I lifted up my bicycle and handed it to a guy who was managing the odd-sized luggage on the roof of the slow boat. The ground floor was equipped with seats stripped from, I suppose, wrecked buses. As I was on time (an hour before departure), I could still claim a “window” seat.
We passed several small settlements where people were washing themselves and their clothes in the river. Dirt paths led back up the steep hills to their mostly primitive huts. Quite a contrast with the comparatively rich Thailand. Mountains and jungle rose up everywhere around us. I was enjoying the new sights and struck up conversations with the other tourists on the boat, some of whom I’d met in the hostel.
After about 6 hours on the mighty Mekong river, we docked on Pak Beng. It’s a peculiar city, as it receives boatloads of tourists that arrive in the evening and all leave the next morning again.
I stayed in a cheap hostel (4 euro’s) and met some new people again. Turns out many people quit their jobs and are traveling long term. I knew I wasn’t alone – I just hadn’t met any during bike touring. Except during my stay in Chiang Mai, I had actually barely seen any Western people during a month of cycling in Thailand. After dinner we walked to the infamous Hive Bar for a few drinks and a game of pool. On the way we got offered opium and weed. A local said “Hello”, followed by “smoke weed everyday”, and “you want some?” Funny, but no thanks.
The next day the boat was more crowded an a bit less comfortable, but still fine. Some locals get on the boat too and get dropped off at small settlements along the way. At one of these stops, a bunch of little girls jumped on the side of the boat, ran along the sides, and tried to sell bracelets. They looked poor, desperate and in fierce competition with each other. Nobody bought one, and some tourists were taking pictures of the scene. I thought it was quite sad.
After about another 7-hour drive, we made it to Luang Prabang – supposedly one of the nicest cities in Laos. I got back on my bicycle and was excited to get to my first Workaway location: the Sa Sa Guesthouse.