Sunday, July 15, 2007

Thailand - Laos

We arranged to get picked up by minibus around lunchtime to leave Chiang Mai and travel 6 hours to the town of Chiang Khong on the Thai - Laos border. A pretty uneventful place, but we were stuck there for the night as we had to cross the river to the Laos side the following morning. On one side of the river the Thai authorities gave us our exit stamp. Then we clambered into a rickety old boat and crossed the river in about 5 minutes. There is no bridge, but if they get one it will make the crossing less interesting. Once at Huay Xoi on the Laos side of the river we go through the border formalities again and end up waiting around for a while. We have tickets for the slow boat to Luang Prabang in northern Laos, a two day boat journey along the scenic Mekong River. The transfer to the boat is interesting as they manage to pile about 9 of us with backpacks into the back of a pick up truck. The boat is supposed to leave at 11h and we are half an hour early. It is actually 12h by the time they eventually set sail, and everyone is sweltered in the heat. There are about 80 people on board with one toilet and a noisy engine. The boat meanders along the river at a very leisurely pace and the journey is uneventful. At aroud 18.30h we arrive at the village of Pak Beng, our resting place for the night which consists of guest houses and restaurants. We check into a clean hotel for about 2 Euros and head off for dinner with some of the people we met on the boat. The locals try to sell evryone opium and grass and are fairly annoying about it. They also tell us that it is another 9-10 hours to Luang Prabang. The tour company where we got the tickets told us 4 hours, so we are hoping for a good average of the two. We head out for dinner with some people from the boat. Without warning all the electricity goes off at 22h. We thought it was just temporary, but they actually shut down the generators at that time every night. The fan in the room obviously wouldn't work, so it was an uncomfortably hot night. For 2 Euros for a double room, it wasn't bad though.

The next morning they pack the boat with over 100 people. Just when you think it can't be possible to get more people on, they squeeze on an extra few. The boat leave around 10h and we again cruise gently down the Mekong. We arrive in Luang Prabang around 6.5 hours later, so everyone was happy. We check into a nice guest house and go out to the night market and then for dinner. The next day is spent wandering around the town to the Grand palace and various temples and Buddha statues. It's hotter than ever and the heat saps our energy very quickly, making for a lazy afternoon and evening.

There's not much happening here and the excursions are similar to Chiang Mai. We'll hang around for a few days and then travel down to Viang Vieng, the tubing hub of Laos.