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Riding a Lao Mekong river boat in the crew compartment to Luang Prabang & hillteibe village hike and homestay (09 to 15 Jan 2011)

Cruising down the Mekong river in a Lao slow boat together with the boat crew in their family compartment to Luang Prabang was like being a local Lao river man for a couple of days. Sleeping on the boat, eating the Lao boat peoples' food, helping them with a few rope works and cleaning jobs, sharing the life experiences, and listening to their stories are the highlights of such a trip. At the end of the second day we arrived at Luang Prabang: the former capital of Laos housing Buddhist temples & monasteries built in their unique architecture on the peninsula between Mekong and Khan rivers. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Since I have been to Luang Prabang quite a few times, after two nights in town, I decided to go for a hike to Khmu and Hmong tribal villages and home stay in the hills. I went for the trek together with two other tourists.

Many of the Lao boat peoples are boat builders, carpenters, owners themselves. They come from the towns: Houixai, Pakbeng, Luang Prabang; or villages along the river. They borrowed money from their relatives or friends to buy necessary materials such as engine and propeller, metal, wood, chain and tools to build the boat. Boat construction is done in a relatively flat place either under their own management or co-organized with an experienced boat builder. Engine and related parts are imported from Thailand or China. Wood is from Laos. The alignment and machine setup are done by mechanics from a workshop. After the local boat experts' examination of the finshed boat they need to get the license number from the Mekong river transport commmittee.

Nowadays there are hundreds of passenger boats ploying the Mekong river between Houixai and Luang Prabang. They take both passsengers and cargo. The number of regular pasenger boats service between Houixai and Pakbeng, and between Pakbeng and Luang Prabang are regulated. So the boatmen have to queue and wait for their turn. During the waiting period they find other works such as charter booking for tour groups either local or foreign, or transport of cargo for merchants.

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