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Published: December 31st 2013
We were taken from our hotel by the Mekong river down to the Thai border at Chiang Khong. It then took nearly two hours for all twenty something of us to clear immigration at Laos. Depending on our passports we all had to pay different amounts for the visa. EU citizens, Australians and Canadians pay $5 less than British passport holders and Swiss get in for free. We had to fill out a lot of paperwork and many people were confused by the system or didn’t have the right paperwork.
This morning at breakfast at the hostel I met a lovely Australian couple in their sixties from Queensland. As the three of us were taking the same boat and were on the same tour I spent a lot of time talking to them whilst queueing for immigration. Once on the boat it became like a small party, we started introducing ourselves to each other (in between drinking coffee, beer, wine and eating delicious food, napping, playing cards and reading,) and walking around the boat asking about our different countries and each of us had our exciting stories to tell. I met a Swiss man who had lived in
Australia for 37 years and had come with his ‘friend’ who had been together ten years but weren’t officially dating. He went around joking with everybody and he woke me up every time we saw a speedboat so that I could take a photo. It was without doubt a very sociable two days on the boat and in my opinion we were really lucky to spend two fantastic days with such a great group of people. They were all Australian, American or swiss so it made for a pretty exciting time.
It’s curious that since I left Susan’s I haven’t met any british people in Thailand or Laos. I’ve spoken to Americans, Australians, French, germans, Koreans, Russians, thais and turks. The british must all be at the beaches in the south of Thailand.
I spent quite a lot of time with the elderly Australian couple. They taught me a lot about Australia. They showed me pictures of wildlife in their garden back home, of kangaroos, of wallabies and of cockotuus. They pointed out to me which trees on the Mekong river were mango trees and which were paw paw. They taught me that papaya
(paw paw) is full of vitamin C, cleans wounds and tenderises meat. They showed me which were banana plantations as we passed them by on the river. I also learned that in Laos they grow big bananas and small sugar bananas , The ones I had seen growing in the plantations were small ones.
As we were running late after the chaos at immigration we didn’t stop but stayed on the boat for 7 hours. It was really comfortable with a nice bathroom, we had blankets and cushions and at the dining table passed sugar bananas, what seemed like endless amounts of coffee, tea, water, Lao beer, watermelon, papaya and a delicious lunch of Lao dish. Not only was I completely satisfied by the food and company but the Laos guides on the boat spoke really good English and at various points on the trip shared information about Laos, the Mekong river and their lives.
I learned that Laos had two religions – 60% are Buddhist and 40% are spirit worshippers. I also learned that the Mekong river goes all the way to China. In the other direction it goes to Thailand.
In the evening we arrived at Pak Beng Riverside Lodge where we all had rooms booked for us. It was a really beautiful place, and I had a double bed all to myself, and had a really good nights sleep. We all met up for dinner and walked down to a restaurant down the road. I got chatting to the Australian family (a couple and their 3 grown up sons and daughters each with their partners) during dinner. I ordered the national dish Larb with buffalo, and we also tried some dried seaweed from the Mekong river which was delicious. I get the feeling that in Laos we are not so free to walk around at all hours as we are in Thailand. As it is a communist country it has strict rules such as all foreigners should be in their hotel at 11pm and sign in.
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