I woke up around six in the morning and was the first one awake from our group. I sat by the river reading until the others woke up. The river was gorgeous. It reminded me of waking up in Lake Tahoe on Fourth of July weekend as a kid. Shout out to George (if you know, you know). Avi said all he saw when he looked at the river was bladder cancer.
I should explain that Aaron, Avi’s brother, freaked him out by giving him a list of poisonous bodies of water in Southeast Asia. Apparently the Mekong River is on that list, thus disease.
The car came to pick us up around seven thirty in the morning and take us to get breakfast and exchange money. The system was very much confusing. We woke up, drove to another hotel to eat, then drove to the border to cross into Laos, then drove to immigration, got visas, drove to the river, got food, and then got onto the boat. It was a very slow and steady process. Most importantly, we made it to the boat. The boat travels for six hours down the Mekong and stops in Pak Beng for the night. By eleven we had pulled away from shore leaving Thailand behind us and Laos in our future.
To prepare for the ride, we bought three big sandwiches – costing us 45,000 kip, a grand total of $5. The exchange rate is 8,000 kip to the dollar so basically we feel like straight ballers.
On the boat we drank, played music, danced, talked and got to know the other nomads. There are three other Americans besides us and I think we are living up to our prideful and loud reputation. Don’t worry America, we are keeping the stereotype alive. English is plentiful on the boat as it sort of acts as a universal language. Our boat has representatives from Holland, Israel, Ireland, England, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Spain, and probably a few others.
As soon as we sat down on the boat, Taylor – a loud American from South Carolina, who is also competing in Thailand’s Got Talent – pulled out a bottle of whiskey (which, by the way, cost him 30,000 kip, or $3.75). Josh, the other loud American from Long Beach, Long Island, pulled out his speakers and we knew it was going to be a good day. The breeze from the boat was lovely and the six hour trip flew by. I was able to practice my Hebrew with our new Israeli friends Reut and Efron, discuss height averages with a friend from Holland, and swoon over an artist named Rhye with Johanna from Germany. As the sun set along the river, we sang Proud Mary and drank whiskey while Taylor strummed his guitar to the tune of the Mekong rolling by.
Once we hit land everyone split up and went to find a place to spend the night. It was hot and humid and I really wanted to shower. We found a room for $4/person per night at a guesthouse nearby. Avi and I both took cold showers, Noam ate, and the village had a power outage. With the power out, our room was like a furnace and I went to sit outside and blog a bit. We couldn’t do much until the power came back on but Avi did decide to take two more cold showers to cool off. When the power finally came back on, about thirty minutes later, Avi and I walked through Pak Beng to find a place to eat. Brace yourselves for the saga of absurdity that is about to ensue.
Noam had exchanged baht for kip and we all decided he would pay for our lodging and food in Pak Beng and we could just figure the difference out when we arrived in Luang Prabang. I asked Noam for some cash so Avi and I could grab dinner and he responded, “yeah I have 47,000 kip in my wallet – it should be enough for you guys to eat.” I interpreted this to be the sum of kip we had left for our time in Pak Beng, meaning dinner tonight for two, breakfast for three tomorrow, and lunch for three on the boat tomorrow. As Avi and I strolled we realized we had to budget. We started freaking out a bit and arguing over 5,000 kip (about 50 cents). As we did the math, it became clear we were running low. At one point, Avi said – “screw it, I’ll just go Yom Kippur style tomorrow and not eat.”
I had cash on me but because it was in dollars I didn’t think we could use it in Laos. I was wrong. After finding the cheapest place to eat and arguing over ordering a bottle of water for 7,000 kip, I asked if they would accept USD. They would. Avi and I were so thrilled that we not only ordered the bottle of water, but we also ordered two entrees and a third entree. I felt like a queen. We filled our cups with cold water and said cheers to our new found wealth. The entire meal cost us $8. We were on top of the world. We were so proud of ourselves and we felt a new level of accomplishment.
We rushed back to tell Noam because we knew how proud he would be of us, after all we did save the kip for tomorrow and now we could all eat both breakfast and lunch. After telling Noam the story, and watching him stare at us dumbfounded, he pulled out his money belt and with it 200,000 kip. He asked us if we we’re really dumb enough to think that’s all the money he had and I responded, no we thought you were dumb enough to give us all the money you had. We all had one of the best laughs we have had so far and then Noam goes, you realize we only went from having $5 to having $25, right? To which Avi insisted that he had enough dollars on him to buy Pak Beng, now that dollars are an accepted form of currency, to which I said he needed to check his privlego.
Tomorrow is day two on the slow boat and we plan to arrive in Luang Prabang around five. I am excited to explore another country during my last week here. Until then, more boats.