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Speed-boating the Mekong River in Laos   by Liz Saarelainen

Ventiane Hotels

It was early morning when we left the village of Huay Xai in Northern Laos for the Mekong River, planning to get to Luang Prabang the same day. The 150 km journey along the river by speedboat would take half a day, breaks included.
Contrary to the advice given by our Lonely Planet guidebook we had decided to take a speedboat, because our hostess at Chiang Mai had recommended this alternative. Traveling on a big, slow river boat would have taken two days and required an overnight stay at the village of Pak Peng.

There were a lot of people at the pier when we arrived and the small speedboats set out one by one as soon as they were full. We were among the last to board and when stepping on the boat we saw right away that we had made the wrong choice. There was no turning back however; the low, narrow boat was packed full of people and off we went.

Sunset Over Huge Limestone Rock Formations, Vang Vieng, Vientiane, Laos
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The boat flew on the surface of the water at high speed, at times reaching 80 km/h, and we sat on the hard benches with our chins on our knees, space for each passenger being about 40 x 50 cm. After only half an hour's travel our muscles were cramped and we felt miserable. We watched the passing scenery with our earplugs on, because the noise from the motor was deafening. The Lao passengers also wore helmets and lifejackets provided by the boat driver.
Footbridge Over Nam Sot River, Vang Vieng, Laos
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When the river is low, as it was then, accidents happen when speedboats bump into sandbars or sunken logs. Those who have not survived have been mostly local people who cannot swim.

Water splashed on our clothes and soon we were soaked to the skin. The sun was shining and the air was warm but I felt cold. Andy had a pained expression on his face; there was definitely too little room for a big man, particularly for one with occasional but severe lover back problems. I got a cramp on my left leg, but there was nothing I could do about it.

We had been promised that there would be a break every sixty minutes or so and after what felt like an eternity, the boat stopped. We discovered that our feet had gone to sleep and Andy's right foot was totally numb for at least ten minutes.

Luckily there was an additional stop when the boat motor suddenly started to act up. After landing on a sandbank our driver began to repair it and we hoped that he would not get it fixed too soon.

Stepping onto the golden sand dune and warming our sore muscles, we enjoyed our freedom. But then we came to think that we were in the middle of nowhere, only forest on both sides of the river. If the driver were not able to repair the motor, when would there be other boats coming to our rescue? We had not brought any food with us. And how long would our drinking water last?
We then saw two hunters walking on a ridge with guns on their shoulders. One was also carrying what to us looked like a wild boar. He came to the shore with his dog, threw down the boar and, unconcerned about our presence took off his clothes and plunged into the water. The dog remained watching over the boar but could not resist the temptation, started to bite into it greedily. When the man got out of the water, he raised hell, and the dog moved aside with his tail between his legs, waiting for his master to calm down. Finally the hunter left with the boar, the dog walking close behind him.

Our trip continued. One more hour of speeding down the Mekong and we would reach the next stop, the village of Pak Peng. Our minds were made up; we would get off there and rest our limbs.

Wat Phu Chapasak Ruins, Champasak, Laos
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When and how we would continue our journey would remain to be seen. A traveler's tomorrow is always a new adventure!

This story with pictures on our site:


About the Author: We, Liz and Andy are two independent and adventurous travelers from Finland. We spend all available time travelling to exotic places, often with a very limited budget. Please visit our website for more true travel stories and quite a few nice pictures as well ;) 


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Inter City Boutique Hotel, Ventiane, Laos 
Located in central Vientiane, Inter City Boutique Hotel is near the airport and close to Lao National Museum, Patuxay, and Laos National Stadium. Nearby points of interest also include That Dam and Wat Si Saket. Recreational amenities include a lazy river. Complimentary wireless and wired high-speed Internet access is available in public areas. Room service is available during limited hours. A complimentary hot and cold buffet breakfast is served daily. For a surcharge, shuttle services include an area shuttle which runs to destinations within 50 metres and an airport shuttle (available 24 hours). Other property amenities at this Art Deco property include a bar/lounge, a concierge desk, and multilingual staff. This is a smoke-free property.
Novotel, Ventiane, Laos 
The hotel offers a wide range of excellent leisure facilities; take a dip in the pool, enjoy a game of tennis, work out in the gym, sweat it out in the sauna or simply unwind with a traditional Lao massage. There is also a modern business centre with full secretarial, internet and e-mail services. Standard rooms have all the facilities you would expect to find in a hotel of this standard. The superior rooms are the same size as standard but these rooms are furnished to a higher quality.  There is only one restaurant in the hotel which caters for daily hot buffet breakfast and lunch buffet. The restaurant offers a la carte menus in the evenings. The restaurant is semi-enclosed as it opens up on all sides for a full view of the swimming pool and surounding potted trees and plants.
Salana Boutique Hotel, Ventiane, Laos
Salana Boutique Hotel is located in central Vientiane, close to Lao National Museum, Patuxay, and Laos National Stadium. Nearby points of interest also include That Dam and Wat Si Saket. Dining options at Salana Boutique Hotel include a restaurant. This 3.5-star property offers a meeting/conference room, limo/town car service, and audio-visual equipment. Complimentary wireless Internet access is available in public areas. For a surcharge, shuttle services include an airport shuttle (available on request) and an area shuttle. Complimentary guest parking is limited, and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Nearby parking is also available. Additional property amenities include laundry facilities
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