Thursday the 21st of November:
After a shower and packing up, I sat down outside to write a bit until Martina arrived with the breakfast (from that sandwich lady in my previous post) we had arranged at the bakery last night. I was sitting at the outside table alone when this ‘other guest’ (from yesterday’s post, when I came home late the owner showed me the guest list to tell me there was another guest.) came outside, who looked a bit like a Japanese person. He spoke to me in Japanese – he knew I was a Japanese because he saw my name on the guest log when he put his name down the day before. We sat down outside and talked for a while. He was originally from Takatsuki City in Osaka, not far from my hometown. Now retired, with his wife passed away, Mr. Shimizu was taking this trip on his own. He was dressed like someone who may be going to work, with a couple of small bags and nothing more to carry, dark clean trousers and collared shirt, leather walking shoes at his feet. He knew quite a bit about the train and bus conditions in China and Laos. He sounded like a seasoned traveler. According to him, I should always be prepared to allow an extra day in getting from a point A to a point B in those countries. It was not easy to hop on one bus to a city and expect another bus to go further with nice connection; it just did not happen.
After Martina arrived with the breakfast for me, she went ahead to the pier to see what’s going on. I walked back towards the town centre to find a bank to exchange some Thai Baht to Lao Kip. I caught sight of Ethan the Singaporean guy as soon as I started walking. He also could use some local cash, so I invited him to come along. At the very modern and large building of the Western Union branch, I swapped 900 baht into 220,000 kip. Hopefully that will keep me going for a while though I had little idea how much things were in Laos. I vaguely remembered it relatively cheap but that was years ago. Exchange agents near the border control seem to offer an exchange rate that is worse than the bank. I saved a bit thanks to Martina’s suggestion.
The boat did not take off at the scheduled 11am. The day before it left at 1pm so we were discussion how much longer it would wait till they’d filled up the boats. If some people were taking long time to clear the immigration to get visa-on-arrival, maybe we were waiting for those groups of people before taking off? The two Czech guys on the big camper built on military vehicle platform were back near where our boat was. I joined the two at the big vehicle to chat. Jan and his partner established an eCommerce service provider company in Czech Republic, and sold it. He’d decided to take some time off, for a few years. Jan and Lenka have been traveling for a year like this, two of them, and they expect a couple more years. You can track their journey on their website: www.cruisingnomads.cz It’s in Czech language, but maybe you can use online translator?
In absence of a bridge, the goods and petrols were brought in on large lollies crossing the river. A loader boat seems to run only one way – the one with Thai flag loaded trucks and odd motorbikes of travelers on the Thai side and dropped off in Lao shore, but went back empty. There were Lao ships nearby but they were not in action. We saw a couple of bridges being built nearby, so this border crossing by boat may be a history in the near future.
The boat finally departed close to 1pm when it was full. It made a couple of stops along the way, to drop a mail or pass on some message to another community. The sun was strong, and we had little leg room, but we managed to have a few naps, and watched the endless flow of the river, passing communities here and there.
In the end as the sun set, we finally got to the town with lots of guesthouses up the hill, where we were to find an accommodation and sleep. Our bags were at the bottom of the pile and the last to be retrieved, so when we finally got our bags and started our search for accommodation, everything was pretty much full. Martina and I shared a twin-bed room (200 baht each, or 50,000 kip each), while Ethan had already taken the bigger en-suite double-bed room for 500 baht. We could not negotiate much of a discount. The night before the town was full with all the Loy Krathong tourists arriving by boat at the same time. There were not enough beds so some slept on the floor of restaurant and stuff (and paid some money for it, too).
“My wife is the best cook in town” and we indeed enjoyed the meal of local cuisine here, with beer and smoke (well, the others enjoyed the fact that it was free to smoke everywhere – I don’t like the stuff). Little did we know at that time that other restaurant also had that copy ‘My wife is the best cook.’ Bloody travelers in the past must have taught them a thing or two about marketing around here… 35,000 kip each for the meal.
It is always difficult to sleep when you share a place with a lovely girl. I also had quite a bit of nap on a boat without moving around. I slept in bits, woke up in the middle of the night to do some stretch on the bed trying to free my muscle and joints.
In the morning, we checked out the small area nearby, and loaded with lunch sandwich, snacks and bottle of water. I bought a banana muffin and a few other things – muffin was really nice! Ethan opted for the huge apple pie. He could not finish it after chewing on so much dough and little apple.
There was a freight boat offloading bags of cement to the back of truck on the shore. It was all manual process.
The #003 boat we came on was no longer there. In fact, there were two boats both going to Luang Prabang and it did not matter which one you got on. The one the three of us chose departed first. Yes! We had a different mix of people on this boat. The group that kept going back and forth with beer cans was gone, replaced by a collection of individuals and couples who were backpacking travelers and happy to meet people. We sat down on the open floor in the front of the boat, played cars, talked about culture, politics, Lao and Thai, food, past travels, played games with 3 decks of cars. It was so much fun!
Leon and his lovely girlfriend are traveling together, and we bumped into each other again in Luang Prabang (he even stopped by my birthday drink to tell me they’d made other plans for the evening!) He is an inspiring individual, full of love of people.
Then we stepped on the shore again. Luang Prabang.