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Published: February 20th 2006
12 happy people in a boat
my group of happy travellers getting the boat from chiang khong across the mekong the to laos border crossing
After spending a really nice last night in Thailand in our wooden riverside guesthouse, we get up early to go through border control to get to our new country, Laos. This entailed a boat crossing over the Mekong into our new town, Huay Xai, where we quickly went through the town on a tuk tuk to board our river boat, which will be our method of transport for the next 2 days.
after reading other comments from people saying that we would have to sit on wooden seats or on the floor for 2 days, i was pleasantly surprised to see that the boat was newly kited out with what appeared to be car seats. these were really comfy and we had a 60ft longboat just for our group which was nice. plenty of room to move around, a decent toilet (well, good enough) and good company meant the trip was an enjoyable one.
the scenery along the mekong was truly spectacular. only 10% of laos' 5 million people live in large urban areas, so its very much a rural society. small villages were spread across the banks of the river - all made of wood and palm leaves,
bar one or two which were made from brick and corregated tin roof (the wealthier people no doubt).
the country is heavily forested with broad leave trees, many of which had lost their leaves, as it was the hot dry season. the river level is also pretty low, rising a further 12 metres in depth at the height of the monsoon. the low level of the river has left hundreds of lovely sandy beaches along the banks, all of which are totally deserted. it was a really nice way to travel by boat, chugging away gave you the time to snooze, read a book or just chat to other members of the group. we did several stops along the way, including visits to a local hill tribe village and a series of caves which have been used by buddhists for worship. several people bought the rather potent locally-distilled spirit at the village - lao lao - made from rice. because people are so poor it is usually put into empty water bottles and sold for under a dollar, and boy is it strong!
after day 1 on the river we stopped for the night at our first guesthouse in a village called pak beng. although having a reputation for being a bit of a wild west town, it had lots of atmosphere and the accommodation was basic to say the least (flushing the toilet consisted of ladelling foul smelling water into the toilet bowl - not the place to be stuck after a dose of the delhi belly). we had a look around the local markets and explored the town in general. the people here are noticeably poorer than they are in thailand, although they are by and large, very happy, with thousands of smiley happy kids running around in filthy conditions.
after reboarding the boat on day 2 we headed down the river again to the gorgeous french-colonial town of luang prabang - the third largest town in laos, with a population of 60,000. this will be the topic of my next entry.
hope everybody is well,
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