was a freaking cruise ship (sometimes, half-naked) but they didn't bother anyone. They were just a bunch of Canadians having a hell of a time! One of the guys, reminded me of Jack Black... so I called him Jack Black! Although he was not much to look at, Jack Black loved to be shirtless. Perhaps it's a Canadian Frat Boy thing or something. Didn't bother me but Anne did ask one of the German girls to tell him to pull his pants up! You should've seen these German girls... they were so outspoken and straight-forward. When Anne told her that, for a moment I thought she was really going to do it! I wish she did. That would've been funny.
We had a long conversation about this little huts on the hill-side. You see these views all the way to Luang Prabang. Why are those huts there? They might be something growing up there. What could it be? Justine (a French girl) asked me, Could it be mountain RICE? Had to tell her that it was definitely not mountain rice. .... Perhaps, it's weeds.

Pak Beng was the stop-over for the slow boat on day one. It's a small town in the outskirt of OudomXay, Laos. It seemed like a quiet sleepy town until the sun went down and you realized that the town came alive at night! People were drinking, singing, and smoking weed all night long. If you stay in the town area, you might not get any sleep at all.

We arrived in Pak Beng so much earlier than we expected. We were told that we would arrive at around 8pm. But we arrived at around 5pm. It was a pleasant surprise! My friends and I have paid for our rooms back in Huay Xai. We paid 500 baht each for our rooms. The price was for a fan room and tuk-tuk transfer from the pier to the guesthouse. What we didn't know was, there was never any tuk tuk. Apparently the guesthouse idea of a transport was a cattle truck! Yup, we were picked up by a rude guy in a cattle truck (at least I hope it was a cattle truck :( ). My friend Anne, was a little pissed about that but the cattle truck guy said.... If you are not happy, you can walk!! Even right now, when I try to remember about Lao Hospitality, THIS is what I remember very clearly - I lost count of the time when I was told that if I wasn't happy with anything, I can bloody walk! That, my friend, is Lao Hospitality at its best.

Shitty, but I do remember laughing the whole way to the guesthouse because I can't cry in front of all those people. So I laughed, seemed like a good way to handle the situation. When we passed the others (they were walking up a steep road) Anne managed to tell them "It's a cattle truck!!!" and I could hear the horror in her voice, it made me laughed even harder. But that was certainly not the worst part of our night in Pak Beng.

The German Girls

We got to our run-down guesthouse to find out that everyone else paid 200 baht for their rooms. We were ripped off by agents at Huay Xai. Anne wasn't going to let it go. She asked to speak to the guy in charge (rude cattle truck guy) and after a few heated exchanges with Anne, he was practically yelling at her in a loud voice! I wasn't very comfortable with the whole situation and by that time my self-preservation instinct kicked in, I told Anne to let it go because there was no reasoning with this guy ; We'll just write about all this on TripAdvisor and Agoda.

Our rooms were horrible! As soon as everyone checked themselves in, I could hear people complaining loudly about the state of their rooms. The next morning Anne told me about how she heard that the others had terrible rooms with broken showers and everything. She said at least our rooms were slightly better. We did all right I guess. I have to admit, Anne and I were somewhat happy that we got the better rooms. Does that make us bad people? Give us a break! We did pay extra for our rooms.

There was loud banging throughout the night. I had no idea what it was. At one point I swear I heard Jack Black, who was staying in the room above mine, broke his bed in the middle of the night! It was the sound of furniture breaking and it was so freaking loud. I slept, holding my bags close to me. I was afraid because the door wasn't very sturdy and people could break into my room easily. At this point, I already knew what Pak Beng was. I swear, when I read about Pak Beng and based on what my friends told me, I had absolutely no idea it was a Happy Little Drug Town; You could just walk around in town in the evening and some old man would walk up to you and ask you if you want to buy Marijuana? It was probably an awesome place for all the party people. But to me, it was terrifying!

The next morning, instead of getting on the cattle truck I opted to walk to town. I left a note in front of Anne and Mike's door saying :"HELLO ANNE AND MIKE, I HAVE DECIDED TO WALK SLOWLY TO THE PIER AND GET BREAKFAST IN TOWN. READ: I AM NOT GETTING ON THE CATTLE TRUCK EVER AGAIN!" And boy, I was glad I made that decision because I saw how many people were on the truck that morning... Cattle truck guy literally crammed everyone in the truck and drove them to the pier at top speed!

That morning, we got to our slow boat and noted that the slow boat was smaller than the boat we had the previous day. There were less leg space and it was made more uncomfortable when others began turning their seats here and there to find some sort of comfort. There were people trapped sitting in seats that were placed too close together for comfort. Others had their seats so far apart they could give birth to a  bloody pygmy elephant in their leg spaces. Pretty inconsiderate, but no one really cared about each other's comforts any more at that point, everyone was just trying to get through the day.
Jack Black negotiating with Lao Police. The Lao Police refused to have his photo taken so I had to take this from above.

When we arrived, we were dropped off some 10km away from town. This, people, is a well executed scam. Almost everyone on the boat knew about this from the various travel blogs they read online. So, what happened was, we refused to be scammed! When the boat stopped at the so called 'new pier', we refused to get off the boat unless they send us to the old pier at Luang Prabang. This was when things got very ugly very fast. We were arguing with the people from the boat and some people from the tuk tuk company. Jack Black (not his real name) was negotiating with them and NZ guy was provoking them. Threats were thrown... we even begged them but they were not budging. I was content to watch the whole commotion from the back until the boat crew did something that really pissed me off. They were removing our bags from the stomach of the boat in their attempt to get us off the boat and I saw my backpack got thrown out of the boat onto the dirty pier! I saw red. That, my friend, was when I began swearing like a bloody Ozzie. I quickly came to the front of the boat, took my backpack, got it back into the boat, and joined the the French Revolution! (I mean, join the argument).

They threatened to call the police, we were not intimidated. Told them to bloody get the police there and we would talk.... the thing was, we were so sure that there were no police there because we knew that it was an elaborate scam. But, the police did come a few hours later. It was a scam but the police was in on it too. So we realized that there was no way we could win the argument. Some were still adamant to stay but most of us were just too tired to argue. We decided to get our bags and go.

Lo and Behold, The Newly Upgraded Boat Pier.

Of course we all made another scene at the tuk tuk station above refusing to pay extra for the tuk tuk ride to town. In a show of protest, we decided to try to walk  to town. This was a very bad idea. Not only, were we clueless about where we were going. It was also a long long walk to town. We were tired, I had blisters on my feet and our backpacks were very very heavy! Anne was mumbling on her own. She said they must think we were bloody stupid. They must have said something like "Man, those Farangs are stupid. I have seen many Farangs but they're the stupidest Farangs I have ever seen". It was so funny. But no one laughed. We were too tired. The younger people were walking like 1km ahead of us. We were so slow I was afraid we might get separated from the group. Mike was telling me to walk ahead, no need to wait for them. But what he didn't know was, I wasn't walking that slow on purpose. I was really that SLOW. In the end, four of us were somewhat left behind; Mike, Anne, Mary (A chinese lady) and I. We walked about 2km until the tuk tuk drivers came and made cheaper deals with us. We end up paying 50,000 kip for an entire tuk tuk ride to town. Between the four of us, we only had to fork out about 50 baht each. We were the first group to sell out and get a tuk tuk. The rest, saw what we did and followed suit. They didn't read our hand signals well, so they end up paying more. Too bad for them.

On our way to town. We all agreed that it was a horrible experience. What a way to get into another country; Scams, Drugs, Alcohol and Blood (from the blisters on my feet I got from the cliff at the scamming Slow Boat pier)

But of course... It was not all bad. In the end, it become one hell of a story to tell. Isn't this one hell of a story?

We are the Slow Boat Survivors!!

Originally posted on : Prozak-Nation.Com : The Cutting Edge of Dullness

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