17 Aug 2013

Two Days, One Boat: Meandering Down the Mighty Mekong

We had read all about the delights of travelling for two days by slowboat from Thailand to Luang Prabang (there is also a fast 8 hour boat, but you have to wear safety helmets and shout at each other to be heard, uh..no thanks) and so it was that we found ourselves on a bus to the Thai border one Monday morning, ready for the journey, with soft cushions in hand - we'd heard that 2 day numb bum wasn't much fun, so we were prepared!

It's quite an easy ride from Chiang Mai to the border, you get a nice posh a/c bus to Chiang Rai with free water and a sticky bun, and then change to a hot and sticky local bus, full of smiling old Thai ladies who kindly shuffled along so we could sit together, delighted to meet two falang (Thai word for foreigners) who thanked them in Thai ("Kob koon ka" if you're a girl, "Kob koon krap" if you're a chap) which widened their gap-toothed smiles even more. 

This is the first time we've mentioned the Mekong but definitely not the last as it will feature heavily in our travels through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Simply put, it's beautiful, and very big! 
The view from our guesthouse on the Thai border! We can see Laos on the opposite bank!

So, how long is the Mekong river? Pretty bloomin' long at 4800km (you could theoretically get a boat from Vietnam to China, although it might take you a little while, and there probably isn't a cushion thick enough to sit on for that amount of time!)


Arriving in Chiang Khong, the market town on the Thai border that is slowly turning its head in the tourism direction, and stayed at a beautiful guesthouse right on the river, and enjoyed the view with a cold beer of course!

Information Bit: We had to queue to get exit stamp on Thai side, then take a long tail boat ride (people over 5ft = not comfy!) across the river to Huay Xai, queue to get our Laos visa $35, complete two forms and take a passport photo (we have no shortage of multiple sizes!), take a songthaeuw 50THB per person to the slow boat port. If you book in advance it will cost more but will provide that peace of mind, however we like to live dangerously here in the Noble household and booked there on the spot, with no problem whatsoever. Cost 900THB each.

Long boat seating four across, small food and beer stall at the back, western toilets. and plenty of noisy passengers including Germans, French, Italians, monks, Laotians, Hmong (hill tribe in Thailand and Laos), Thai, Chinese, Japanese. And some small cute kids who serve us drinks and who we hope are the children of the people who run this boat. Something we won't want to think about too deeply, but one was particularly keen that Paddy should take his photo.

The Beauty Bit:
Views on the Mekong - chocolate muddy water, rips (underground eddys), rapids, black volcanic rock, driftwood (so much that we have to turn the boat around in along the way so as to rid ourselves of the wood caught underneath), golden wats buried deep on the hillside, huts, cows taking shade under the trees, pink and black buffalo cooling themselves in the water, with limestone cliffs looming up and over the river, and a sleepy Paddy making occasional 'Nam references mentioning the Mekong. This may be the beginning of a trend. 

The clouds are practically violet against the dramatic cloud formations, and the lush green hillside. One of the many upsides of arriving during the rainy season is the luscious scenery.

So there we were on the boat to Laos PDR (PDR officially means the People's Democratic Republic -  yes, it's communist - but the local joke is that it also means "please don't rush", so all timings are approximate. It actually bears a startling similarity to Irish time, where "I'll be with you in an hour" means an impatient Brit and a faffing Irishman need to compromise...

With much sleepy love from us to you all,

Maddy and Paddy xxx

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