Published: October 31st 2010November 1st 2010
We arrived at Chiang Khong around 5 o'clock after a 7 hour bus journey. We were picked up last by the private van and had to squeeze into the front with the driver. Suzanne had had a terrible nights sleep as she has now developed a 'severe poorly travellers tummy' so spent a lot of the journey in some discomfort. We found one of the recommended guest houses easily enough, after turning one down when the owner tried to rip us off by changing the price at the last moment. Glad we did move on as the room at Tam Mi La, whilst more expensive at £13, was a little bit of luxury and we immediately felt at home. We only planned to stay in Chiang Khong, an unremarkable border town for 1 night but due to Suzanne's illness and the peaceful, friendly guesthouse we ended up staying for 3. There was not much to do in the place itself. There is one road of shops, bars and restaurants and the pier for boats across the Mekong into Laos and that is about it. All we ended up doing was relaxing and reading in the guesthouse, which had great views over the Mekong. It was beautiful and exactly the right decision to stay the extra time. As I said the guesthouse was clean, friendly and a very pleasant stay, however all good things must come to an end and after the 3rd night we decided to move on over into Laos.
We walked up to the ferry pier, even though all the guidebooks tell you to get a Tuk-Tuk, as we had walked it before without our packs and we knew it was only 10 minutes from our guesthouse. We got through both border controls easily with very little hassle and crossed into Laos PDR. The guidebooks and research Suzanne had done also warned us of the scams that you find with regards to the slow boat to Luang Prabang so with this knowledge we got ourselves to the passenger ferry pier, avoiding all the touts trying to scare you with stories of full guesthouses at the stopping point, Pakbeng, and offering to sort out your boat tickets at vastly inflated prices. We walked to the ticket office, got our tickets for 800bht (£16 each) and jumped onto the boat. We had a long, 2 hour wait as it filled up, mainly with westerners who had fallen foul of the touts and were getting on the boat armed with beer already. This was a pre-cursor of what was to follow. The slow boat takes 2 days to reach Luang Prabang and is uncomfortable as hell on the wooden benches, even with the cushions we had bought in advance, however some of the scenery was stunning. There is no other word for it. However, the problem with this route is that it is popular for being so scenic so the boat was full of your typical 20-something traveller who likes nothing more than to get stupidly drunk and be annoying. The boat had to make 2 stops on the way, just to pick up more beer, which goes to show you what it was like. We just ignored pretty much everyone else, though there were some people of the same mind as us, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. The boat trip culminated with a fight breaking out at the back of the boat where most of the partying was going on between drunk blokes over the one kissing the others girlfriend. We like to think of ourselves as ambassadors for our country and like to be respectful and polite wherever we go. This was just and embarrassment for us and for the Laos family running the boat. The Lao people are polite, unassuming and peaceful and find westerners at times embarrassing and it was a shame to see this viewpoint held up in this way, however the other side of the coin is that we were packed in like sardines and the owners did keep supplying the beer, so maybe contributed to the situation.
We stopped in Pakbeng overnight, which is a place that meets the demand of the boat trip and is not really worth writing about. We found a guesthouse easily with little hassle and that was about it. The place felt like a old wild west town more than anything. The next day, the boat trip was much more peaceful, less beer was flowing I think. It was pretty much more of the same and we got into Luang Prabang around 17:00. While some parts of the boat trip were horrible, the beauty of what we were seeing more than made up for any of the stupidness on the first day. It was a lovely way to see some of the Laos jungle and I would recommend the trip to anyone.