The following 4 part series of blogs are written by Felix from Germany, who joined me for the adventure down the Mekong River. I have not edited any of the grammar as it portrays his voice better in this form. Thanks Felix!
The Boat Project (or: the long way from idea to realization)
7 October 2017 - 16 October 2017
And there I was: On the boat with the Canadian dancing queen. When I came to Laos I was not planning to spend one month on the boat, but at the end it turned out to be one of the best things I did so far. So, lucky me I met Markus.
It was on my first day when I arrived in Laos from Vietnam in the small border town Muang Khua. I just wanted to go for a quick lunch and then head back to the guesthouse. However, as it happens quite often in Asia, I got invited by some friendly Laos people to join them at their table for some beers. While I was enjoying my first Beerlao I saw one guy kind of desperately wandering around and trying to get some information out of some kids. It became clear very fast that the kids had taken the tire levers of his bicycle. After he found one of them he came over to the restaurant, we had a beer together and the boat project was born.
Unfortunately, we didn't find a decent boat in Muang Khua. So Markus went on with the bicycle and I joined another group for a couple of days to Nong Khiaw and Luang Prabang. But the boat idea was still alive. In the meantime Markus made it to Pakbeng, which is north of Luang Prabang. One massage and a call later and I was on the way to Pakbeng on the slow boat the next day to catch up with Markus. The slow boat took about 8 hours.
However, the boats in Pakbeng didn't really convince us. Luckily, one guy told us that he had some other boats to sell. However, they were not here in Pakbeng. But he said that would be no problem he'll bring us there with his car. No problem? Yes, no problem at least for me. But a problem for Markus. So, also a problem for me, because this meant that we mainly had to rely on my judgement of the boats if we want to buy one of the boats he was about to show me. I, a guy who has no idea about boats.
Anyway, I went alone with the guy in his car for about 20 min. along the river to the place where the other boats were. He showed me four boats. Three of them didn't require a lot of knowledge about boats to see immediately that they were not proper for our Mekong project. Two of them were just rotten and the other one was more meant to be for 6 people and made of heavy steel. Only one of the boats made a decent impression. It seemed to be not too big and not too small, didn't seem to have any leaks and had a nice green color.
I took some pictures of the boat and made a video call with Markus to show it to him. Thereafter, we rode back to Pakbeng. Here, Markus and I discussed again if the boat would be the right one to bring us down the Mekong. But finally Markus put the decision into my hands as I had seen the boat in real live. And I, too tired to keep on searching for another boat, said: ‘#$%! it, let's just take it’. After some negotiation and the ‘walking away trick' we finally bought the boat for 2 million Lao Kip (about 240 $) knowing that we still pay way too much.
To get the boat to Pakbeng I went again with the guy who sold us the boat in his car to the place where it was in the river. Here he introduced me to his friend and a few minutes later his friend and me were driving down the Mekong towards Pakbeng. It was about a 15 min. drive with the help of the motor, which was still on the boat at that point of time. When we arrived they started immediately to remove the motor. This left the boat with a hole where the propeller shaft used to go. However, Laos people have a solution for every problem. They just stuck a towel into it. As Markus mentioned some concerns they additionally nailed a flip flop over the hole. I think even MacGyver would have been quite impressed by this solution.
Now that we had the boat we just needed to prepare everything for our trip. That means: Buy some food, look for an umbrella for sun protection, water proof our stuff, find a bamboo stick where we can tie the boat to whenever we go on land and the most important thing find a Laos flag and install on the boat. In the evening everything was prepared and we were ready to leave on the next day. However, it rained on the next day. So, we decided to wait one more day. The following day we finally left Pakbeng on our boat.