In order to head into Laos, the land locked country to the east of Thailand, we needed to take a mini van to the boarder, then spend the night to await for a ferry to take us across the famous Mekong river, where we were to board a slow boat for two days on the river to the Laos royal city of Luang Prabang. That was the plan anyway.
We sprinted back from Pai on our bikes, early in the morning, in order to have time to shower, eat and meet the mini bus. Of course what wasn’t planned was me getting lost in Changmai for and hour and a half, fighting the traffic clogged streets trying to find Scotty and the motorbike rental place.
After I finally found it, we hurried back to Julie house where our bags where. A shower was out, but we managed to whoof down a pad thai and catch the mini bus. We got to a nice hotel on the boarder that had a pool, and set up our visa information there. The visa cost $30 USD and could only be paid in US dollars. Come to find out its very good to travel with US currency in Asia…who knew? Now you do.
In the morning we were taken to the river, put on a small boat and ferried across the river, effectively crossing the boarder. On the other side we waited for the Laos authorities to process our passports and pay the fee. Two hours later we were on a slow boat heading down the Mekong, which would be one of the most memorable, and uncomfortable journeys I have made.
We slowly made our way down the river. The boat seated around 50 – 75 people, and had a motor in the back, propelling us probably around 5 knots. The rest of the forward momentum came from current propelling us down the river. Most of us sat on wooden benches that where not made for humans, not even small Asian people. The back rest was straight up, and the seat only came halfway across your bottom. Luckily Scotty’s sister had told us to purchase cushions for the trip, and in the next 2 days these became key to avoiding a numb ass, which was always a loosing battle.
We slowly meandered, hour after hour, Floating past small ancient villages that had no road access, and have been on the river highway for thousands of years. Fisherman and their long boats where a constant along the river banks, and there bamboo floating nets caught fish using the river current as the trolling mechanism.
10 hours into the journey we came to the mid way point, a small little town, the first with road access. This has been a classic stopping point to travelers along the river, and We stayed the night at a guest house. There where multiple options and a plethora of shops and restaurants to choose from.
The next morning , we grabbed a sandwich and snacks for the boat, and where back on the river for another 10 hour trip to the ancient royal city of Luang Probang, a UNESCO world heritage city.
As we approached the city, near sunset, we saw local farmers bringing Elephants to the rivers edge to drink, and holy ancient caves that where adorned with Buddha images from monks long past.
I have to say after 2 days of sitting on spine snapping benches and the wooden deck, I was ready to get off the boat. We made some good acquaintances over the 2 days, and in the next 3 weeks we bumped into people from this journey again and again in new locations.
Although uncomfortable, and long, I have to say that the slow boat and the Mekong are the way to move through Laos. Its like walking back into time, and using the natural landscape to help you get to where you want to go, a timeless way to travel.