06 Apr Laos by boat… That’s more like it!
From my last post, you would have known that my journey through Laos had not been all I hoped it might be, but that all changed when we jumped on a slow boat from Luang Prabang to The border town in the north, Houay Xai. We decided on slow rather than fastboat because they still take about 6-7 hours (though 1 day) and look incredibly uncomfortable at the speed they go.
The journey took 2 days with a stop off in between, our first day began at 08:00 when we bade farewell to our humble domicile and walked down to the pier to catch our boat, experience had taught us that you don’t always have to go through the agents, and we saved 40 000 kip by buying our tickets directly. So 220 000 kip for 2 later we were sitting on a boat waiting for the inevitably late push off.
The boat was a lot comfier than expected, with walking room and reclining bus seats bolted to the floor, an on-board toilet and mini-bar serving coffee, cup noodles and other assorted refreshments. Straight away the scenery was amazing, the boat moves along at a fair pace despite the “slow boat” moniker, but not so fast that you can’t enjoy the unfolding rock formations and hillsides.
It is strangely easy to fill the time staring out of the boat, listening to music and waving at the locals who don’t seem as jaded as the ones I had previously experienced. The ride itself takes 9-10 hours and as said before passes some amazing scenery, imagine my surprise at seeing thousands of little white sandy beaches leading into the fresh water, this surrounded by ancient rock that looks like petrified wood, and little waterfalls feeding the rolling river. All along the way are locals prospecting for gold in the water, children swimming and carrying large bamboo sticks along the shoreline (no idea what that’s about), and little villages tucked into the hillside, and they were generally very friendly!
That night we stayed in a small village called Pak Beng, and even though it is set up for tourists coming in and out from the border town, they are actually very friendly. We had a pleasant enough dinner, made better by the laughing joking waiters who played Bob Marley and used every opportunity to offer me a joint or happy pancake, for a fee of course.
The following day was more of the same, but a little more scenic and equally enjoyable, I spent most of the time taking photos, smoking and enjoying being forced not to do much of anything. After another 9-10 hours we arrived in H0uay Xai, we had to stay the night as the borders close at 6pm and our boat had arrived at around 5:45pm. After walking around until we found a decent guest house, we dropped off our bags and wandered into the nearest eatery, which happened to be a Chinese place where the owners spoke no english but were very friendly. After a bit of confusion with the Chinese menu and a crowd of Chinese people hovering over us to help us order, we were eating something which I’m still not sure what to call, but was enjoyable none the less.
The border crossing the following day was easy enough, stamped out of Laos, on a 2 minute boat trip across the river and stamped into Thailand, all within an hour. We hadn’t timed anything, but luckily caught the last minibus to Chiang Mai leaving at 10:30 and were on our way to the promised land. The bus trip was about 6 hours, but with a bit of Skrillex pumping out of my iphone, and numerous position changes to stave off the numb arse, we arrived in Chiang Mai.
I’m not sure that Laos was as unimpressive as I experienced, or if 2 months of travel was catching up with me, the things which at first seemed impressive (like waterfalls and assorted scenery), had lost their shine, how many waterfalls can you possibly see before it becomes just more falling water (about 4 as it turns out)? All in all it was a new place to be, and most of all, it wasn’t work!