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Published: August 9th 2017
Geo: 19.8841, 102.142
I can't think of a better way to enter Laos than to cruise south down the Mekong river on a slow boat for two days, It was such a beautiful trip. I had no idea about the landscape let alone about Laos itself, and within two days I was blown away.
There are so many people I know that have traveled South East Asia but haven't gone to Laos, so I was keen to experience most of what this country had to offer.
We had organized a package deal which would take us to the boarder and to Luang Prabang, it included a two day slow boat down the Mekong with two nights accommodation and food provided for 2000 Baht each. We set off to the border in a mini van for 5 hours with a mixed bunch of travelers including Karen, a 60ish year old American who has retired to India and does fortune telling (who said that Anna was good for me) and Marv the German guy who we rode with in Chiang Mai, plus others.
We arrived in Chiang Kong aka Huay Xai and spent the night there as the slow boat leaves in the morning. They offer pillows
for purchase to use on the slow boat which several people bought but when we got on the boat it had car seats so they aren't really necessary and they are something extra and awkward to carry. We crossed the border easily under clear blue sky as the previous day had been horrible and rained quite a bit, but we had to get a lift to an Atm as we didn't have enough money for the visa's. After a bit of waiting we were on the boat and left about 1.5 hours later than expected where it didn't take long before the beauty of the landscape appeared, it's an awesome sight with large hills and distant mountains flanking both sides of the river, covered in thick jungle and where small villages are dotted along the river bank with sandy beaches. Who knew a land locked country like Laos would have white beaches.
I was a bit disappointed we couldn't get off and pitch a tent for the night on one of the beaches, you also wish you could visit the local villages and take the local trails in to the jungle for some trekking, because we would constantly stop to pick
up or drop off locals along the way.
The trip to Pak Beng, the halfway point, took around 6 hours and we arrived just before dark, surrounded by touts. We already had pre-booked accommodation as part of our package but was surprised they didn't provide dinner for us. So with only Thai Baht we were still able to pay for dinner which was pretty average on both counts. The town itself barely has any authenticity as guesthouses and restaurants line the street from the port.
It was an early start with our breakfast and lunch provided and we set off only 30 min late at 9.30, without Karen and Marv who both wanted to stay in Pak Beng an extra night. The trip took around 7 hours and with the same stunning landscape most of the way before opening up as we rolled in to out final destination, Luang Prabang.
Laos was once under French rule so some of the things you notice are that they drive on the right side of the road as well as baguettes and crepes are popular and plentiful. We had no accommodation so as we arrived we set about getting some money out first.
Laos currency has ridiculously
high denominations. $1 Australian is roughly 8,000 kip. So with a limited supply of Atm's available in the country we withdrew enough to last a while which happened to be 2 million kip, around $300. It felt good to be a millionaire, spending a lousy 20,000 here and 50,000 there, and the good thing is there are no coins.
Contrary to what I thought, Luang Prabang or some parts of Laos are actually quite expensive and accommodation was more than we thought. We managed to find a nice guesthouse for $6.50 per night as we struck a deal with the owner for a lower price for staying four nights in a row, but it's a bit of a walk to the main area, but in a quiet area.
Luang Prabang is a very nice place, clean and quite nice looking, overlooking the Mekong and surrounded by mountains and jungle. There are quite a lot of older travelers and it has some expensive places to stay and eat.
Every night there is a market that stretches for hundreds of meters down one street selling some amazing stuff like clothes, bed stuff, jewelery, paintings and much more. We ended up buying a set of
three small colored paintings. Bargaining is easy here as there are so many vendors selling the same thing. Another great deal here is the dinner where you can get a buffet of a selection of foods on one medium sized plate for 10,000 kip, $1.50 and you can stack it as high as you can handle, bargain if you ask me.
The next morning we set off about 10am and grabbed a nutella and banana pancake, much different to the ones we had in Phi Phi Leh. I had some stomach pains so we sat down for a little bit and were asked by a tuk tuk driver to see the Tat Kuang Si waterfalls. He quoted 70,000 each to start with and then reduced it to 30,000. We were just planning to hang around the town for the day but the price suited us. As we were waiting we grabbed a ham and cheese baguette each for 10,000 as we waited for an hour for other people to come along. The tuk tuk driver charged them more so we had to play along that we were charged the same as them.
Around 12 we set off for an hour to the
waterfalls and they were spectacular, one of the best I have been to. There were many small ones and the color of the water was a strange milky color. You are also able to swim there too. We walked uphill a bit to the main big fall which looked amazing with the sun filtering from above. We had our baguettes for lunch and took the steep trail up to the top of the big waterfall and returned for a 30 min swim where we were able to swing on a rope from a tree. All up 2.5 hours was a good time as we headed back at 3.30 with a tuk tuk full of Frenchies.
We found a cheap laundry service for 6,000 kip per kg, as most charge 10,000. That night we got our buffet dinner and walked the market. There is so much cool stuff that you can buy but we couldn't as we still have a while to travel and can't carry everything. But we bought bed cover that looks amazing and bartered the price down a fair bit. We ran in to Marv briefly before returning to our room to find my arch nemesis, the bed
bug, in my sheets which was promptly killed.
The next day we got our pancake breakfast and baguette lunch as well as running in to Karen the US lady. We were going across the river to the other side and were asked by touts for a boat to go there and back for 50,000 kip, but a ferry that transports cars and people only costs 5,000 per person, the choice was obvious..
The other side is completely different, far less tourists make the crossing, there isn't much there but it's nice to walk as village life is more apparent and there's a bit more rubbish lying about and a few temples within walking distance of each other. We stopped along the river for lunch where some local kids hung around us and we gave them a chocolate bar.
We headed back and had a rather bizarre snack of what seemed to be egg and noodles but quite cheap and picked up our laundry and chilled out at the guesthouse for a few hours as it was quite hot.
At about 4 we went on search of a place that would show the rugby final as was lucky as there were two places in the
whole town with a tv and showing the game. We then continued up the hill in town for the sunset, it was pretty packed but a beautiful sunset. Then off for another buffet dinner and a treat of some chocolate cake and brownie.
The following day was taken easy as we watched a very stressful New Zealand vs France rugby final at one of the bars, but unfortunately picked the wrong one of the only two places as the commentary was in the local language, but we were there early with the pick of the best seats.
Overall we have only spent 4 days in Laos and I absolutely love it, the people are so friendly and relaxed, the scenery is stunning and I think this will be one of my favorite countries and we still have two weeks to experience the rest of it as we head south to Vang Vieng, Vientiane and Pakse before heading back up north again.
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