My two roommates and I graduated college and then skipped across the world to Thailand. We commenced our journey with Bangkok and worked our way north into Laos before returning to the capital and then south to the islands. Our voyage from Thailand to Laos (the Mekong River separates the countries) produced unrivaled entertainment. We stayed in a hotel in Chiang Mai (in Northern Thailand), and drove in a van for seven hours to the city of Chiang Rai with nine strangers. From Chiang Rai seventy-some foreigners traveled in a slow boat for two days, eight hours each day. It wasn’t until I returned to the States that I learned the slow boat was, in fact, a good investment.
The fast boat only took a few hours total, but apparently resulted in wind-stung travelers sitting, freezing, sometimes wet, watching their luggage and belongings float down the river, oftentimes in “fast” boats that would break down on the river until another boat happened along.
The first day on the slow boat passed relatively uneventful. I.e. we got drunk off Thai whiskey with Aussies and Kiwis, smoked ganja in the back with Israelis, and mingled with English and French.
The second morning we boarded the slow boat. And waited. The Thais had downgraded us to a smaller boat then the one we had had the previous day. While everyone had before had their own seat, now there were almost thirty people standing crowded in the front. We were docked next to the boat from the day before. The windows even lined up. Unrest rippled through the crowd. We muttered. People gestured. By-now-familiar-faces contorted and bodies shrugged. Someone geniusly started a (always-effective) chant in English: “Big-ger-boat! Big-ger-boat!” The yell spread. “Big-ger-boat!” Clapping hands, stamping feet, and thumping fists beat in time with the mantra. A massive, formidable bright blue ball emerged from the crowd in front and took her stand on a step. She grandly raised her fleshy arm in the air and announced, “Quiet please!” The roar died. She declared all occupants of the boat were going to take a Democratic vote. The Thais stood aside, bemused. The three of us considered each other with raised eyebrows. Last we checked Thailand wasn’t a democratic country. And these particular workers didn’t speak English. Her dark hair pulled back, her bright blue shirt tight against her flabby stomach and colossal bosom, she towered over everyone standing in the immediate vicinity. She bellowed, her Canadian voice harsh.
“This is ridiculous. We are not going to have thirty people standing in the front of the boat for eight hours. We either need a bigger boat or a second boat,” (this amid subdued cheers) “Everyone who wants a bigger boat, raise your hand.” A flurry of hands shot in the air. “And raise your hand if you want a second boat.” This was to an outbreak of encouraging yells. “And raise your hand if you want to just suck it up and be crammed on here for eight hours with everyone.” No response. She then addressed the non-bilingual Thais. “We are either going to need a bigger or second boat.” Because we were stationary on the water, the heat settled around us like a blanket. The chanting began again. “One-more-boat! One-more-boat! One-more-boat!” reverberated in my ears. Crazy Canadian wildly gesticulated. The Thais’ faces spoke confusion. The foreigners standing in front marched to the back.
And then there was a mass exodus. People snatched their bags from the rear where the workers had heaped them in a pile. They lifted them in the sky and flung them from the small boat onto the substantially larger one we had occupied the day before. Luggage soared through the air. Bodies and flailing limbs clambered through the windows. My friends and I dashed to the bigger boat. I joined the assembly line. So efficient we were. Those from Europe, Australia , and the Middle East stood side by side with North and South Americans heaving bags, souvenirs, and even a guitar or two into the designated luggage space.
End result of the mutiny: both the larger and smaller boats traveled to the next destination with the travelers split between them. And the snack bar ran out of beer.