Somebody Died on My Slow Boat Trip in Laos

Slow boat to Luang Prabang

“You can’t go to Laos and not take the slow boat to Luang Prabang! I promise it will be one of the most peaceful experiences of your life.”

I stared at my feet, deep in thought, unwilling to commit. I had just 14 days to explore both Laos and Cambodia and I was apprehensive about spending two of those precious days sitting on a boat.

The slow boat is one of the many ways to get from Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand to Luang Prabang, in Laos. While you could fly from city to city, or even take a bus over the course of a day, many travellers in this region opt to instead slow down and travel by slow boat. If I decided to also hit the water, I’d spend a day in a minivan driving to the Thai border, a day on the slow boat to the tiny village of Pakbeng, and then another day of cruising to reach Luang Prabang by sunset.

I’m usually all about slow travel on the road, but having such a limited amount of time to see this part of Southeast Asia had me concerned about screwing up my itinerary. And I’ll be honest with you guys: spending ten hours a day on a boat sounded like it had the potential to be a teeny-tiny bit boring. I’m a traveller that wholeheartedly believes it’s all about the destination rather than the journey, although that probably has something to do with my propensity for motion sickness.

The last thing I wanted was to spend my first couple of days in Laos feeling nauseated.

While I pondered whether to buy a slow boat ticket, I spoke to friends who had been to Laos in order to get the full run-down. When every person gushed over the experience and ordered me to take the journey, I finally knew it was going to be worth it. I stuffed my backpack full of motion sickness pills (seriously, guys, I get sick in swimming pools), filled my Kindle with books, and prepared for what I was now convinced would be an incredible ride.

boat to the laos border
Heading over the water from Thailand into Laos. No signs of motion sickness yet.

My first day on the water was one of the best travel moments of my trip to date.

I’d made friends with a group of lovely people on the minivan to the Thai-Laos border, and was thrilled to see they were just as overjoyed as me to spending several days on the water. Our slow boat was filled with comfortable padded seats, and there was a bar to quench thirsty travellers’ livers. I’d researched extensively for this trip, and had therefore prepared myself for hard wooden benches and few opportunities for comfort — this was practically luxurious in comparison to the more basic boats on the water.

It turned out my friends in Thailand had been right: this was one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve lived through.

With eight hours on the water scheduled for that day and no internet to distract us, we passed time chatting about previous trips we’d undertaken, playing card games, sipping on Beer Lao, listening to music, writing in our diaries, and — my favourite — watching the beautiful scenery float past our open-air window.

Laos is a gorgeous place, and it’s one I’d been dreaming of visiting for years. To be on this slow boat, gazing out at remote parts of the country, felt like a privilege and I took more photos of the rolling hills than I could count.

Slow boat to Luang Prabang
How beautiful is Laos? So much of the scenery looked like this and I was in awe

The entire boatload of travellers were firm friends by the time we arrived in Pakbeng — eight hours later — so we decided to stay in the same hostel that night.

If you’re a backpacker on a tight budget, this is when you’ll start to fall in love with Laos, as this small village had some of the most inexpensive accommodation I’ve ever stumbled across. My humble two-bed room cost me and my friend just $1 in total.

Of course, I’m sure you can imagine the quality of the room at a price like this. Cleanliness didn’t appear to be a feature of the dingy space, and there were several bugs to contend with in the bathroom. The shower was a knee-high tap dribbling brown water from the pipe, and the promised free internet the owner had used to get us inside was non-existent.

Needless to say, from the moment we arrived, we were counting down the hours until we could leave again.

And just to make the entire experience slightly more exciting, my friend had neglected to tell me that she sleep-screams from the moment she falls asleep.

There’s nothing quite as concerning as waking to the sound of your roommate screaming, wailing, and sobbing in Dutch, then refusing to tell me what was wrong. I’d comfort her, she’d fall back asleep, and then start hyperventilating and moaning ten minutes later. I was convinced she was screaming at somebody else who had broken into our room and struggled to get much sleep afterwards.

scenery on the slow boat to luang prabang

Understandably, when it was finally time to leave on the slow boat the following morning, I was looking forward to a relaxing day full of napping.

Thanks to our sleep deprivation, however, we were late on to the boat, and the only seats available were at the very back. At the time, I was thrilled to have scored a little extra legroom and didn’t possibly consider that this could be the worst place to be located.

My friends and I settled into our seats, rested our heads back against some cushions, and quickly fell asleep.

scenery on the slow boat to luang prabang

An hour into the journey, I was woken by an urgent and persistent prodding in my side from my friend. Blearily opening my eyes, I glared at her in sleep-deprived fury as she frantically hissed,

“Ohmygod, a woman just died on our boat!”

I frowned.

Suddenly tuning into the commotion that was going on around us, I looked up and saw dozens of horrified faces, all staring at a large object that was wrapped in blankets in the middle of the aisle. I watched as two guys gingerly lifted it up and started to carry it directly towards us.

Exchanging nervous glances with my friends, we watched as the two men walked past us in silence and carefully laid down this object behind our seats.

When they were finished, they slowly peeled back the blankets revealing a very frail, and very dead, old woman.

Oh my god. 

As the boat erupted in chaos, with travellers whispering, gossiping, and a few people crying, I could think of only one thing:

I am sat next to a corpse. 

Slow boat to Luang Prabang

Now, this sounds like a pretty self-centered though to focus on, but I’ll take a step back here to mention that I suffer from an acute anxiety disorder that focuses primarily around health and death. There was a time in my life when I suffered daily panic attacks from the mere thought of one day dying, so in order to remain functional in life, I spend much of life avoiding death and distracting myself from health issues.

Suddenly, I was experiencing a huge dose of exposure therapy as I came face to face with my greatest fear. I felt as though I was going to pass out and had to quickly drop my head between my knees in order to remain conscious.

A friend elbowed me once more and I looked up to see an elderly man stumbling down the aisle. He was holding a stained dishrag in his hand and whimpering quietly to himself. The entire boat full of backpackers watched in silence as he laid down on the boat’s wooden floor, a hand clutching at the woman’s.

This must be her husband. I felt as though I might throw up when I saw the anguish spreading across his face.

I couldn’t take my eyes off his wife. The skin on her face looked like leather, wrinkled and yellowy-grey, and her eyes were peacefully closed.

I desperately wanted to get away, to crawl out of my skin, to get off this boat. There were six hours until we were due to arrive in Luang Prabang and all I wanted to do was leave this man to grieve in privacy.

Listening to whispers around us we managed to deduce that she had died from malaria and this instantly sent my hypochondria into overdrive.

I immediately felt my chest tighten and my heart began to race as my mind replayed the events of the past few days – had I been using insect repellent? Had I been covered up? Had I been bitten?

I was suddenly convinced that I was about to die too.

I broke out in a cold sweat and felt pins and needles start spread over my entire body. I tried desperately to calm myself down by staring at my feet. My vision started to darken and I saw the floor rush towards my face as I frantically fought to remain conscious.

Luang Prabang slow boat

Somehow I managed to keep myself from fainting, but I didn’t feel any better. I spent the rest of the journey trying to calm myself down and tried desperately to take my mind off the situation.

It was a nightmare and I can only imagine what the husband was going through.

After what felt like a lifetime, we finally reached Luang Prabang.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I stood up to get my bag but as I started to move I realised that the woman was blocking the entrance to the luggage room and that every single person in the boat would have to awkwardly climb over her to get to their bags. Which they then proceeded to do.

Shuddering and trying not to think about what was happening, I grabbed my bags as quickly as I could, feeling some sense of relief sweep over me when I finally got onto dry land.

Although my terrible experience was now over, I spent much of the next 24 hours trying to deal with what had just happened. It took a very long time before the image of her lifeless face began to fade from my memory and even longer for me to stop checking my body every five seconds for symptoms of malaria…

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  1. Amanda
    July 4, 2012

    What a horrible experience (for all involved)!

    My question is – why wouldn’t they at least cover her face up??

    • July 4, 2012

      I don’t know, I was really confused by that too. They placed a blanket on her but only up to her neck, leaving her face uncovered.

  2. Jeremy Branham
    July 4, 2012

    Wow, that’s awful! I know you were freaked out by the dead woman but I feel horrible for the husband. What an awful experience for him! I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for him on those 6 hours (and the days and weeks that followed).

    • July 5, 2012

      I know, it was horrible…

  3. Anthony
    July 4, 2012

    Uggggh, the poor bloke :/

    • July 4, 2012

      I know, it was heartbreaking having to listen to him crying for hours…

  4. Waegook Tom
    July 4, 2012

    Ohmygod Lauren what an AWFUL experience…but you tell it so well! I’ve been waiting for this post to come out ever since you mentioned this experience….I mean….wow. 6 hours next to a dead woman? I think I’d vomit for sure.

    • July 4, 2012

      Yeah, it was definitely up there as one of the worst experiences I’ve had. But hey, it was a million times worse for the husband :(

      I’d never seen a dead body before and it was really, really scary.

  5. Theodora
    July 4, 2012

    God, the poor guy! And, with the Lao beliefs about evil spirits, the poor boat crew, too…

    • July 4, 2012

      I know, it was horrible. I don’t know too much about the Lao beliefs but everybody was really shaken up.

  6. Someday I'll Be There - Mina
    July 4, 2012

    That is a really sad story Lauren…poor guy!It makes it so much worse that this had to happen on a boat!

    • July 5, 2012

      I know, there was just no escape, for him or for the passengers!

  7. Ali
    July 4, 2012

    Wow. Absolutely crazy. I just can’t even begin to imagine what this must’ve been like. I feel awful for the husband to have his wife die in public on a boat and not have any privacy. And it sounds like the whole situation was extremely awkward for you and everyone else around. Had to climb over her to get to your luggage??? OMG!!

    • July 5, 2012

      I know! But the man didn’t move his wife and none of us were going to touch her and drag her out of the way… So there was just a line of about 50 backpackers all stumbling over her…

  8. Alex
    July 4, 2012

    In Buddhist/Hindu/Asian culture, a corpse isn’t considered morbid like in the west. It’s just a vessel for the body. It’s normal for family members and friends to handle the body of the deceased. Bodies are usually on display and it doesn’t seem to make people uncomfortable… if you do get uncomfortable, people believe you are saddening the spirit of the person who died.

    Every culture has a unique way of coping with death.

    • July 5, 2012

      Ahhh ok, that makes sense then. I did wonder why she was so exposed.

    • E.
      July 24, 2012

      please do not generalise, not all asians believe in that.

  9. July 4, 2012

    I feel so sad for the man and his wife, and all the others on board. what a terrible way to spend a cramped boat ride. at least nothing bad happened to your or your travel mate.

    I absolutely loved Luang Prabang, and I can’t think of a calmer, more relaxed city in which to come down off such an emotional boat ride.

    thanks for sharing your story.

    • July 7, 2012

      I loved Luang Prabang too! It was so peaceful and definitely helped to relax me afterwards!

  10. July 5, 2012

    That is not something I wish to experience. A sad story of life. Glad you could manage through this adventure. Have a safe trip, Lauren.

    • July 5, 2012

      Thanks so much :) It was very sad.

  11. Sabina
    July 4, 2012

    Well, this is one travel experience I don’t want to imitate. Incredibly unsanitary that the ferry personnel let her lie next to so many people for so many hours. But of course they probably weren’t at all prepared for such a disaster. I would have been traumatized just like you.

    And by the way, what is this intriguing “happy food”?

    • Kevin - The Mad Traveler
      July 4, 2012

      Holy crap! What a story! I suppose, what else was there to do? I once heard a story of a man in Africa on a bus whose arm had been bloodily crushed by a bus going the other way (yes, I know that sounds suspiciously like a story my mother might have told the 5-year-old me, but then I’ve seen these buses and how they are driven – yikes) and the man bled out on the bus as they all continued on. True or not, what really can be done in the middle of nowhere when there are no ambulances, 911, medvacs, and all the other emergency plans we find in more developed regions? Life is brutal. Malaria kills 1.2 million each year. But those of us reading this would likely have no problem getting the prevention or treatment to survive it. Be safe!

      And yes, what is “happy” food. Laced with something? And why would that be preferable to serve? You’re having quite the adventure there!

      • July 5, 2012

        Yeah, exactly. When there’s nothing around the only option is to do nothing, really…

        Yeah, happy food contains drugs.

    • July 5, 2012

      Well, I’m not quite sure what else they could do in that situation. We were on a boat in the middle of nowhere and there was no other option.

      “Happy” versions of food contain cannabis or magic mushrooms or some drug concoction.

      I don’t take drugs so I wasn’t very happy that I couldn’t eat for 12 hours.

  12. July 5, 2012

    No way, that’s awful! I found the slow boat to Luang Phabang desperately uncomfortable (hard seats) and Pakbeng horrible but not like this! Hope you enjoy the rest of your time in Laos – get the slow boat in the south to Champasek and the 4000 islands – much more relaxed, less touristy and hopefully no death.

    • July 5, 2012

      The seats were comfortable at first but after a few hours it was unbearable! I didn’t find it as relaxing as everybody promised it would be….. :)

  13. Bret @ Green Global Travel
    July 5, 2012

    Wow, I cannot even imagine the thoughts that must have been racing through your head! I’ve never experienced anything close to this, and must admit that I’m glad I haven’t. Makes me glad we don’t do budget travel…

    • July 7, 2012

      Is budget travel relevant? I’m sure people die during luxury travel trips :)

  14. What a horrendous journey.

    Why, oh why, did the boat continue on?

    • July 7, 2012

      Well, we were in the middle of Laos – there is literally nothing around. You can’t just stop off and find a hospital in the middle of nowhere, so we had to continue to Luang Prabang as there was no other option!

  15. July 5, 2012

    That sound so horrible–what I don’t understand is why no one moved her once it was time to get the luggage??

    • July 7, 2012

      Yes. I know! We half waited for her husband to move her but he did nothing… And we weren’t going to pick up a dead woman and move her out the way! …So we just awkwardly stumbled over her….

  16. Juliann
    July 5, 2012

    Holy crap! This illustrates the point that truth is stranger than fiction. Wow. What an experience.

    • July 5, 2012

      Yeah, i couldn’t believe it was actually happening.

  17. July 5, 2012

    I guess when they say “slow” boat they really mean it–I mean if someone dies of old age on your boat, then yes, it is slow. As the only person ever to spend two months in Laos and not ever ride the boat to or from Thailand, I thank you for reconfirming that I made the right decision.

    • July 5, 2012

      Well, I’ve never heard of anybody dying on a boat before – mine was a bit of a freak occurrence! Up until that point the slow boat had been pretty amazing – and everyone else that has done that journey seems to say the same thing! :)

  18. July 5, 2012

    Oh my gawd, you poor thing! What a horrible experience! I probably would have gotten hysterical between the dead body behind me and listening to the old woman’s husband. Wow…

    • July 5, 2012

      It was pretty hard trying to keep it all together for hours and hours… I was drained by the end of it!

  19. Will - My Spanish Adventure
    July 5, 2012

    That’s insane. Can’t believe you lived through that. Life is fragile eh?

    • July 6, 2012

      Yep. Shudder.

  20. July 5, 2012

    Holy shit… I got married in May and though I know one day one of us will have to face what that poor, poor guy went through, I just … no. No words really.

    • July 7, 2012

      I know, it makes me shudder!

  21. Arianwen
    July 5, 2012

    Under the circumstances, perhaps it wouldn’t have been a bad time to try a ‘happy’ sausage. I feel bad that you had to experience this, but I guess these reminders of the fragility of life have their positive effects: like encouraging us to live it to the full, and reminding us to take our anti-malarials.

    • July 7, 2012

      Definitely agree with you!

  22. July 5, 2012

    What a crazy story! It’s the kind of thing you assume never would happen and then it does and it’s just shocking. Someone wrote old age–is it assumed she died of natural causes? How sad.

    • July 7, 2012

      No, she died from malaria. I think she’d been sick for quite a while.

  23. July 5, 2012

    That’s an amazing story. I don’t know why this stuff keeps happening to you, and I’m sorry to say this, but it does make for entertaining reading. If that helps ;)

    • July 7, 2012

      Hahaha, I’m glad I can provide entertainment – it makes it a little easier when the crazy things happen to know there will be a ton of readers that will enjoy hearing about it!

  24. George
    July 5, 2012

    Been looking forward to this story for sooooo long. It sounds as horrific as you can get really. I would be petrified. You are ultra brave :) x

    • July 7, 2012

      Thanks, George :) It really was horrific!

  25. Nancie
    July 5, 2012

    What an ordeal for all involved!

    I’ve known quite a few people who have taken the slow boar, and all report horror stories when it comes to accommodation,so I don’t think your experience is unique; still not nice though.

    • July 7, 2012

      Yeah, all the accommodation looked pretty dire to be honest! I didn’t like being lied to and told we’d have hot water and wifi just to get us in there…

  26. July 6, 2012

    Oh my god…what are the odds?? I can’t believe this actually happened!

    • July 7, 2012

      I know, that was what I kept telling myself on the entire journey! What are the chances?!

  27. Suzy
    July 6, 2012

    That is certainly not a travel experience I envy! I’m so sorry you had to deal with death literally right next to you. That’s horrible for the husband too. Very heartbreaking.

    • July 7, 2012

      It wasn’t one of my happiest travel experiences, that’s for sure!

  28. Katie
    July 6, 2012

    OH MY GOD! That is sooo scary! Is it malaria really that susceptible/dangerous in South Asia?? Do you recommend getting vaccinations for it before going to Laos/Cambodia/Thailand??? This has me sooo freaked out!

    • July 7, 2012

      I think it’s more dangerous for the locals as frequently they don’t have access to the medical care that we do. It’s certainly not as bad as the malaria in Africa/South America. I didn’t take anti-malarials during my 10 months in SE Asia and I was fine.

      I do recommend vaccinations such as Hep A/B, typhoid, but that’s all.

      • Katie
        July 7, 2012

        Thanks for letting me know! I’ll definitely be sure to get those before I leave!

  29. Andrea
    July 6, 2012

    You poor thing! That is so awful I don’t even know what to say. Talk about culture shock – I’m sure that would violate a few public health and safety regulations in Western countries. I feel a bit sick now myself…

    • July 7, 2012

      I know! I can’t imagine this happening back home and people just lying them on the floor for 6 hours. There would be such an outrage over it!

  30. Kristen J. - Hopscotch the Globe
    July 6, 2012

    Geeze! That’s a horrible experience. That poor lady and her husband. It’s crazy how fast that can happen. I didn’t realize that malaria was that dangerous in SEAsia. I guess some parts are worse than others. She obviously had the worse kind since it seems like it must have hit her fast and took over her within the 24 hours.

    • July 7, 2012

      I don’t think it’s too dangerous – she was quite old and being Lao I don’t think they have access to the medical care that we do. I think she might have been sick before getting on the boat, but I don’t know for sure.

  31. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy
    July 6, 2012

    Wow, how awful for everyone but especially the woman and her husband. I’ve heard stories about this happening on airplanes and it just sounds like the biggest nightmare imaginable.

    • July 7, 2012

      It was so awful! There was just no way of getting away from it.

  32. Genevieve
    July 7, 2012

    This story is insane. What a terrible thing to happen, and completely surreal.

    • July 9, 2012

      I know, it’s crazy, isn’t it?!

  33. Sheryll
    July 7, 2012

    oh my gosh!!! My heart is breaking for the old man! what a terrible thing to happen. I think I would’ve freaked out SO much though. *sigh*

    • July 9, 2012

      Yeah, and I really did! It’s the worst place for it to happen..

  34. July 8, 2012

    This sounds absolutely horrible! And you wanting to faint is the exact reaction I would of had. Poor old man though.

    • July 9, 2012

      I have no idea how I managed to not pass out for the entire journey!

  35. Jade Johnston
    July 10, 2012

    OMG! But after reading some of the other stories on your blog… I kind of think that this sort of thing would only happen to you! lol!

  36. Louis
    November 4, 2012

    I’m sorry that someone’s death inconvenienced your travel plans and made you feel uncomfortable for a little while. Get over yourself.

    • November 4, 2012

      Hi Louis,

      As a severe hypochondriac I tend to overreact when faced with any kind of illness or death and try to avoid it at all costs, so of course it was traumatising for me. Although I’d question anybody who had to sit next to a dead body and her grieving husband for six hours and didn’t feel uncomfortable…

      I was just telling the story and my experience from my perspective. Yes, it was absolutely awful for the poor woman and her husband and I wasn’t trying to compare my feeling uncomfortable with his loss. I’m sorry if you feel it comes across that way. Honestly, this happened over six months ago and not a day has gone by where I haven’t thought about the woman. It still upsets me to this day.

      There’s no need to be so judgemental.

  37. OutsideTheGuidebook
    November 8, 2012

    ..and today I decided I’m doing the Slow Boat trip in January (nearly went after the Discovery Air Pass to fly from Chiang Mai into Luang Prabang). Yipes!

  38. November 17, 2012

    Omg this would be horrible :s And I feel for her husband as well

  39. February 8, 2013

    OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD. I can’t believe that happened to you! I’m know I’m late to the game here in reading this but I feel traumatized just from reading this.

  40. March 27, 2013

    This is an incredible story! I’ve read it a couple of times but am only commenting now because I’m planning a trip from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang and wanted to ask: would you still take the slow boat, despite the horrible night in Pak Beng? Also, did you go through a specific operator for your boat? Thank you :)

  41. Wow. That is an amazing story, and so well told. I can’t imagine being in that situation… I felt all your emotions as I read it.

    My husband and I had a very unnerving experience when we came across a dead body 10 miles out at at sea in the Pacific Ocean when we were sailing our boat from Acapulco to Huatulco Mexico. (We have been traveling full-time by sailboat and RV for 6 years).

    It was so shocking to find this body, and so unexpected, and so completely disturbing. The story is here:

    I imagine this post was as difficult for you to write as mine was for me… thanks for sharing!!

  42. April 22, 2013

    Wow, that’s such a tragic story! I really appreciate the way you found a tactful and well written way of relaying the experience. I kind of felt like I was there and wish I wasn’t!

  43. July 3, 2013

    truly shocking! i took the slow boat to luang prabang in 2010 & my low point was some joint pain from hugging my knees for 6 hours. really enjoying the stories lauren, horrors & all.

  44. Dorian
    October 2, 2013

    Wow, one thing about traveling is that you never now what kind of adventure you will encounter.
    Great Post !

    • October 3, 2013

      Thanks, Dorian!

  45. Marysia @ My Travel Affairs
    January 2, 2014

    Wow, that is horrifying!

    • January 3, 2014

      That’s a good word for describing my experience :-)

  46. February 12, 2014

    Wow. Just wow. I’ve just been through a few of your highlights and though dead people aren’t funny, I do find humor in the idea that you might be the Angela Lansbury of the traveling world. “Travel, She Wrote.” Could be your new blog name. My husband and I are about to set off for Thailand and Laos in a few weeks (currently in Bali). I think this story will follow me all the way to the slow boat, if we get there :-)

    • February 12, 2014

      Travel, She Wrote — I LOVE that! Enjoy your time in Thailand and Laos and I hope you don’t have a similar slow boat experience to me! :-)

  47. invisible hearing aids San Diego
    May 18, 2014

    thanks for sharing your experience lauren, for sure no slow boat for me lol setting beside of a dead body that would be scary.

    • May 18, 2014

      Well, it doesn’t happen on every slow boat journey…

  48. May 23, 2014

    That’s why I took the speedboat, which totally sucked in its own right. Nobody died, though.

    • May 23, 2014

      Well, the death was due to malaria rather than actually taking the boat… :-)

  49. July 31, 2014

    wow. just wow.

    Honestly got no idea how I would have handled it. I’ve never seen a dead body and would like to keep it that way…

    • August 1, 2014

      It isn’t a pleasant experience, that’s for sure.

  50. Pierre
    September 9, 2014

    I read the blog i was also shocked to see the dead woman… Lauren it was a pleasure traveling to Laos with you I had a lot of fun and talking to you and meeting you also. I hope to see you again on a trip … Pierre

    • September 17, 2014

      Oh, hey Pierre! It’s so great to hear from you!!! :-) I hope to see you again, too, and it was great travelling with you.

  51. February 8, 2015

    Oh my, this is incredible… that must feel so strange. In the western world, we are not used to being near death, it’s still very much a taboo I think…

    • March 21, 2015

      Yep, definitely. I hate being around death.

  52. George smyth
    March 18, 2016

    This is so self centred. Who gives a sh’t you had to sit next to a corpse.

    • March 18, 2016

      Well, I mean this is a personal blog about my travels. By definition it’s going to be self-centered. These are my experiences :-)

  53. November 27, 2016

    Oh no! That’s so heartbreaking. I’ve never been around death at all, never been to a funeral or anything, I have no idea how I would’ve reacted! Probably would have just froze

    • January 9, 2017

      It’s definitely a sobering experience, that’s for sure.

  54. Daniel Deyl
    October 24, 2018

    Hell, didn’t it occur to you that perhaps an offer of some help would be appreciated? You didn’t ask anyone in the know if the situation is normal or weird, dignified or demeaning to anyone by local standards? You were handed a rare opportunity to see what life in your destination really is like, and responded was with an utter lack any intellectual curiosity. Why the hell do you take the trouble to travel at all, then?

    • October 24, 2018

      Of course it did. What help could I have offered, though, given that none of the three locals on board spoke English, so wouldn’t have understood my request to help? The woman was already dead and we were in the middle of rural Laos, six hours from the nearest city and hospital. There was nothing that anybody could do to alter the situation. I decided to give the husband privacy to grieve, as that felt like the most respectful choice at the time.

      I love that you assume there was somebody “in the know” on the boat. There were two teenaged captains who didn’t speak English, the woman and her husband, who also didn’t speak English, and a boatful of twenty-something backpackers. Should I have approached the crying husband and been like, hey! Quick question! Is this a weird or normal situation in Laos? I’d love to treat your grief as a cultural learning experience! I’m not going to use the worst moment of somebody’s life as a backdrop for my search for cultural understanding. I take the trouble to travel to learn, sure, but also to not be a disrespectful twat.