Vinnie had escaped to Singapore. I was alone and needed to get out of Laos as fast as possible: everything I put in my mouth made me sick, the hotel was infested with little mice and the smell of goat had begun to permeate into the very fabric of my being.
There was only one choice: The Fast Boat.
The Fast Boat in Laos has something of a reputation: it’s incredibly unsafe, uncomfortable and unreliable. The word ‘deadly’ is thrown around a lot. At this point, I was willing to take the physical challenge. I would survive anything just to get out of Laos.
It turns out that this journey wasn’t about survival, it was about endurance. The fast boat isn’t even a proper boat, it’s a flimsy fiberglass canoe that’s outfit with a high speed industrial motor. I waited at the dock as an after-market special boat smoked into port. The men threw my bag into the shallow hull and pointed to an empty spot that measured exactly one foot wide by one foot tall.
I looked in at my fellow passengers: seven fully grown adults who had forced their aging bodies into unnatural, space-defying contortions. They sat in pairs with their backs against wooded planks, their feet awkwardly turned inwards and knees tucked under their chin. Half the people were given motocycle helmets and life jackets. The rest of us were left to deal with what comes.
It’s like a freaking dirty joke: A girl gets in a boat with a Chinese couple, two 50-year-old Korean men and a German backpacker. What can go wrong?
#1 The boat broke down
#2 The driver pulled over to the side of the river. He motioned for us to get off and began to take the engine apart. As our eclectic group of eight looked on, the boatman dismantled a wooden seat, and used it as a paddle to push the boat away from shore. Without a single word he had abandoned us on the side of the freaking Mekong river.
#3 Half the group decide to hike to safety. After several hours of waiting on rocks the Korean man began to get agitated. He stood on the rocks jumping, waving and calling to passing speedboats. The only thing that I – as a native English speaker – could recognize was “Hey-uh! Need Boat-uh! BOAT-UH!”
Now it was only me and the German. Several hours passed. The sun began to set. It became clear that we were NOT going to make it to the Thai border on time, and we were going to be abandoned on this freaking rock over night. And just as the German and I began to build our shelter for the night, we heard a familiar roar. Our boat was back. In it were the Korean men and the Chinese couple.
#4 Of course we didn’t make it to Thailand. We didn’t even make it to port. Our boat driver pulled over at a random location close to the lights of a small downtown. He roped the boat to a steep, muddy embankment and pointed for us to get off.
The hill was covered with mud, thorny plants and waste by-product run off. It was a real life Japanese game show: The Chinese girl slid down the hill and wiped me out, together we rolled into the German who fell backwards into the Korean. After 40 minutes of sliding down a 30 foot hill, we finally got to the top, covered in mud and nowhere near any semblance of a town. And for the first time in Asia, there were no Tuk-tuks.
The Korean man found a store, walked in, pointed to his Korean guide book and began saying “ho-tel-uh! ho-tel-uh!”
People in Laos don’t generally speak English and they certainly can’t read Korean. Instead of a hotel, someone led us to a local Karaoke bar.
I nearly cried. At this point I had been traveling for 11 hours.
Somehow we made it to town. A town without an ATM and we were a group without cash. The German and I, who had already been through so much, decided to share a room. A small, dirty twin bed room where the German proceeded to strip off all his clothes and sleep in a pair of bright pink briefs. After a miserable 12 hours of traveling and now having seen him nearly naked, I finally asked his name.