Early in the morning I headed to the jetty to catch the slow boat downstream. There were about 100 passengers, split over two boats. We stowed our luggage at the back, then took up position on the hard wooden benches. Shops in Huay Xai had spotted the commercial opportunity and so as they navigated the wobbly gangplank, nearly everyone was clutching a brightly coloured cushion. There wasn't a great deal of choice in design, most were emblazoned with big teddy bears and the words LOVELY BEAR! LOVELY BEAR!
The slow boat departed at 10am, and wasn't actually that slow; we chugged along at a fair pace. One French man had brought along a guitar and strummed away as we headed downriver. The scenery got more impressive as we progressed, with forested hills rising on either side and big layered rocks poking out of the water. The boat crisscrossed the river, looking for the fastest currents.
At 5pm, we docked at Pak Beng, where dozens of guesthouse owners were waiting for us, as well as shops which all sold exactly the same product, mainly Pringles.
On Day 2 we were all crammed in a single boat. The scenery was impressive and along the banks of the Mekong you could see villagers coming down to the waterside to bathe and fish. While the trip was pleasant enough, the wooden benches we'd been sitting in for two days were seemed to be becoming more uncomfortable by the hour, and the Lovely Bear cushions were not really helping. I discussed strategies with my neighbour Mark. There was the 'alternating' strategy: shifting your weight, first on to one buttock, then onto the other. "It probably looks like we're farting, though".
After seven hours, with a very sore rear and a sunburnt elbow, I was very glad to arrive in leafy Luang Prabang.
Read the next entry: Riding elephants in Luang Prabang