Monday, October 19, 2009

Slow Boat to Laos - Day one Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong

I booked my trip to Laos from my guest house in Chiang Mai. I think pretty much every guest house and travel agent ends up sending people to the same tour group so it doesn't much matter where you book. There's a slow boat and a fast boat, but from what I'd read online, the slow boat is safer and more comfortable than the fast boat, although it's all relative I'm sure.

She told me it would be a three day affair:

Day one: Minivan to the Thai border city of Chiang Khong, guest house provided
Day two: Cross the river into Laos, where a guide would usher us through the visa process, then the slow boat would take 6 hours to get to Pak Beng where we would need to find our own place to spend the night.
Day three: Slow boat from Pak Beng to Luang Prabang.

There was an option to leave at night and arrive in Chiang Khong quite late, or leave at noon and get a full night's sleep there. Old lady that I am, I opted for the full night's sleep even if it did cost a bit more. The total trip cost.... 1,800 baht, including the minivan to the border, one night in a guesthouse and two days on the boat.

I had a late and leisurely breakfast at the cafe across from my guesthouse (rapturously delicious ham and cheese bagel sandwich btw) and then was ready to go. It was about a 4 hour minivan ride, but the driver stopped about once an hour for a good long time each stop. It was nice to get a break now and then... but it did seem a bit excessive. The rest stops were good too... lots of choices for food, little markets, decent toilets. One stop had Thailand's highest geyser.

Another stop had this amazing white temple. I don't know what it's called or what the story was... but it was cool!

Finally we rolled into Chiang Khong at about 5pm, dinner to be served at 6pm. The room was basic but clean enough, decent bathroom again. My tolerance has increased considerably from living here though, so opinions may vary. Dinner was free, and pretty good. Rice with curry, and stir fried veggies. I had a beer and introduced myself to my fellow travelers - another couple of minivans had arrived and we'd all be going to Laos together.

my first view of Laos from the Thai side of the Mekong

After dinner we walked across the street to a bar, had a few beers & played some pool. It was pretty low key - just comparing where on the backpacker's loop we'd been, where we were going, and what the heck we were doing here in the first place. It turns out that pretty much everyone was 'between jobs' in one way or another. It was nice to find travelers I could relate to. At one point I told the Irish woman "I'm on my own so I'm just going to latch onto you guys if that's okay." and she said, in the way that only an Irish woman could "Don't be ridiculous, a' course a' course! We're all just travelin'." Which made me feel loads better. =)

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