Thai / Laos border crossing and slow boat part 1

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April 16th 2010
Published: November 30th -0001
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Chiang Mai - Chiang Khong - Pak Beng

Through thailand by bus, through Laos on the mekong river by slow boat.

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The bus ride from Chiang Mai wasn’t too bad; Air-con bus, fit about 10 people. The bus was an hour late which worried us all a bit, we wound up leaving our guest house at 11am with two breaks (half an hour and 15 minutes), arriving in the tiny town of Chiang Khong at about 4:30. We were pleasantly surprised by the accommodations set up for us, usually when booking some sort of package tour like the one we were one the accommodations are sub-par at best. The grounds to the guest house were all lush and leafy green with wooden dorm style rooms which were simple yet comfortable. There was also a pool but it resembled more of a frog pond then a leisure pool.

Chiang Khongs’ main road is about 1km long in either direction with simple shops selling snacks and local wares, as well as a local ‘market’ (people sitting along the side of the road with small stalls selling fresh fruit and fish). We took advantage of the well priced fresh food offered and stocked up for the 2 day journey into Laos that lay before us.

We had an early start to the day to ensure we made it through Laos customs before our boat set sail at 10am (This is what you call Laos time, when they say 10, you can bet it won’t leave until at least 11). From our guesthouse we were driven to the side of the mighty Mekong River where we caught a teeny tiny very tipsy feeling boat across to Laotian customs. I’m assuming that the Mekong at this spot was the border line as there was never any sign that you had left one country and entered another except for the other side of the river seemed very poor, much more then the side we left, and they drove on the right side of the road (as opposed to the left)

On the other side of the river we were shepherded up a hill and into Laotian customs, a few tiny buildings with no orderly system other then wait until they hold up your passport and then it’s your turn. The night before we were told that we had to pay 100 baht to be able to jump the line, but when we got there we realized it was 100
Border crossingBorder crossingBorder crossing

We dont look to pleased to be crossing the Thai/Lao border on these scrawny boats
baht gone. After about an hour of waiting around for a man behind some glass held up our passport we went through a check point, which was a man in a stall who had been watching us all receive and pay for our visas, now checking that we actually did get visas. We then had to get up to the main road of the little village and catch a tuk tuk which should have already been paid for but wasn’t, our guide decided to take off with half the group and leave us behind. After a stressful few minutes we paid and took off at 9:55 thinking we were just about to miss the only boat of the day. Our driver got us to the boat launch area, and told us to go into a restaurant where we found (surprise) our guide!! After some stressful yelling at him he gave us our money back for the tuk tuk and then proceeded to try and rip off our entire group (there was maybe 15 or so of us) on the exchange rate from US$ to Kip, he told us that the town we would be stopping in for the night (Pak Bang) only excepted kip, no Thai Baht, no US$’s, and as none of us had any (because you can’t buy it outside of Laos) he told us this was our only chance to get money to use when we got into Pak Bang. We agreed and he gave us an exchange rate of 6400 kip to 1 US $ (it should be closer to 8700 kip to 1 US $), he then tried to short change each one of us, giving us 82.000 kip of our 200.000 that we were owed (I was at this point ready to throw one of these little men into the river to the catfish). Finally after everyone getting quite angry and yelling at the tour guides we get the money situation sorted out and are told to go catch the boat as it was leaving soon, we arrive to an already full boat and wound up sitting on the floor until some people were nice enough to move around and give us room. It turns out though that the floor is much more comfortable then the chairs as they were made for tiny Asian bums, not larger Western bums.

So we boated for about 3 or 4 hours before they pulled up to a sandy shore along the river and some speed boats pulled up to us offering rides into Pak Bang for 800 Baht (which no one wanted as everyone already paid to Luang Prabang, why would we pay more for a trip we’ve already paid for). After about half an hour of playing in the sand and turning down offers for speed boat rides the drivers tell us that the slow boat we’re on can’t go any further because the water is too low, so they take us to the other side and tell us to “GO GO GO” and to walk along the shore about 20 minutes to another boat that was waiting for us. We couldn’t see another boat, and they wanted to take our bags in the speed boats and have us walk.... You can imagine how many people were all over that. It took awhile but people slowly started to trickle off the boat and start walking along down the beach. Another half an hour of waiting there was 6 of us left on the boat, they drove it back to the other side and
Fever and heavy caughFever and heavy caughFever and heavy caugh

Scott on the boat, day 1
parked it and didn’t say a word to us for about 10 minutes, when they finally offered us a free ride in the speed boat to the waiting slow boat which we agreed upon, and sure enough there was a slow boating loaded up with all the people who took to trekking in the sandy shores of the Mekong waiting for us stubborn people.

4 more hours down the river and Scott’s cold quickly turning into something else including fever and horrible chest pains and a cough, we land in Pak Bang just as the sun was lowering itself behind the mountains. There was so many people in the boat and we heard not very many guest houses available for us we decided that Scott Mike and Sebastian (two of the three others Scott and I were traveling with into Laos) would go up and try to find us a room while Georgina (Sebastian’s girlfriend) and I collected all the bags off the boat and brought them to shore. The boat docks and Scott and Mike are gone, Sebastian got stuck at the back of the boat making sure his bag didn’t get taken by one of the
The trek over the beachThe trek over the beachThe trek over the beach

These are the people who were not stubborn...
young Laotian’s trying to carry bags up the hill for money. The two get back before I even manage to get off the boat with two rooms for 400 baht total. Quite a good deal!! After some dinner and an episode of House we hit the hay... or so I thought. Right before I was about to crawl into bed I noticed a tick (oh my buddah), and then another. I killed them both with mild concern, rolled out the sleeping bag instead of using house linens and tried to go to sleep. Middle of the night I woke up to use the toilet, came back and on a whim checked my bed again with the flashlight. I found 7 more ticks before I decided the bed was a no go zone for me, and while grabbing my pillow for a makeshift bed on the floor realized they were on there as well. After an hour of walking around the hotel and trying to figure out what I was going to do, I went to check on Scott and noticed two ticks on his bed as well, right near his head. I freaked out and got him out of bed, we wound up blowing up our air mattresses and using clothes as blankets on the floor just inside the entrance to our room. Needless to say it was a horrible sleep. I also woke up sick as I had finally caught Scott’s cold.

After a sleepless tick filled night and waking up sick we were back on the boat into Luang Prabang. After a solid 9 hours of driving down the river they suddenly pulled over onto the side of the river without saying a word. We thought they were going to try the speed boat scam on us again and no one was in the mood for being told that they had to pay 800 baht for a ride into town. We were wrong though, the Laotian drivers quickly tied to boat up securely and started unfolding huge tarps down across the boat enclosing us in to almost complete darkness. There was a storm coming they said, and it was getting dark, too dangerous to continue for the time being. We were all quite confused as the sky looked decent, when it hit. Torrential rain like you can’t imagine, it was like someone had a giant
My watchMy watchMy watch

It does say its water proof, hm i actually didnt even put it in water, I do sweat on my arm though. Good quality!
bucket of water and decided that they were going to dump it over out boat. I passed out at this point with everyone bunkering down for the wait. The storm lasted about 45 minutes before we were on our way again, and another hour of boating found us in Luang Prabang with some light rain and complete darkness.

We’re happy to finally be finished with the journey into Laos and are looking forward to checking into a comfortable room, no bugs, warm shower, and comfortable bed. This will defiantly be one of those nights that we spend more than planned on a hotel room!!

The plan for Laos is to hang out in Luang Prabang for a night or two (or until we’re both better from this cold) and then head into Vang Viang for some more trekking and tubing down the Nam Song river, then onto Vientiane and back into Thailand!!


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