Back on to the slowboat before 6am to celebrate the last birthday of this G Adventures trip. No word of a lie, we lit the candles and ate cake first thing in the morning, and true to form, Asian cake is really very good. We’d also organised a birthday present, which was one of those awful traveller’s tank tops with the Beer Lao logo emblazoned on the front, except we’d all signed the shirt with a trusty Sharpie. It worked out really well, because the birthday boy got an extra layer to wear for the day! After cake, we were told that breakfast would be at 8am and I think everyone managed to get some more sleep. Personally, I slept through breakfast, but I did get myself one of those 3-in-1 instant coffees, despite the fact I stopped taking sugar in my coffee a couple years back. To be honest, in this environment, the extra sweetness gave me a welcome little energy boost.
Food was served at the back of the boat, well it was probably closer to the middle where the engine was humming loudly, because through another set of doors we were told the family’s living quarters were. Presumably there was a kitchen, bathroom and some kind of bedroom for the young couple and their son, who must have been about three years old. A group of us congregated around this area, huddling in the warmth, drinking beer and dancing to music played through The New Guy’s speakers, amplified via a little plastic pot that once held napkins. There was an awful lot of UK Top 40 coming out of The New Guy’s phone, and there was a lot of teasing when One Direction and Bieber started blaring, but it was going down really well! We had an awesome singalong, and to be fair, Bieber’s “Sorry” was quite possibly the song of the trip and we were all just trying to make the best of a bad situation, even more so for the birthday boy.
I took a break from the party end of the boat to observe a card game of Canasta, which was fascinating. Having sat quietly and the rules explained to me, I was the fourth person to join in, so we started playing in pairs. I’m not going to profess that I’m a ninja when it comes to card games, but I do know my way around a deck, and I picked up the game quite quickly. A lot of Canasta is luck based, relying on drawing a card that you really want, in this way it is fairly similar to gin rummy, but you play with two decks. The time passed seriously quickly as my team obliterated the other, and as we were approaching the end of the trip, we all started swapping journals to write messages to each other. My Canasta Team-mate wrote that even by his experienced standards, that particular game was epic. It is going to be a while before I’m able to teach anyone the rules myself, but I look forward to the opportunity to play again.
The boat stopped early afternoon, and everyone started looking confusedly at their watches because we had at least another three or four hours to go. And we did, but since we’d managed to drink the boat dry, our guide had hopped off the boat to replenish our supplies. The middle of the Mekong Delta, we had a booze run, it was pretty unbelievable that I’m still having a hard time getting over it! Having spent more time in Asia since then, I guess the mentality of the people was “We have paying customers. We have run out of stock. We must procure more. We will make customers happy and make more profit.” Simple as. In hindsight, we probably should have warned our hosts that we had a birthday on board, but then again, we had to hide the cake somewhere…
When we finally arrived at the Thai border, we lugged our suitcases off the boat and through immigration, paying an over-time fee since it was past 4pm or something, hopped on a bus and headed to our hotel. In the rain. We were all looking forward to the prospect of a good shower, a chance to wash our hair and a nice warm room. No such luck. The hotel was probably beautiful, but in my bad mood, I didn’t appreciate it. The rooms were up some quaint little wooden stairs, slippery with the rain, the doors had padlocks on them and a weird wooden mechanism to lock the door from the inside. The room itself was concrete block, floor to ceiling, and the outside wall to the bathroom was wire mesh. For the third day, I was not going to be showering. The thought of washing in cold water, only to put on the same winter-worthy pair of jeans was not a welcome one, so I decided against it. I figured we’d all be in a similar boat, so it didn’t bother me too much.
We met for dinner and votes were taken, but it was unanimous that we stay at the hotel for food. A buffet was ordered, some went over the road to the 7Eleven to pick up some bits ,and the legit-looking ATM to get some Thai Bhat and after we finished eating, no one was up for socialising, so we returned to our cold rooms to retire for the night. I had also started sneezing a lot, and I knew that a full blown cold was just around the corner for me. With only three days left on the trip, I was willing myself to keep it together before letting myself be ill, but my immune system wasn’t having any of it… Just as I was contemplating whether to sleep in my jeans or not (I decided not, in the end FYI) I heard a yell of my name through the cinder blocks from next door. The next words I heard were “DO YOU WANT SOME RUM?”. Well, for those of you who know me, you know I would never ever, ever say no to rum. The next request was “BRING YOUR TEACUPS AND A SPOON, IF YOU HAVE ONE”. My roommate and I traipsed through to next door where there was already a small birthday celebration forming, with one efficient German lass adding honey to teacups with rum and hot water, mixing with a pen knife. Genius. With maybe six or seven of us in the twin beds, soon we were feeling a little bit warmer and really quite sophisticated, sharing stories from the trip, from our lives and just generally reminiscing.
We all left for our own cold beds, and I remember waking up in the middle of the night with my teeth chattering. My roommate was also up and offered for me to jump in with her, but the thought of leaving the tiny bit of warmth in my own bed was not a happy one, so I curled up a little tighter and tried to nod off before the next early start. Reading this post, it may seem like it was a terrible time but to be honest, the entire trip was a fabulous experience beginning to end and personally, I made friends for life and I wouldn’t want to change that for the world.