Down the Mekong in a sardine tin.

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I had to stay in Chiang Khong an extra night due to an upset stomach (to put it very mildly). To allow myself to recover somewhat I took the ferry down to Luang Probang. I had read that this 2 day ferry from Huay Xai (with a night in Pak Beng) had a habit of getting pretty overcrowded, so I was expecting a pretty hectic day. The chatter on the internet was that if they try and load more than 70 people on one of the long boats, then you should kick off insisting on a second boat service be put on. Well, the operators of the ferry are experts at ensuring they don’t do that (after all, they do it every day, the westerners only once). As a result, they managed to squash about 140 people on board! Lets just say it was a tight fit. If anyone wants to take this ferry, I would strongly advise against it unless you can somehow ensure you are not on an overcrowded boat. In the other direction however (Luang Probang to Huay Xai) the boats were empty – with the exception of one or two smug looking tourists pleased they had chosen the westerly direction!

They even put some plastic chairs in the center aisle for some of those who didn’t have seats! Still, at least the sides were open in the event it capsized. That was until it started tipping it down and tarpaulins were released from the roof to box us in!! I have worked on ships for about 14 years and though no expert, I know a little about boat/ship stability – I was more concerned than I have been previously, in force 11 winds in the South Atlantic with a big ship violently rolling enough to throw you out of bed. Lets just say I had a keen eye on my exit route!!

It wasn’t all doom and gloom however. When it was calm enough that the boat wasn’t rocking, I truly appreciated the magic of this area and why travelers have come here for decades. Sitting watching farmers tend their crops on the sand banks of the Mekong with the jungle as a backdrop while listening to the water flow past the hull really was mesmerising.

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