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Published: November 17th 2005
Mini Van means Small
They piled 10 of us in these small Toyota minivans for the 5 hour ride to Chaing Khong.
I have not been writing much so I thought I would expand a bit...hope it is not to much...
We ventured from Chaing Mai via minivan to the border town of Chaing Khong. There we stayed the night at a riverside guesthouse and handed in our passports so we would have Laos Visas in the morning for the ferry ride across the Mekong. There was not much to Chaing Khong save a few restaurants and guesthouses catering to the travelers coming and going to Laos.
The next morning we, along with about 90 other travelers, took the small boats across the Mekong to Loas. We were all separated based on whether we were taking the SLOW or FAST boat to Luang Prabang. Tamar and I were slatted for a slow boat so we could enjoy the scenery. Plus, there have been horror stories about the fast boats which can be very dangerous as they flip over and crash into rocks. The plus side is they can do the trip down the Mekong to Luang Prabang in just 6 hours while the slow boat takes two days.
Before I continue, a little fact about Laos for the readers: Laos
Looking at Laos
The view across the Mekong to Laos from Chaing Khong.
is the most heavily bombed country in the world and the country is still literally carpeted with Unexploded Ordinances (UXO). That is, cluster bombs, land mines and missiles that plopped to earth and didn’t detonate. Between 1964 and 1973, during the “Secret War” in Laos, the U.S. flew 580,344 missions, dropping over two million tons of bombs - that’s a ton of explosives for every man, woman and child in Laos at the time. I am so happy to be here!
Back to my tale: We piled onto the slow boat which is not more than a large covered canoe with hard wooden benches and no leg room. We plugged in our headphones and listened to music as the rolling Laos hills and small villages on the Mekong floated by. Six hours later and a sore back, the boat coasts into Pek Bang, a small village where everyone disembarks to spend the night. I took the first guest house I found (featuring small bamboo shacks with fan and shared bathrooms for $3.....there was no electricity in town so no hot water) and stretched. As the sun set, we ventured out to grab some food (which turned out to be
very good noodles and soup) and then hit the sack. The constant pattering of mice's feet kept me up some of the night but I was able to grab a few zzzzs.
The next morning we were the last people to arrive at the boat launch to find the boat was full. So a group of 20 or so travelers were put on a smaller slow boat ("I thought this was the small boat, Fat Jack?") which was good as we all got our own seats and even cushions! As we floated down the river and the Fast boats went by, I began to wish I had taken one of them. But the 7 hours went by quickly and by the late afternoon, we reached Luang Prabang.
Thanks to my handy Lonely Planet guidebook, I had picked out a guest house so we immediately marched there (a few blocks from the boat landing) and secured a room for $7 a night (a bit high Laos but it seems the people here have taken a love to Capitalism).
After a hot shower, we stolled the streets of Luang Prabang which feature numerous cafes, restaurants and activity shops which
Ferry to Loas
All of the travelers are herded onto these rickety boats to cross the Mekong into Loas.
plan treks, rafting trips, etc. Towards the end of town is a long street fair type market where locals sell all kinds of local trinkets and clothes. Looking for something more Laos than touristy, we passed through town and began wandering the local residential area.
As we approached a monk on the street, I permormed bow to which he responded "Good Evening" in perfect english. We laughed. As we meandered the small streets, we passed a group of teenagers in what looked like a garage. Always looking for a good LOCAL time, I grabbed Tamar's hand and we crashed the party. It was a bunch of 18 year old Boys and Girls drinking Lao Wiskey (Lao Coa) and eating food. They were happy to have us sit with them and drink. A girl was making food using an old fashioned wood burning pot. They asked us questions in broken english and we tried to answer them as best we could. They laughed everytime I drank the whiskey as my face contored with the burning sensation. After a few drinks and some laughs, Tamar and I said Cop Chai Lai Lai (thank you) and departed. On our way back to
Slowboat to Luang Prabang
With it's hard wooden benches and almost no leg room, this was our transportation for the next two days. We spent 6 hours on it the first day, stopped at Lek Bang for the evening, and then another 7 hours on the slow boat the next day. Tamar and I were the last to arrive at the boat on the second day and found it was full. So they herded a group of us onto an even smaller boat but we all had our own seats.
town, we stumbled upon a badmiton match. These guys were fast, nimble and good! I did not realize badmitton was so fast paced.
Back in town we got Lao Massages for $5 each and called it a night.
The next day we chartered a tuk tuk with two Swedish guys to the Khong Si waterfall which is about 25 kms from town. While onlookers gazed at the beautiful waterfall, I immediately stripped my shirt off and went in the cool water. It was very refreshing against the hot sun of the Laos day. Soon other visitors were in the water and enjoying its coolness. We climbed to the top of the waterfall for some spectacular views and then headed back down to soak in the water once more.
We stopped at the Tiger House on the way back to the Tuk Tuk and the park ranger let us pet the tiger. After reading The Life of Pi, I was a bit hesitant to fool with the tiger but I braved it anyway. On the return Tuk Tuk ride, our driver stopped at a local village for us to sample life in the region. The people were very
Here is a fast boat which passed us along the river. These boats are very light making them succeptible to flipping over. And they are incredibly noisy. But they can make the trip to Luang Prabang in 6 hours instead of two days like the slow boat.
friendly and of course tried to hawk some local items.
Back in town we ate lunch and watched a movie to beat the heat for a bit. While strolling the streets, we bumped into our Spanish friends from Chaing Mai and enjoyed a few Lao Beers with them.
Next day we rented bikes and rode around Luang Prabang. We met many Laos kids on bikes (primary form of transportation), stopped at a few temples and then road along river and stopped at a sports camp where I played with all of the kids.
We ate dinner on the street (great Mekong fish) and then went to Hive Bar for a bit. When I was doing yoga in the morning on the curbside, it was abit dirty so I cleaned it some. An elderly man who lived across the street saw this and once I started, he came over with a broom and cleaned some more. By 8:30am, we were at the South Bus Station looking to board our bus to Vang Vieng (we had purchased tickets the previous night). But we were told the bus was sold out so they put us, the three Spaniards, three Candian
guys and a French couple into a minivan. They wanted us to pay more but none of us were having any of that action. Off to Vang Vieng.
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