There are three different ways to cross over-land into Thailand from Luang Prabang in Laos:
Option 1: The bus. Time=16 hours
Option 2: The slow boat. Time=2 days
Option 3: The fast boat. Time=7 hours
I opted for the fast boat, the exact opposite of what EVERY guide book tells you to do. Evidently it’s slightly dangerous and a few people have died. Psh! People die every day in every form of transportation. I did NOT want to spend 16 hours trapped on a bus or 2 days on a river. My new philosophy became, well if I die I died doing something cool in a foreign country. Possibly not the best philosophy but who cares.
I took a tuk-tuk out to the pier for the fast boat which consists of a shack on the hill over-looking the river. Not instilling very much confidence in my decision. It got every worse when they finally rounded all of us up and sent us down to the boats. And when I saw boat I mean canoe with a car engine strapped to the back. They separated us out into different boats, I ended up being the only foreigner on mine. It was a source of endless amusement to the locals on my boat.
They piled all of our luggage up in the front to balance out the huge weight of the engine in back. Then we all piled into the boat, into our little sections. Instead of seats you had a mat on the floor of the boat with little dividers. Each seat for two people was probably 3 feet by 1 foot. Seriously cramped! And then came the best part: we all received crash helmets and life jackets. This was the point I seriously reconsidered my decision but too late now. I’m not backing out. Soon everyone had their helmets and jackets on and we were off!
Those boats can move man! They had to be going at least 40 mph. In a tiny canoe sitting a mere inches off the water, it was one crazy crazy ride. After awhile you got used to the speed and the wind rushing past your ears and it turned into quite a nice trip. The speed allowed you to stay cool on a hot day, plus the scenery was gorgeous. Best part about the fast boat is the satisfaction you got everytime we raced past a slow boat. It always made me feel like saying neener-neener in a 5 year olds voice when the tourists on board looked over at us. Victory is mine!
After about 3 hours we stopped along the river to have lunch and change boats. Each captain runs a certain section of the river, changing out whenever they get too far from home. Ate some tasty tasty pad thai and then we were into our new boat. The problem with the new boat? This one didn’t come with helmets or life jackets. The local girl next to me was worried and turned to me to point out the lack of safety equipment. I just laughed, smiled and shrugged my shoulders. She laughed and grinned. No english needed to explain our situation.
We changed boats for the last time at a rest stop, and picked up a few new locals for the final leg into Thailand. Our last boat came with helmets but not jackets. Perhaps they thought that if you didn’t smash your head in, you could still manage to swim to the surface. Who knows. Now this whole time we’ve been crammed into our little dividers with two people. We stopped along a rock outcropping to pick up three new locals and everyone looked around the boat. We only had room for two people, where would the third lady go? Hell no, they squeezed three people into that little space. And to make matters better, the also brought along three chickens! That’s right they had three people and three chickens in that tiny little space. Made me feel silly for complaining earlier.
Soon we reached the border town in Laos and we all piled off our boat, thankfully alive! Taking a tuk-tuk into town, I realized when I got there that the border would be closing in 15 minutes. Me and a Japanese tourist raced down to the river banks to find the outgoing customs. It was appropriately labeled: Check Out. We both paid our $1 US to exit the country and then ran down to the boats, yelling all the way. We just managed to grab the last boat crossing over into Thailand for the night. Safe in Thailand at last!