The second day of my Mekong voyage began at dawn, a thick fog blanketing Pakbeng.
After eating a baguette for breakfast (surprisingly, a local food), I watched the men preparing the slow boat to Luang Prabang. Life-jackets were being thrown overboard to add more room. I tried to ignore this and focused on the elephant that was crashing through the jungle on the opposite riverbank.
We departed earlier than the previous day, settling into another cruise down the Mekong. The bad weather pervaded, but there was a hint of blue sky behind the clouds. Soon, the sun revealed itself, transforming the surrounding landscape.
The water stayed an ugly brown, but the sun reinvigorated the jungle. You could feel it all along the river, as locals set off on their boats for a day of work. It was thrilling to see the Mekong come alive, a way of life unchanged for a thousand years.
Soon the adrenaline started pumping as the river became faster and shallower. Bizarre rock formations jutted from the water, appearing to be from another planet. Some were sleek and metallic, like melted slabs, while others were rows of jagged knives.
The eddies by the rocks made the boat accelerate, the river surging and spraying water aboard. You could feel the Mekong’s power as the captain rode the current, keeping the boat from smashing on the rocks.
Unfazed by this drama, the mountains watched us, squiggling up and down in distinctive “S” shapes. But the most memorable moment came when we passed the famous Pak Ou caves. This natural monument looked imposing from the boat, a sheer limestone karst that towered over the river.
Within minutes of landfall we were ripped-off by the tuk-tuk mafia who charged extortionate prices into town. This was the first of many disappointments in Luang Prabang, which would become one of my least favourite places in all of Asia.
Have you taken the slow boat to Luang Prabang? Leave your thoughts in the comments below