THE MEKONG AND LUANG PRABANG
We entered into Laos by an amazing two-day slowboat trip down the Mekong River. After a couple of weeks exploring Northern Thailand by foot, bus and motorcycle, we were ready to see the something new, and the mighty Mekong did not let us down. We had no idea what to expect when we turned up at the border crossing in Chiang Khong, Thailand, but after a 2 minute boat ride and a 20 minute line to get our visas we were officially in Laos. Just a 5 minute tuk-tuk ride to the dock and we were on our way…kinda. We arrived at the dock about 15 minutes before the boat was supposed to depart. Once you’ve spent some time in SE Asia, you’ll realize that being on time is never really a good idea. We had read that the boat owners overload their boats to make as much money as possible for each trip, so the later it got, the more we worried. The boat filled slowly at first but then, about an hour-and-a-half after we were supposed to leave, the double-decker tour bus showed up and unloaded about a hundred more passengers. At this point, we were starting to panic. It’s an 8-hour boat trip on a wooden bench, or a car seat bolted to the floor if you’re lucky, so we were really hoping that we weren’t going to have people on our laps. Finally, once our boat was stuffed to the brim, the remaining 20-30 people that showed up an hour-and-a-half late, got shuttled onto their OWN BOAT! With their feet up on the empty seats in front of them, we watched as they pushed off before us. There is an utter hopelessness that you feel when you’re dealing with the transportation system there that just can’t be explained.
Fortunately, once we finally departed and people settled in, the trip was incredible. The scenery was spectacular and undeveloped the entire trip. We only broke-down once (just an overheated engine due to being overloaded with passengers) but still arrived at our destination ahead of time. We got to Pak Beng around 7pm that evening and were greeted by a ton of excited children and guesthouse owners trying to sell us rooms and free baggage lifts. Luckily we had booked a bungalow in advance at the Mekong Riverside Lodge, which turned out to be amazing. We dropped our luggage at the room, showered and headed out for dinner at a local Indian restaurant. After some delicious curry and cold beers we walked the tiny village and watched the festivities for the festival of lights. And by festivities, we mean 4 year olds shooting off fireworks, but again, it’s Southeast Asia, so who’s looking! After a good night sleep, we got up the next morning to catch our second day boat to the magical Luang Prabang.
We loved Luang Prabang right away. Nestled on a small peninsula right on the Mekong River, it is one of the more refined Southeast Asian villages we visited on our trip. As soon as you set foot on land you feel like you’re in the right place. We had only planned to stay a couple of nights there, but we loved it so much we stayed for over a week. During the day we explored the beautiful streets by foot or bicycle and come nightfall we spent hours strolling the night market (which is every night) and eating at our favorite street vendor “Mrs. Noodle”. The local crafts are beautiful, but the thing we loved most were the vendors’ babies. It is rare to see a woman in Laos without a beautiful little baby strapped to her back. And it was hard not to want to take one home with us! We also had many amazing meals at Le Café Ban Vet Sene and Tamarind where we fell in love with the local sticky rice sampler. We learned the Laos way of eating with our hands, which was really fun. After a few days of wandering LP, visiting the temples and eating at all of the amazing restaurants, we felt like we needed an adventure. We decided the perfect thing to do in order to get us out into the “real” Laos, was a 4 day motorbike trip in the north.