The slow boat chugged down the river for two long days, drifting to a stop now and then just long enough for the captain to tighten a few bolts and for the passengers to observe the ever growing cloud of murky gray oil seeping from the engine. Every few kilometers we would dock to jam a few more locals on board. Their arms heaping full of squirming chickens and bags of rice, it was always a wonder that they managed to fit and we did not capsize.
The arrival of the slow boat must be a monumental moment in the daily lives of river dwelling Laotians because it seemed that the whole town gathered to bade the venturers farewell. The children ran naked along the shore jumping from sand piles while the adults peered on, their faces plastered with scornful looks as they squinted at our boat full of whities.
By the end of the first day I had befriended an ample number of passengers; a couple from London, two guys from Bolivia and Colombia and several Canadians, but Rachel and I were still the only Americans on board. I'm beginning to learn that overseas travel isn't really in American blood.
When we docked for the first night Rachel an I were once again the last ones off the boat, the last ones to get our backpacks and consequently the last ones to get a hotel. This time it paid off though. We found a room in a lodge perched high on the side of a hill with a balcony overlooking the Mekong and barrage of parked slow boats, all for $10. It had been a long and stressful day with the man who swindled practically every passenger on the slow boat and our less than ideal seats jammed between locals and tourists feet on the floor. The beautiful balcony was a welcomed lounge.
The boat was scheduled to leave at 9:00 A.M. the next morning, but by 7:30 A.M. Rachel, followed by a line of tourists waited to snag the very best seats. We had learned our lesson and this time around would be much better than the first.
Day two was rather uneventful, but after the events of day one we were happy for a low key floating day. A glorious eight hours drifting down the Mekong, reading, playing Chinese checkers and of course ogling at the pristine rocks jetting from the river and quaint villages along the way. We made it to Luang Prabang exhausted and ready for some Laotian adventures. In similar suit, Rachel and I scouted out a hotel with a balcony, ditched our bags and spent the evening wandering through the town's night bazaar full of exotic foods and handmade goods. In the end, I give the slow boat four stars. A little rocky at points, but that's the stuff of good travel stories! And, it isn't every day you can float kilometers down a river admiring local Lao villages and their unique way of life.