Guest Blog | Laos Life in the Slow Lane

By Anne Kircher
Trip clip from the perspective of a friend, roommate and travel cohort

Floating across the Thai-Laos border at Huay Xai

There is a concept in Laos, called “Laos time.” Things get done when the Lao people feel like it.  Efficiency, punctuality – not so big here.

This attitude is expressed even at the border crossing. At Huay Xai, the woman in front of Perrin and me had to get bills changed three times from the exchange counter across from the visa window. Back and forth she marched as the bills she had just been issued were rejected for being too large, too old, too wrinkled.

We were not lonely

Why do the seats recall military barracks?

The next morning, we caught the slow boat down the Mekong toward Luang Probang. Lonely Planet advised us to arrive early in order to get a seat before the typically over-capacity boat left at 8:45am.  At 8:15, we showed up… to an empty boat. At least we had prime seats to watch the benches, then the engine room, then the floor space fill with passengers. At 12:30, the boat finally pushed off.

Laos is packed with lush, untouched mountains, and languidly drifting down the river on the slow boat, sipping on a Beer Lao, is perhaps the best way to enjoy the verdant countryside. Packing suggestions: a deck of cards, a seat cushion for the six-hour wooden seat marathon, and snacks (check expiration dates when buying food on the mainland! Our Nescafe was 2 years old).

The water may be muddy, but the hills are pristine

The cruise stopped overnight in a town that’s limited to a few guesthouses, cafes, and adorable puppies. There were no ATMs within a 25-mile radius of the town, so Perrin and I had to beg a hostel owner to accept payment in a combination of Laos kip, Thai baht, euro and US dollars.

Hill children sell crafts as our boat inches along

The next morning, our boat pushed off for the second leg of the journey. Perrin and I snuck to the bow for a better view. The drivers shared their breakfast with us: baby corn that we shucked ourselves, sticky rice, and spiced meat.  I know it sounds corny, but sharing a meal with natives, using charades as our common language, on a ship in a largely unpopulated foreign land, I felt like we were playing Pilgrims and Indians. We were nowhere near America, yet this Thanksgiving felt more authentic than ever.

Sunset over the long boats

Near sunset, we slowly drifted into our final destination, Luang Prabang. We were thrilled to see a sign for a “Thanksgiving BBQ” – but the joy was short-lived when we discovered we had to cook strips of “turkey” (mystery meat) over a table-top stove, to be added to noodle soup. At least we got a free shot of Lao Lao, moonshine, on arrival.

Not your average Thanksgiving turkey

While most of the transport we took in Laos was (arguably) faster – motorbike, reclining overnight bus, even elephant – the trip down the Mekong set the scene for the Laos leg of our trip. Somehow it felt like we were always on the slow boat, drifting through the country on Lao time.

Another hazy, lazy day on Laos time


About sistersbailey

We are Perrin and Sarah Bailey, collectively known as “The Sisters Bailey”. The moniker was born out of a crazy weekend at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz Fest and it was the first time we had ever been referred to as one unit. We grew up in Alexandria, VA together and then separated for college - Perrin to The University of Pennsylvania and Sarah to Northwestern University – and somehow landed together in New York after graduation. It was in the midst of the hustle of Manhattan that we became friends for the first time in years. Somehow we landed jobs in the same industry - Sarah worked in marketing at HBO and Perrin managed creative digital promotions for her media agency’s main client, Disney - just three blocks from one another. One day we decided to leave our jobs, sell our belongings and travel abroad with a backpack and a collective savings of $10K. The stories of our continuing adventures and those of other fearless travelers are here to inspire you.
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1 Response to Guest Blog | Laos Life in the Slow Lane

  1. jenna says:

    Your boat trip from the border sounds like it went according to plan. If they are trying to put more people on the boat than you are comfortable with, demand an extra boat and they will, after some persuasion, take passengers on two boats rather than just one on the second day

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