Fast boat in name only.

I look on as the sole Thai passenger, uses a cup to remove water from our stricken boat.

There are two ways to cross the Thai/ Laos border across the River Mekong from northern Thailand, you can get either the slow or the fast boat. The ‘slow’ option takes 26 hours but the fast option is only six.

To many this would immediately make you wonder why you would not consider taking the fast boat. Well, the lonely planet, the bible of all young travellers warned heavily against it and suggested that authorities were trying to get it banned due to the danger involved.

Dangerous in the sense that you’re in the hands of a local who crams you into the boat in the picture, where you have to sit in conditions that make Ryanair feel like you’re in first class in British airways.

We however were tied down for time and didn’t want to lose the extra day of travelling and despite being warned off by fellow travellers, the three of us along with two russians and a Thai gentleman bundled and squashed ourselves into the boat having handed over £20 for the 6 hour ride.

We were feeling extremely pleased with ourselves five hours into the journey having rushed down the Mekong. Then the engine spluttered, we all laughed and joked and then it cut out. We stopped laughing fairly abruptly as water started coming in.

Not being the greatest swimmer in the world I was quickly concerned as our boat started spinning around and we remained 50 metres from the shore. Thankfully, a few minutes later, another small boat came passed and dragged us to shore. No sooner had we reached the shore then small children starting running out of the woods in what my friends remarked looked like something out of the tv series Lost. They looked utterly bemused at the sight of Westerners turning up on their shore.

We were still however an hour on the boat away from Luang Prabang, the Laos capital and our destination. Our driver had hailed a passing boatsmen for help and they set to work on trying to fix the engine for at least an hour. Having given up, our driver, unable to speak a single word of English indicated with hand gestures he was going to go with his fellow boatsmen to try and find a new engine. We remained alone at the side of the river mekong with our broken boat when I noticed that the Thai traveller had gone and sourced an empty cup to start removing the water that had entered our boat. You can see the cup in his left hand and I think the picture sums up the mood I was in at the time.

We had no option but to seek refuge on a marble floor for a nights sleep before being woken by our driver who had fixed our boat and slowly took us the final stretch to Luang Probang.

As we arrived we couldn’t help but work out that it had taken more or less the 26 hours the rejected slow boat had promised.


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