Posts Tagged ‘Chiang Khong’

Mekong slow boat

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Our journey in Laos started with the usual hurry up and wait that is the staple of travel in south-east Asia. Eventually we were across the Mekong with Joe, Phoebe, Renee, Sophie, Louisa, Vasili, Kiril and Becca and on the slow boat for the journey to Luang Prabang. The guide who met us when we stepped off the ferry boat across the river warned us that the slow boats sometimes didn’t always make it to Pakbeng on the first night. In dry season when the river is low and slow moving the boats don’t always make good time. They only go until it gets dark and if that happened we’d have to sleep on the boat. Here’s the way it works if you’ve bought a package from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang:

  • You pay the agency and get a voucher in return. The voucher gets you on the bus and into your accommodation at Chiang Khong.
  • The guest house at Chiang Khong buys your ticket across the Mekong and gives you another voucher for the slow boat.
  • A guide meets you on the Laos side, herds you though immigration and tries to persuade you to buy a bus ticket or fast boat ticket at extra expense rather than take the slow boat.
  • The guide takes your passport and buys ticket for the boat, returns your passport with ticket.
  • You find your own accommodation in Pakbeng on the first night.
  • Your ticket gets you back on the slow boat the next day.
  • If the Loatians try to pack more on the boat than will fit, mutiny and occupy another boat. So long as enough people mutiny and refuse to budge they’ll run the second boat.

Most of our gang ended up at the back of the boat near the very noisy engine while me and Hannah were near the front. We met some new friends, Marcel and Clare near the end of a westward round-the-world ticket, and Mark and Stacy also near the end of a westward round the world ticket. I picked up some useful tips for Cambodia, Vietnam, New Zealand and China.

The Mekong was brown and wide (100-300metres across) with strong undertows evident in places. The scenery on both sides was sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, green jungle and occasional villages. We stopped after an hour at a village on the Laos side where they pulled the good old marketing ploy of sending the kids onto the boat to sell snacks and drinks. We had stocked up well before boarding so had no trouble resisting the cute looking kids and their wares. We played Scrabble, read, chatted, watched the scenery go by. I guestimated the boat was making about ten knots but didn’t know how many miles it was to Pakbeng so couldn’t judge if we’d make it before dark. Actually we arrived at Pakbeng before 18:00 – an hour or so before dark. At random points along the river the boat pulled into one bank or the other to let the locals off.

We ignored the crowd of waiting touts and found our own accommodation. Joe and Phoebe, Renee and the Russians came with us. We went out for dinner and were hassled by touts outside every restaurant. They all had pretty much the same menu and all offered identical incentives – free (Lao) whiskey, free rice, discounted prices (yeah, right). We picked one at random. The Lao whiskey was so bad even the Russians wouldn’t drink it. There was nothing to do after dinner so it was an early night all round.

Next morning we were at the pier at 08:30 to find a smaller boat waiting for us. Marcel and Clare had saved us seats about half way along the boat. Anyone who turned up after about 08:45 found they had no seat. A mutiny was staged, a second boat occupied and eventually at about 09:30 – when there were still people strolling slowly down the hill to the boats – ours departed. The scenery was much the same as the first day, perhaps a bit more jungly. Again the boat stopped in random places to drop off locals. We reached Luang Prabang at about 17:00, an hour earlier than we expected.

Chiang Mai to Laos

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

We had just one day in Chiang Mai after our trek and found it rather disappointing. We’d heard about a beautiful city. After a late breakfast we walked into the city and wandered around the south east corner. We covered about a quarter of the city and found a couple of temples and lots of knackered looking concrete buildings. Combined with the little we’d seen of the city outside the moat on the night before our trek the effect was to wonder if we’d come to the same Chiang Mai that other people had raved about.

Easily the best thing about the city for me was a visit to Green Bamboo massage for a full body oil massage. The surroundings were lovely and the staff very attentive. The massage was a bargain too by UK standards – a full hour for just £5.

Based on what we saw in the city and on our trek I think probably the surrounding areas are worth spending a lot more time in, and Chiang Mai itself deserves just a fleeting visit.

Next morning we were picked up in a minibus for the journey to Chiang Khong on the Thai side of the Mekong river border with Laos. On the way we stopped at Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple. Unique amongst the temples in Thailand it is covered in white or silver bling and is a striking sight. The decoration is also unique, reflecting the views of the artist who conceived the temple and directs its construction and maintenance. Photos at Flickr.

Chiang Khong is very sleepy and has nothing to recommend it beyond being a border crossing point. We met some new friends at the guesthouse in Chiang Kong. The guesthouse was OK but the manager was a miserable dragon. When we arrived she was arguing with a guest who was refusing to stay there. Thais have a reputation for being non-confrontational and not liking shouting. The manager apparently didn’t know that. She was still Miss Grumpy Shouty when we saw her again a couple of hours later at dinner time and again the next morning when she shooed us away after breakfast to the border crossing point.