I am sure anyone who comes in or go out of Lunag Prabang has to answer this question. Fast boat or slow boat or bus? One can not avoid it. Mekong river which passes through the town goes all the way to the thai border in the north, it is about 8-9 hours by fast boat and 16-18 hours by slow boat which takes two days including an overnight stop at midway. Final option is bus which is an overnight ride for about 14 hours. I was all for speed so decided to go on the fast boat. It was an adventure like never before, when I reached the pier in the morning I had to wait for sometime and starting talking with one British man who was there to find lost luggage of his son which he forgot on the boat the day before, boat office was trying to locate it. I politely asked how was the journey he said not bad just bit cramped so I was preparing myself for the ride. He had travelled extensively in Africa and I was curious to know his experience. He said african people are more expressive compared to people of other regions.
People started to board and everyone on my boat was local and they all boarded first and I was trying to figure out where to sit in that tiny little boat. Boat driver took my luggage and put it on top of the other people’s bags and then nicely tied it with rope and covered it with tarpaulin for water resistant, I was offered to sit in the front and by myself and everyone else was sharing there 4×4 seat. Boat was equipped with petrol engine and it was quite loud, everyone was given life jackets and helmets. When the boat driver offered me the helmet I was confused and I politely refused and few others also took the helmet but never wore it.
Boat started after one hour of delay and it was adventurous. I was telling myself I don’t know swimming and I am just few inches above water in the tiny boat which was going at 80 kmph and it is going to be fun. Driver was sitting at the back, maneuvering to avoid rocks. I was just smiling to myself and wishing good luck for the bumpy ride for next eight hours.
After few minutes driver stopped the engine and starting going towards the shore and I was like there is no room for more people, why is he stopping. A lady probably his wife was waiting there with his lunch box. She just handed over the lunch box and probably wished him have a nice day in the local language and left. It was sweet. First part of the journey was nice, It felt like motorcycle ride on water. When we reached midway after four hours we had to change boats, boats which started in the morning from border exchanged the passengers so that they can go back to their home by end of day. Break also meant it was lunch time and I made a bad choice by not eating and just drinking coconut water.
Next part of the ride was ever more exciting, this time I got the last seat that means next to the engine and had to share it one local. I noticed that this speed boat was running on LPG, people in India also do that to save on fuel cost, they convert petrol gas cars to run on LPG. I put on my earphones and tried to listen the music on my phone and was not helpful, with maximum volume on the phone I was barely able to listen to songs I was playing. It is not fun after few hours when you are sitting with your knees next to your chest and few inches above water and going at 80 kmph with loud engine as background music. Somewhere in between boat suddenly stopped and everyone was looking at the driver who was busy checking the LPG cylinder and trying to figure out what is wrong. As soon as he was accelerating boat stopped. He changed the cylinder and boat started after few attempts. He made few calls and another empty boat came after 15 minutes and meanwhile he parked the boat at the shore and we waited. Half the passengers were shifted to the new boat. After ten minutes of ride both stopped at a floating restaurant, similar to one at midway where it stopped for lunch. This time they switched to a new boat and unloaded everyones luggage from the old boat and tied it on the new one. It was getting closer to their schedule arrival time and we were still hour and half away from destination. I asked the local who was sitting next to me about the arrival time and he pointed to numbers on my watch. The breaks between the boat changes gave some relief to body and time to stretch. Suddenly the new boat also stopped in between and I said to myself not again, this time some plants got stuck in the propellor and the driver rowed it to the shore and kids playing on the shore helped him to pull the boat to the shore. He cleared the propellor and we resumed the journey again. We were close to destination and I was looking at the map on phone and the other shore of the river was Thailand. Boat made several stops unloading the passengers before making it to the destination and was couple of hours late. It was a beautiful and scene ride though.
Will I do the fast boat again? May be :)
I was on it for the whole day :)