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Published: April 9th 2010
After crossing into Laos from Chang Khong
in Northern Thailand across the Mekong River
, through a border control that had more in common with a garden shed than a formal international crossing point, I was adamant that I was going to pick up the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang
… After watching countless films on the Vietnam War
, I had a somewhat romantic vision of floating through lush jungle landscapes on the “Mighty Mekong"
, (as the guide books like to call it), Apocalypse Now
style, but without the Viet Cong
shooting at me obviously!
However, this image failed to be realized as the “Mighty Mekong”
is not so mighty in March (the beginning of the Dry Season in Laos) and the government had terminated all boat services as the water was too low…
Not to be discouraged and still adamant to arrive to Luang Prabang by boat, plans were quickly revised to head for Nong Khiaw
on the banks of the Nam Ou River
… And it was well worth it!
The water levels were high enough here so, through stunning rural Laos, the six hour long boat trip is, in its own right, a highlight of South East Asia…
Even more so when, consistent with every experience in transit through Laos, the unexpected happens and the boat runs aground! No matter; we all hitch up our trousers and push the boat down the river until the water levels are deep enough to continue…
And to Louang Phabang... With all the hype surrounding it, it lives up to its reputation, despite the fact that the barren scorched land and overcast skies (the result of tons of smoke produced by the deforestation projects introduced by the Chinese), slightly suffocates the town as the ongoing drought continues to tighten around the North… I can only begin to imagine how beautiful this place would be after the Rainy Season!
The stunning and staggeringly well preserved town proves easy to fall in love with… And a difficult place to leave… There is not really much to see and do as such… But in this tranquil, grandiose mountain kingdom, in probably the most laid back county in the world, the urgency to “make the most of things”
on the tourist itinery simply evaporates… It’s really a great place to do nothing in particular, and coming from someone who can suffer child like boredom
and generally develop an anxious feeling that I should be constantly moving on after a few days, that is saying something!
The waterfalls nearby provide welcome relief from the brutally humid weather conditions, which cannot be combated by six ice cold showers a day and keeps the local laundry service places booming... Climbing up trees, swinging off ropes and leaping into the water, the grounds are really fantastic and very refreshing indeed, although of course no more than ten seconds after leaving the water you are bone dry and sweating again...
Very much a get up early, go to bed early place everything shuts down at Eleven, but the riverside bars are fantastic, none more so than Utopia
- no relation to the old cattle market in Reading
! An awesome riverside setting, with bamboo verandahs overlooking the banks and a volley ball court in the yard, it’s the perfect place to read a book in the afternoon or sink some beers in the evening… And also proves the logical choice for St Patrick’s
And so, with my Laos travel buddy Sabrina, weak ankled, Cheese Baguette obsessed and seemingly the only French girl on the planet who
gives a shite about St Patrick’s
night, we hit the bar and, to my amusement, watch a sweet natured but inept bar girl attempt to paint little shamrocks on everyones’cheeks…
The result is a lively bar full of people from everywhere except Ireland
, listening to the entire U2 back-catalogue, drinking Lao Lao
) as the blazing sun sets over the river, excitable Yanks
smashing Volleyballs across the court and occasionally the bar… And all the while with formless green doodles on everyones checks, doomed never quite to achieve shamrock status!
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