Slow Boat to Laos on the Mekong

From Chiang Mai in Thailand, in the north where local people summer as it’s cooler (really??!?!) I then travelled into Laos from there, along the Mekong river for two days and into the cities.

 A Slow boat to Laos …

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China is the other way if you’ve heard of a film “Slow boat to China”.

 Eventually, I made it on to the slow boat to Luang Prabang, for 11.30 am start, after taking five hours to get from our hotel on the river bank to and through border control by pick-up truck, with three women inside and three guys in the back.  Filling forms, getting visas, showing passports then waiting for a large party to join us before the bus took us to Huay Xai for the boat.

As we wandered, sat, chatted, an older American offered me his seat which I didn’t need, but was a nice gesture even if he looked older than me!  I realise later he perhaps wanted to talk to us. 

The promised reserved ‘good seats’ didn’t materialise – mine was also broken and had to use my sarong as padding- then scraped and bumped our way out past what appeared to be house boats or more like our leisure cruiser – a long, low roofed boat holding 70-100 people, bags stored in the hold so hope it survives!!! 

No doubt that the promised ‘warm shower’ and nice twin rooms will appear either, along with promised reservations after scare tactics too.

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Still it’s beautiful.  We can see people walking, working, fishing on the shore, or sailing by in small engine boats or fast boats apparently dangerous on the rocks haphazardly appearing mid-stream!   

Wooded mountains but different from Thailand, and less high, with more green grass patches; house dotted around onshore or hillside, roads on occasion through the trees when you see scooters going along. 

This wide, curving river is brown, edged by boats, dotted here and there with jutting rocks and some hiding just under the surface, identified by swirling water, and small, sandy islands.

The larger ones ‘no man’s land’ in opium trade days in the 60’s between China, Thailand and Loas, paid for in ounces of gold for ounces of opium so that currency rates didn’t mean you lost out.

Now, a pleasant cool breeze blows through the open boat, flowing along powered by a noisy diesel engine.  Moving to one side or the other, avoiding rocks, or in the middle past temples sprouting out from trees, and warning dragons edging steps up to the wats.

Serene, pleasant and relaxing – 7 hours today, overnight Pak Beng then 8 hours tomorrow with people from all corners of the world and various expectations, hopes and attitudes.  I do like to people-watch.

Ellen from Holland next to me, and room mate last night and tonight, is sleeping.  We aren’t that comfortable together to be honest, but hey.  It happens.  Other people are reading, listening to music on headphones, just the undercurrent of conversations and the hum of the engine, the sound of us moving smoothly through the thick brown water.

Like the view at 6.30 this morning, with cloudy mountains, joggers and watchers before the day really starts, it is lovely….

Pak Beng is interesting!  The hostel as ever is not as good as promised whilst others seem to have lovely settings overlooking the river, ours it up a dusty road hillside, set in with no views and noisy with some party people down below!  The Germans I think.   Early morning revellers hmmm!

 We wander out after a shower and change, together exploring this small village on a hill above the Mekong, it isn’t large but varied with restaurants for the tourists, a local hill village you can see from the road as we discovered one of the cash machines (yes, really!) at the ‘edge of town’ so we wander back having checked menus on the way.  When we meet the Danish guy again we mention the cash machine and walk back with him, and we end up eating together.  He seems really nice and friendly, good company and interesting.  

We ate the local Loa dish called LAP last night- minced buffalo is staple, or other meats, with cooked with herbs and veg and served, of course, with sticky or steamed rice.  Fried rice is common as in Thailand, and curry too. Tastes creamier here, like Indian korma unless it was Indian of course as advertised!! 

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