The Mekong river runs 4,350 km from the Tibetan Plateau through Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia ending in Vietnam at the Mekong Delta. It is the lifeblood for many of the countries and is currently being dammed along much of its lower reaches for hydroelectric power. It establishes borders for a large section of its path through Asia and our first encounter with the river was no exception defining the border between Thailand and Laos. At the end of our taxi ride we were dropped at the Thai immigration offices, after being stamped out of Thailand we boarded a bus that took us over the Mekong and into Laos. We got our visa on arrival and had no problems getting into the country. I am happy to not be navigating a car through the borders like we did last year.
We spent the night in Huay Xai and had french fries and beverages overlooking the river on our first night, we thought it appropriate since Laos was once a french colony. The next morning we boarded our “slow boat” to Luang Prabang at about 10:30 am after gathering food supplies for lunch on the boat. We sat in our assigned seats, although apparently nobody actually sits in their assigned seats so we spread out to take up two and a half rows as the boat was not that full. As we started pulling away from the pier, there was a stream of backpackers heading toward the boat and we pulled back into the shore. There goes our extra seats, we were confined nearly to our original 5 seats for the remainder of the trip to Luang Prabang.
The constant din of the engine reminded us that we were crammed into a long boat with 200 of our fellow travelers on two day boat trip. The scenery was actually amazing with rolling hills and green jungle inter-spaced with farms, a few small villages but mostly uninhabited area. The water was a lovely shade of chocolate milk and we decided that it was probably an alright place to swim (although we didn’t) as there was not many large towns north along the Mekong to dump pollution.
Our weather was fantastic beautiful sunshine most of the way except for fog and a bit of a cool breeze the second morning. The girls completed their schooling in the mornings and then were free to play iPad or other games, but Maddy and I typically just stared out at the scenery passing by. The ride was actually quite pleasant despite ending up crammed in our original seats. We ended up talking to many of the other travelers on the boat as I’m sure we were quite a spectacle. The mix was mostly your typical 25 year old backpackers with a decent contingent of retiree types and a couple of families.
The first day was a 6 hour ride ending at Pak Beng, where everyone disembarked and stayed in individual accommodations. The town seems to exist to cater to this boat, lots of restaurants and food venders. The next morning I woke up with a bit of a stuffy nose, but it didn’t damper my spirits. The river was socked in with fog and it was pretty cold in the boat to start off, but warmed up as the fog burned off and the sun warmed up the river. We chose seats closer to the front of the boat, further away from the bathrooms and the sounds of the engine. We completed school after a few whines and stoppages due to the cold in the morning. The scenery just kept getting better as we got closer to LP, lots more boats and more small villages. We would stop intermittently along the river to drop a few locals off at villages and then head on, we usually gathered a crowd when we would stop. We finally got to LP or at least the outskirts of town and had to take a tuk tuk into the center of the city where our accommodations were located. So much for thinking we could walk to our place when we were dropped off.