Posted on our first night in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR
The idea seemed simple enough: take a bus to the river and catch a boat from Thailand to Laos. But it's sooo much more than that. Getting from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang underscored for us that getting from point A to point B is actually part of the adventure. First, we took a six-hour minibus ride from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong, a sleepy town separated from Laos by the mighty Mekong River. The overnight accommodations in Chiang Khong left much to be desired. In fact, they were far worse than what we experienced in Bangkok, but at least it had a hot shower. From Chiang Khong, we crossed the river by long-tail boat and processed through immigration. As unceremoniously as that, we entered Laos. Then we waited. And waited. And waited until our ferry boat finally pulled out of the dock. The long-distance ferry, which would carry us to Luang Prabang, was crowded, noisy, and slow. Slow. This word has a new definition for me, as does the phrase "a slow boat to China" because we took a slow boat down the Mekong River. So slow. After seven hours, we reached the midway point, Pak Beng, where we stopped for the night.
Pak Beng is an interesting town, because it only has electricity from 6PM to 10PM each night. That's appropriate, because the ferry pulls in around 6:30PM, and the locals have to get up early. So there's no nightlife. In fact, the bar we stopped at shooed us out the door at 10:30. However, the lack of street lights, TVs, and lamps meant that the night sky and its stars shone brilliantly. I haven't seen stars like that in years.
The next morning, this morning in fact, we woke up and hopped back on the boat for another bum-numbing 7 hours. We arrived in Luang Prabang around 5:30PM, got settled in a guesthouse, and here we are. Our butts are sore, but we're ready to explore Laos for the next few days before we head off to Vietnam. Luckily, there are no long boat rides anywhere in our near future.
Traveling slowly offers an opportunity that hopping on an airplane for an hour just can't; you get to meet other travelers. On our first day in the minibus, we ended up meeting not one, but four people, two couples who were making their way through Southeast Asia. Both couples are about our age; one couple (Lizzy and Tom) are from England, and the other (Anna and Caleb) from New Zealand. We hit it off right away and stuck together through the crappy accommodations at Chiang Khong and the butt-numbing boat ride to Pak Beng. In Pak Beng, we banded together to bargain a better rate at a guesthouse and closed down the bar that night. This morning we found seats together on the boat and kept the conversation going. We couldn't have dreamed of meeting better people along the way. Good luck to you, Anna and Caleb, Lizzy and Tom in the rest of your travels and in finding your ways home!