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World on a Shoestring A beginnger's guide to traveling around the world...as written by beginners...

Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang with a Layover in Hell

LAOS | Saturday, 5 May 2007 | Views [11982] | Comments [11]

Your options for crossing the Thailand/Laos border are three in number: fly, bus, or slow boat to Luang Prabang. If you're interested in seeing the MeKong River and the accompanying country scenery, your best option is the third, a slow boat to Luang Prabang.

A three day two night trip from Chiang Mai, the trip begins with a cramped minibus ride from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong, with a few stopovers at arbitrary markets to give the ladies hawking wooden frogs and handmade water bottle holders a chance to be denied, and one stop at a cashew farm to watch the cashew shellers work dilligently. Spending five hours on a bus in the hills of Thailand will not only make you appreciate your life, but will also help you to appreciate some of the trafic rules and regulations that your country has instated for your safety. Passing on the wrong side of the rode around a blind turn overlooking a 1000 foot drop? No problem? Concerned about the van overheating? You bet we are, let's open the windows! Oh, and don't worry about the family of four sitting on the scooter going the wrong way down your street headed right twoard you...eventually, one of you will swerve.

With our lives intact, we arrived at our first night's accommodation, a guesthouse provided by the tour company on the banks of the MeKong River, overlooking Laos. With our destination in the background, we ate our complimentary buffet Thai dinner and set out to explore Chiang Khong. We didn’t make if very far before we discovered a young Thai artist who had set up his own tattoo shop underneath his hand made bamboo teepee which also doubled as his home. As we shared a round of beers, we watched as he gave another resident an ornate, beautiful tattoo. But this ain’t your mamma’s tattoo parlor with sterile needles and that nice little gun that hums so purty…no sir, we sat for hours watching as he methodically stabbed at the tattoo with a sharpened bamboo stick dipped in a jar of ink. It made me cry just watching, but what a way to get a tattoo!

After a humid night’s sleep, we set out with four bottles of Thai whiskey for our slow boat. Before boarding the boat, you’re driven in the back of a pick-up truck to the docks, taken cross the river ten at a time in a long-tail boat, passed through immigration with the visas you received earlier that morning, and then herded onto a boat built for 100, but for the duration of this ride, we’ll be accommodating just under 200; should make for a comfy 6 hours. But with Thai whiskey on board, the time seems to fly by!

After the first day of 6 hours on the river, including the occasional stop to let off and take on villagers moving from village to village, we land in Pak Beng, Laos, where capitalism thrives. Before you’re even off the boat you’re bombarded by people trying to attract you to their guesthouse. Before long, you think you’re on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange when a bidding war breaks out for your business. Down to 1 American Dollar, we thought we’d found the best deal and headed for our guesthouse on the banks of the MeKong.

Wrong. Very Wrong. At first glance the rooms seemed nice, so we agreed to stay and even enjoyed a nice meal, lulling us into a false sense of security. But our security was soon to be shattered. Making our way to bed around 9:30, Gen and I were just settling in with our fan when all of a sudden the power shut off. Turns out the power goes out in this town every night at ten p.m. to preserve energy and save money. Fine, no fan, we can deal with the heat. What we can’t deal with is the bugs crawling around the room or the rats scrawling through the walls and gnawing at something (we didn’t want to know what) under the bed. But I suppose the kicker was the bathroom. Though we had our own room with a bathroom, the contractors who built this room neglected to finish the wall separating our bathroom from the man next door who, to our dismay, suffered from explosive diarrhea throughout the night. So, as the ants go marching 10 by ten across our bellies, and as the rats gnawed away at our sanity, and as the odor from the adjoining bathroom peeled the paint off our walls, Gen and I literally watched time tick by. By four in the morning, after watching one movie and two candles burn to their ends, we were ready to go. Never has a sunrise been more welcome as we high tailed it our of that guesthouse and back to our boat.

The following day on the boat was uneventful and rainy, making the seven hours crawl by. Finally we landed in the small town of Luang Prabang, which was formerly a French colony, as is apparent in the food and architecture. This small but quaint town with its beautiful architecture and delicious food was a welcome relief after a night in hell.

Tags: Misadventures



you really are the worst kind of traveller

  tod May 5, 2007 9:17 PM


remember do not eat chicken!!!!!!!!!!
Stay well and safe.Hugs

  rosemarie May 6, 2007 7:03 PM


It's just a normal thing that you'll get what you pay for. good quality of service with small amount of money, just dream about it!

  Lee May 7, 2007 11:11 PM


Thanks for the interesting page on your trip. My daughter is traveling the same route Aug 1/07 and I am trying to follow her and imagine what it is like.

  valrie Aug 2, 2007 5:02 AM


Wow! I am so impressed by what I have read. The two of you are definitely an adventuresome pair. I especially LOVE the end of the travels photos of each of the two of you. Your expressions are identical and equally priceless. PMSL!!

  Thomas J. Aug 11, 2007 2:47 PM


It's funny but I get the sense you really should have flown. If you actually did have a good time, you might want to change your writing style a little.

I have to say, for $1 what was you actually expecting?

  Dante Sep 7, 2007 10:37 PM


Hey, thanks for the heads up, we r doing that trip next week :( think we might head for a $5 place instead after close inspection of walls, holes and bugs! hope u guys had fun xxx

  Em Jul 1, 2008 8:22 PM


dude, if your going to bitch about anything about your travel's, then stay home, try and have a laugh about it instead of crying like a little girl, its not like bugs are going to kill you. ur a wank

  cal Sep 25, 2009 12:39 AM


Oh dear. I paid a DOLLAR for a room and it was bad. What do u expect dumb ass. I paid 5 in that village and had a great room with a fan all night. What a silly boy u are.

  As Mar 31, 2012 4:11 AM


Everyone needs to quit drinking so much haterade. Everyone has a different experience when traveling and he's sharing his. Sounds like he got an experience either way and likely will learn from it!

  Chillax Apr 1, 2012 5:39 PM


I did the same trip a few years ago,absolutely loved it! It fascinated me the amount of "western" folk who expect first world conditions from a 3rd world region of the East. If anyone is surprised by "no electric city" (as I was informed) then you're obviously on the wrong trip,stick to Disneyworld maybe? The beauty for me was the totally different experiences,I can get tailor made,boring,luxury anywhere in Europe. Just a thought?

  David Cunliffe Jun 22, 2013 2:32 AM



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