The route: Down the Nam Ou, very fast
Speed boat? In Laos? On a river? Surely not, we thought. Having been gazumped* at the last minute by the pilot of the first boat we’d chartered to take us down the Nam Ou from one hippy hang out to the next, we stuck to our guns, offloaded the tandem, and stood resolutely on the banks of the river waiting for divine intervention. It failed to arrive, but a shifty chap in army fatigues did, and offered us a ride in his ‘speed boat’ for a not unreasonable price, promising to get us to Nong Khiaw (110km away) in two hours. Yeah right.
We raised eyebrows at the earnestness with which he battened down the panniers and bike to the bows of his low-riding craft, and with Kindles and Ipods at the ready we sat back to enjoy what was by all accounts a beautiful journey.
As the reader may have guessed, all electronic devices remained switched off for the two hours the journey indeed took, as we clung on for dear life, leaving ten nail-shaped half-moons each in the sides of the boat as a warning to other would be voyagers. We skimmed over still water, slammed through rapids and sped past rocks with nary a drop in pace for the entire journey – an average speed of 55kmh on a river at the end of dry season says it all. It was truly terrifying, although our Spanish companion, Pablo, claimed to have enjoyed the ride. An anaesthetist by trade, he was probably dosed up on ketamine, lying through his teeth, or both.
Winding down over beers and beef laap that night, we plotted a day of gentle R&R the next day, and vowed never to take a speed boat in Laos on the Nam Ou in dry season in May ever ever again.
*Not the right word – but basically he upped the price after we’d shaken on it and loaded the boat up – not very cool, nor very Laos. A plague on both his houses.