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The Mighty Mekong

LAOS | Wednesday, 8 October 2008 | Views [611]

Left Chiang Mai early Friday morning on the minibus bound for the Thai/Laos border. I had purchased a package which included transportation to the border, a night in a guesthouse, some meals, transportation across the river to Laos, then 2 days down the Mekong River on a converted wooden ferry. After a mild night at the border we all headed down to the river to get our Thai exit stamp and take the boat over to the Laos. Once in Laos it was a bit of a chaotic queue for visas($35 +$1 for Saturday work) with a large Chinese tourist group mixed in with all the backpackers. An hour later we were whisked off to the boat "pier" to board our ferry. We srambled onto the boat to pick our wooden seat for the next 7 hours. I had run into a Dutch couple in the van and sat behind them on a sunny Saturday as we shoved off about noon. We started the process on the Thai side at 8:30am. Not too bad by some standards. The first day people seemed really excited to be on this boat, there were by my count about 100 people on the boat, almost entirely backpackers with a few Lao sprinkled in. The beer flowed freely as did the cigarette smoke. The trip was mostly uneventul on the boat but the scenery was very nice on both sides of the border. The river was low but still seemed high to me. By the way, the other option which is much faster is my speedboat. However, every thing you read about this trip warns of the dangers in taking the speedboat. I guess if you have to wear a crash helmet for 7 hours there must be some danger involved. Another reason I opted for the slow boat.

We made to our overnight stop at a river town that seemed to exist purely for boat tourists called Pekbang. Basically just guesthouses and restaurants all catering to backpackers. After docking at dusk I collected my bag and followed a group to the Bouhmy Guesthouse just up the road. I bargained hard for a room that was not worth much more then I paid (40 Baht-about $1.20), I seemed to get the best rate not sure why but I went with it. Went out to eat with the Dutch couple and an American I met at the guesthouse. His names was Mario from LA(really Minnesota but livd in LA for 10 years). He was my age and was traveling for a fewmonths and managed to convince the Dutch couple that he was the man of men and would do everything natural and in the ways of the locals. During dinner I just listened and interjeted periodically. Later he and I got into a little argument about money, which the Dutch couple had to referee. It was not the best showing but I was a bit tired of his blowhardness and decided to give a little back. Probably why I avoid other Americans whenever possible on the road.

We shoved off the next morning and I was apparently late to arrive because we had a different boat and all the transported minivan seats in the new boat were all taken. I took my place on another wooden bench and setled in for our nine hour boat ride downriver. It was raining most of the day but it did not hamper the views from the boat. The landscape was magnificant and it seemed to get better as we traveled downstream. Unfortunately, the boat ride did not get better but everyone was more subdued today without any beer drinking and fewer cigarettes. I was able to nap on the floor which helped but did suffered from a lack of food so by the time we rounded the bend and Luang Prabang was in site, the entire boat was giddy and damn happy to make land.

Overall it was a good float down the river about a day too long but a great way to see some wonderful landscapes between Thailand and Laos. Now a few nights in Luang Prabang, Laos.

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