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