We wake up early and have breakfast with a view of the Mekong. As I sit and marvel at the view of Laos my mind swirls with everything I know about its history. I wonder what it will be like. More than anything, I cannot believe I am here.
We pile humans and backpacks back into the minibus and drive to the border. Backpacks out again. After a quick goodbye to our driver and a review of our passports we cross through to another bus which drives us across the river and into Laos. Ha – I’m here.
We reach the border stop. Backpacks are unloaded again, in we go. After the necessary paperwork – and most importantly, the payment – we’re waved through.
Well that wasn’t so hard.
We wait for a taxi to cart us further and in the meantime we continue to bond with the new friends we’ve made. The taxi eventually arrives and with backpacks tucked under our feet, we drive towards the river where our boat awaits us.
Laos already looks different. Dotted between the inconspicuous houses are larger, more ostentatious ones. They’re made of concrete instead of wood and sheet metal, and they’re ornate. We make note of it; wonder about the reasons why. The earth is reddish and the trees are lush. I can’t wait to reach the river.
Loading onto the boat is, of course, a confusing process. After a quick run back up the hill (with all our groceries in tow) to retrieve the tickets we apparently didn’t have, we’re there. Bags in the engine room, and us in the front.
The seating in the boat is made up of old seats that have been stripped out of cars and buses. They aren’t bolted down, so yes, they will move if you aren’t careful. We sit with four people on one seat the first day, as they have loaded the boat to excess.
I already love it.
We spend about 7 hours on the boat and stop in a small town called Pak Beng for the evening. We play pool late into the night and drink questionable cocktails. Louis and I have ended up in a homestay overlooking the Mekong. We have a private room with a view of the river; I wish I had another day to sit and stare.
On our second day we are split into two smaller boats where we sit much more comfortably. I spend the 7 hours staring at the tasseled curtains of the boat as they flutter in the wind. I draw. I stare at the brown waters of the Mekong as they swirl around rocks. I paint. I stare at the mountains, the villages, the people doing their washing along the river. I marvel at cows and buffalo. I get splashed by the river – payback for claiming the window seat.
The journey is beautiful.
The journey is also long.
By the time we reach Luang Prabang, I will admit, we’re all quite happy to be there. It’s been a beautiful two days, but we are dirty, tired (and did I mention dirty?) and ready to stretch our legs without fear of knocking over bus seats.
We unload our backpacks onto a jetty and leave the riverbank in search of a tuk tuk. Our first use of this new currency is laughable – wait how many thousand?
We end up in the most ramshackle tuk tuk I have ever been in, rattling and bouncing our way to Lung Prabang.
I don’t know it yet, but I leave that boat with two new 5 hour friends in tow.