or: Into Laos We Go
19.11.2009 23 °C
Wow, Luang Prabang is such a wonderful place! Everyone needs to take a holiday there I think. Everyone. Go book now.
The slow boat down the meeeekong was fun, as well as eventful! We got on the minibus from Pai at 8pm and headed out towards the Laos border. Six dark hours later (with some fitful dozing and a few stops so the driver could have a smoke or two) we got to Chiang Khong, the town on the Thailand side of the border. The border being the Mekong River. Part of the price of the trip was the “nights” accommodation. Since we arrived about 3am, and had to be up at 7am, it’s not really a whole night is it? Anita and I were pretty tired and thus got to bed pretty promptly. Unfortunately three nice Italian boys had a rather loud (and I’m sure animated – I swear I could hear the wind whooshing from their hand movements) conversation in their room. Now I do think that they were just talking at a normal volume, but there was not another sound at that time of the night, which meant we could hear everything they were saying. At 3:30 Anita got up and firmly (with a VERY teacher sort of power) asked them to “PLEASE BE QUIET!” which they suddenly were! Note to others: travel with a teacher. :o)
Next morning we were up bright and early to get breakfast, supply our ticket for the boat so we could receive our sticker (so they know you have a ticket without asking – genius), and buy a cushion each for 40 baht to save our bums on the hard wooden benches on the slow boat! By 9am(ish) we had checked out of Thailand, crossed the river and filled up another passport page with the Laos visa! Country number four! We now had a nice 3 hour wait in the blazing sun before the slow boat left! Nice and hot. To help pass the time I found a bank that was open (note to others that have guides to Laos saying there are very little to no ATM machines in the country – there are loads) and changed our ten thousand baht left over from Thailand into Laos Kip. Walked out with 2.7 million. Since the biggest note they have is a 50 thousand one, you get a fair wad of paper to put in your wallet!
Midday came around finally, and we found ourselves sitting on a long boat with wooden benches and a roof, with a few other intrepid explorers. These boats are made to take about 70 people, so we were led to believe. So when I say ‘a few others’ I mean about 150. Roughly 100 of them were on our boat before a lady somewhere near the front of the boat (we were near the back because we’re cool, and it was closer to the bar) started organising a rebellion! She (and a couple of others) paced up and down the boat announcing that the boat was over crowded and thus dangerous, and demanding another boat be put on! Her posse marched off the boat and stood on the bank, calling for everyone else to follow, mostly directed at the people that were not sitting on hard wooden benches. The problems that we were having with all this were:
- 1. the people on the floor were sitting there by choice, there were enough spare seats all around the place for everyone
2. the boat was not overloaded at all, the one next to us was full to the ceiling with full rice sacks, and it was still floating
3. it was time to leave!
So… we didn’t move. But after 20 mins of chanting “two boats, two boats” the boat people gave in and put on a second, slightly smaller boat, about 30 odd people jumped on that one, and we set off! Down the mighty Mekong, the life blood of this part of the world! Wooo!
After 6 hours it wasn’t so wooo. We managed to read quite a bit, look at the stunning scenery, Anita even got a bit of sleep on some cushions on the floor! But my bum wasn’t enjoying the benches much, so it was with a bit of relief that we arrived at Pak Beng, our stop for the night. We wandered off the boat and up the hill to the sleepy little village and found ourselves a nice clean place to sleep, got some food and hit the hay. Not much to say about Pak Beng as it is a tiny one street village full of guest houses and restaurants, although it does have a fantastic bakery that we bought our breakfast and lunch from the next morning! Which is all we did between waking up and getting on the boat, two different boats from the ones we had the previous day!
Day two was an eight hour trip down to Luang Prabang (or LP as I will call it). More stunning scenery and we even stopped to pick up some goods (sacks of stuff and around 10 thousand eggs) as well as a monk! This trip was marked with the boat, at one time, listing enough to have water splash in and scare a few people (I think the revolutionary lady from the first day would have been rolling out the life boats if she had been on our vessel), but otherwise it was simply enjoyable uncomfort mainly. (yes, I realise that might not be a word, but it works in my world)
So, onto Luang Prabang. It’s a UNESCO protected town, thus it is well preserved, making it look wonderful. Add to that the Laos-wide curfew of 11:30pm (everything must close) and LP is such a nice place to go to! We found a very affordable place in the middle of the old town and over the next two days did all that we wanted to do in the area – not that much really! We climbed up a hill to see both the Wat on the top and the view the first day, but it was silly hot so we went indoors at 2pm and resurfaced in the evening for dinner and then to meet up with friends that we found! This well-worn trail through SE Asia is so small, we’re now running into people that we first met back in Malaysia! There is a nice place called The House in LP that serves Belgian beer, including my favourite: Leffe! I was really in the mood for something more refined than the local lagers, but at a price of 50 thousand Kip for a small bottle, I couldn’t do it. Instead I got 4 large bottles for 30 thousand Kip. Not all for myself obviously.
The second day in LP we negotiated a price with a TukTuk driver to take us to see some caves that are full of Buddhas that are not good enough to be in Wats. While we were there the heavens opened, stranding us in one of the caves for an hour while watching the steps turn into a river, drenched tourists trying to get out of the rain, and one tourist slip and fall into the river while trying to board his boat! Drama!! The rain stopped long enough for us to get back to the TukTuk, both of us slipping, sliding and getting stuck in the mud, caking it all over our feet to our ankles! Lucky for us a very nice old man noticed us and offered a bucket of clean water to wash our feet with! He chuckled to himself all the way through the process though!
Next day takes us through to today and a bus ride through the mountains of Laos (more stunning, incredible scenery) to Vang Vieng. The whole bus ride of 6 hours seemed to be totally in or above the clouds, looking across and down on the distant purple mountains and green valleys. Vang Vieng is another small village, but a dirtier, dustier version, with large numbers of guesthouses, travel agencies, bars and internet places. It is famous for tubing, where you float down the Nam Song in a truck inner tube, stopping at various ‘bars’ to get a drink. The river is the colour of weak chocolate which is not appealing to Anita. [also did you know that some American servicemen in Laos in 1975 managed to catch themselves a fish-thing in the Mekong? A 7.8 meter fish-thing. We saw a picture in LP – google it to see if it is true] Vang Vieng is also famous for the restaurants they have. Not because of the food, but because they play DVD’s of either Friends, The Simpsons or Family Guy continuously. There might be other TV programs they play, but I have not seen any yet.
That’s all for now
PS The 2.7 million Kip is gone. We're such spendthrifts!