It was June 2nd when we all boarded the slow boat to begin our journey. We all settled in the long tail boat and the loud powerful engine started. As we began to make our way down the river, which was wide and brown in color, I noticed that it had spots of swirling trash here and there. On the shores of the river there were large hills covered in trees and small villages with children running around playing. Along the way every once in a while, we would stop at small wooden ports where some locals would get on and off and load and unload small cargo.
It took us about 6 hours to reach the small town of Pak Beng from the border town of Huay Xai. Once arriving, Marek and I decide to share a room together, since we didn’t have anything planned beforehand, like irresponsible backpackers. Most of the group settled in the same guesthouse as ours, which was also close to the port. Once there, after a quick truck ride, the kind ladies there took our breakfast orders for the morning and showed us our rooms. I then quickly settled into the room, showering first before meeting up with the entire group at a place up the road called Hive Bar.
As I made my way through the small shanty town, a young Laotian man approaches me smiling and follows me in the dark. Speaking broken English he asks where I was from and then tries to sell me drugs. First weed but then to my astonishment… Opium. I turn down the kind offer but he continues to trail behind me up to the bar. I then remembered that this area was the Golden Triangle, the area where Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet and where Opium had been produced on a large scale since the 1950’s. I leave the drug pusher behind and pass by an older man that was burning wood and plastic on the side of the road, I guess getting rid of his trash. I then join the others at a long table where we eat, drink, dance and play music off the bartenders laptop. The night was warm and in the corner there was a beat up pool table with drunken westerners playing. The place was dingy with faded red paint and full of moths flying around. There I had some Indian curry and some Gin and Tonics, and partied well into the night with the young wide eyed travelers.
The following morning was our 2nd Slow Boat day. This time to Luang Prabang. We all had breakfast and I then bought some more beer and ice, sharing the cooler with the others to store their drinks. It was the same kinda fun from the day before really: a lot of chatting, jokes, playing charades, enjoying the scenery, drinking and overall merriment. At times when the group would get sleepy, I would pop in my headphones and play my new collection of Thai music, enjoying the view as we lazily chugged down along the famous Mekong.
Floating down the Mekong river was quickly becoming a memorable part of my trip. Not only because of the relaxing slowness and romance of it all but also because of being in the company of quite honestly, the most positive and healthy group of young travelers I had ever met. Their energy was incredible; and to me I felt that every single last one of them was happy and genuine.
And I was glad to be sharing this journey with them.