A cruisey slow boat through Laos

Trip Start Feb 06, 2010
Trip End Feb 26, 2010

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Sabai-dee! Welcome to Laos! Today we begun our epic boat journey down the Mekong river, with final destination being Luang Prabang. We have decided on the slower but much safer, and aptly named "slow boat" which takes 2 days of cruising with a stop over in a village for the night. (This is opposed to the "fast boat" option, which do the whole trip in one day, and we see speeding along the river, sitting uncomfortably, wind and water whipping their faces, and not able to eat or pee for the whole 8 hours. Definitely not my cup of tea.)

After an excellent buffet breakfast (highlight= garlic toast with massive chunks of garlic!), we went for an early morning stroll through the town to buy supplies for the trip, including a rumoured-to-be very essential soft cushion for the tender backside. (Apparently hard wooden benches + sitting for multiple hours = not cool). Now we were ready to start our travels down the Mekong.

But first things first. We must stop looking across to Laos and actually get our tender backsides over there. So down to the water to "check out" of Thailand, tentatively step into a wooden little boat to be ferried across no-mans-land aka the Mekong, and then into the fine sophistication of Laos' immigration.

For those who are ever planning on trying to get a visa at Houei Xai, I'll give you a quick run down of how the system works. Firstly, you work out which one of the sketchily labeled buildings is the one you are after. Then you join the big, huddled, chaotic mass of people pushing towards the front of this awkward counted in the corner. Once you finally make it to the corner you hurriedly pass over your passport and visa application form before the crowd pushes you away from the window. You then remove yourself to the back of the crowd, and watch the guy in the window as he one by one holds up completed passports against the glass window. When your super-dooper-telescopic vision has spotted your very own passport, you repeat the above process in order to get to the front counter again. Once achieved, you quickly trade guy-in-the-window 1300 baht for your passport, and then get your arse out of there while you still have your sanity intact!

But as soon as you settle down on the boat for the cruise down the Mekong, you realise all your efforts have been worth it. The trip is gorgeous! I can definitely sit here for 2 days and relax. And we didn't even need that cushion that we bought, as on our boat there were a limited number of seats that looked suspiciously like they belonged in a mini-bus, but instead had been nailed to the boat's floor. But no complaints from us! We happily made ourselves comfy in the last available the bus seats, while the remaining passengers reluctantly settled down on the horrible looking wooden benches.

Watching life along the Mekong was great, though we must admit that there was less of it than we expected. I guess the mountainous surrounds which slope steeply towards the river bank are not optimal for village creation.

Its never desirable to arrive in a new town/village/city after dark, especially one where you have not pre-booked accommodation. So we were pretty much at the mercy of the hordes of locals gathering around our newly arrived boat. We decided against wandering the town looking for a place to stay, and instead chose one of the many locals shoving pictures of their guesthouse in our faces. Of course they are never what they look in the pictures, but for 300 baht, it wasn't bad at all. Although the toilet clearly didn't like us.

Pakbeng is a very cool little town. We chose to eat at a little restaurant where we could overlook the street and do some people watching of locals and tourists alike. We also got our first taste of beer Lao and immediately fell in love. The only disadvantage of the position of our dinner table is that we often caught glimpses into the kitchen in which our dinner was being prepared. Lets just say the mangy looking dog that was in there didn't set a good scene. But hey, (knock on wood) we're not sick yet!
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