We made the decision that one of the things we would splurge on was a boat trip. There were a few options for getting to Luang Prabang. Option the first: get a 12 hour bus from Huay Xuai to Luang Prabang. Option two: a slow boat with the possibility of being seated in the engine room of the boat for two days! Option C: taking a bone rattling and dangerous speed boat for 7-8 hours. The final option and best option was taking a cruise for two days including all meals, very comfy chairs, a bathroom onboard, a stop off for the night at Pakbeng, and a few tourist things along the way. We decided on the classier and expensive option of the cruise.
We woke early and had a hearty feed of scrambled eggs and coffee before being collected by a minivan. The van left our wee guesthouse and headed for the swankier hotels in Chiang Khong to collect the other guests. First to be collected were an older couple from Melbourne followed by two French couples. The van took us to the Thailand passport control on the banks of the Mekong to get an exit stamp in our passport. We were then hustled onto a small boat that took us across the river to Laos immigration. Our bags were taken from the van all the way to the cruise boat with no need for us to touch them.
Laos immigration is interesting. Our guide collected the necessary paperwork, a photo and our passport and walked off into a crowd. There were maybe fifty people crushed into a tiny area for visa issuing, no lines, no order. We stayed put for five minutes until we were called into the craziness. How it seamed to work is that at one window you passed in your paperwork and at the next you paid and collected your visa. The collection process included milling around in the scrum until your name was called. There was no order to who they called as Will was called ten people before Sam.
After everyone was sorted our guide collected us up and bundled us into awaiting tuktuks for the ten minute drive to our boat.
Once our bags were stored we grabbed a seat. Well, actually four seats for the two of us with a table between us. Very nice. Once we were all aboard we took off and our guide brought us together for a chat.
There were 19 people on our trip most older than us. Spanish, French and Australian with four people around our age (20-35) one who had been teaching in Korea for 10 years and an American couple. We also had two guides “Won” and “Phet” and three and a half people who owned the boat.
The family that owned and ran the boat consisted of a father who drove the boat, his daughter who cooked and son-in-law who helped out with a bit of everything. The couple seemed very young early twenties maybe and they had a wee baby who was cared for by almost everyone on the boat.
We spent the morning cruising downstream watching what was happening on the banks and smiling to ourselves. At about 11am we made a stop at a small village to see how they lived and learn more about Laos and its people. The village was small but we were surprised that they had power and satellite dishes on each hut. On our return we ate a feast; sticky rice with steamed veggies, a tomato curry, a chicken curry, and elephant fish. Delicious!! The afternoon was spend relaxing and admiring the view from our spot, drinking coffee and sampling Laos beer for the first time.
We arrived in Pakbeng at about 5:30pm and grabbed our daypacks with a few essentials and headed up the road into the town. The accommodation was nice enough, but as we have found many times on this trip hotels may invest in queen size beds but only double sheets which we find hard to share.
We joined the other guests for a meal in the village and partook in a sampling of Laos whiskey, a 50% proof clear alcohol made from sticky rice with a decent kick. Wow!
We headed back for a quiet Beerlao on the deck before retiring for the night. After a night of fighting for the sheets we woke early showered and emerged for breakfast. We were told that breakfast was a available from six but at half six there were few lights on and a rather tired looking girl making toast. Eventually scrambled eggs and coffee arrived to put a smile on our faces. By 7:30 “all aboard” and we hit the Mekong.
The morning was cold and crisp and even in jeans and hoodies we needed a blanket each and many coffees to keep us warm. It was kind of nice to be cold for the first time since we left Korea.
We spent much of the day watching the riverbanks as we past by seeing many small villages, buffalo, goats and crops growing on the banks. Did you know peanuts are grown on the beaches of the Mekong? But only in the dry season as they are grown on the sandy banks which the water covers when the rains hit.
We stopped late morning at a village. The village was larger than the first with around 400 people living there. There was a school and many industrious ways to make a living. The women and small children sold silk and cotton hand woven scarves and sold them to tourists. The men worked in the rice fields in the wet season and collected mushrooms from the forest in the dry season to dry and sell. It was not something we felt overly comfortable doing – seeing other people live and almost seeing them as an attraction – but it was interesting.
After another amazing lunch we had a few more hours relaxing before our last stop. We stopped two hours upstream of Luang Prabang at Pack Ou caves. Two caves sit at the side of the river and over hundreds of years people from near and far have brought Buddha statues here. The lower cave had been used as a hiding place in times of war. From here there were over 300 steps to the upper cave which held hundreds more Buddha. Very fascinating and good to get out of our seats and do some exercise.
We arrived at Luang Prabang at about five ready to explore the city. The cruise was amazing and we would consider it the most enjoyable part of the trip so far.
Next stop -luang Prabang, Laos