Slow boat to an unexpectedly busy city
After a restless night we boarded the bus and headed to the border of Thailand and Laos, crossing through the border was a nightmare as expected. I recommend to anyone who is doing this crossing from Chiang Khong to Laos that you pre organise your visas! A simple process that is so badly managed. You have to drop your passports off at a window at one end of the building and then wait to pick it up at the other end. However, what went so wrong was that there was no system in place for picking up your passport. Passports were simply being held up outside the window for people to come forward, collect and pay for their visa. There were over a hundred people crowding around this small window pushing and shoving each other to get closer to the window to be able to see if their passport was being shown. There was even a Chinese guide bribing the officer to produce his groups passports first.
I finally got through the border and jumped on the bus that took us to the Mekhong River where we would board the slow boat to Luang Prabang. The English girls I met the night before were also on the slow boat so we passed the time by talking about our past travels and shared our plans for Laos. The journey was quite pleasant, slow of course, but it allowed you to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the Mekhong River. We passed by river banks where young naked children played in the water, men fished in their canoes and women walked their cattle down to the banks for water. We arrived at Pakbeng, our halfway point where we would spend the night on land. We found a hostel for about $3AUD each and went out to find some authentic Laos cuisine, something none of us had any idea about. We grabbed a bunch of people from the slow boat and all headed to the local reggae restaurant and bar “Same same but better”. I ordered buffalo curry that took over an hour to come, to pass the time everyone in the restaurant were given numerous free rounds of Laos whiskey that was made from bananas. The whiskey was pretty hard to swallow and the curry was a total disappointment but the music and the staff were fantastic.
We woke early the following day to secure good seats on the boat and pick up some beer, playing cards and food for the last eight hours of the journey. When we arrived in Luang Prabang we were told that we had to take a tuk tuk into the city that was about $2AUD. Word quickly spread throughout the boat that this was a scam to make more money on the tuk tuk journey. Most people on the boat refused to disembark until the boat arrived at the Luang Prabang wharf. One of the Brits and jumped off as we just wanted to finally be able to get off the boat while the other two sisters stayed with the striking crowed of western backpackers. We later found out that there was no scam, the wharf in Luang Prabang had been closed two years ago as it could no longer handle the increasing crowds of tourists arriving each day. We walked around the city for over 2 hours checking every single hostel and hotel. There was nothing available, and we weren’t the only ones without somewhere to stay. There were backpackers almost chasing each other around the city to get last available rooms. We knew it was Chinese new year, but had not expected Laos to be so busy. We joined another couple or English girls and were content with the fact that we would have to sleep on the streets! Get a bottle of Laos whiskey and watch the night pass by the Mekhong river. We decided to give it one last shot and used the internet at a local cafe but still found nothing. Two of the girls went for one last walk and managed to convince the receptionist at a luxury hotel to let us share a king bed between the four of us. He was skeptical at first but after explaining that we were going to have to go to the street he allowed it. As we all got our backpacks on and walked out of the cafe the first rainfall started, heavily and the wind blew a gale. The storm eventually put the entire city into a blackout before we had even made it to the hotel. We eventually made it to the hotel ang the whiskey came out aswe enjoyed the features of a luxury hotel…a bath!