Cruising Down the (Mekong) River ...

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Asia » Laos » West » Pakbeng
September 20th 2016
Published: September 20th 2016
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We had a bit of a panic earlier (not ours), when we were halfway to the border and David realised that he had left his satchel behind at the hotel and all of his money, passports etc, was in it. Panic and confusion reigned for a few minutes until he made certain that he had actually left his bag behind and that we would have to go back and get it.

Luckily, our driver could speak English so, communication wasn’t a problem and he was soon on the phone to the hotel to confirm that David’s satchel was indeed there. David thought that he had left it on the bed in their room. We waited for a couple of minutes and, relief came when the hotel staff confirmed that they had found it. A quick text to Katy, our Tour Leader, from Joe in our vehicle, to let her know what was going on, as our group were travelling in two separate mini buses. It was only 10kms to the border and, we had only driven several kilometres down the road when David realized his bag was missing so, it wasn’t as though we had to go back miles to retrieve it.

Back to the hotel, where David leapt out of our van to race into reception to grab his bag, only for him to discover later on, as we were heading to our boat. after going through the Laotian border, that in his haste, he had left his cap behind on the counter at reception where he had put it down whilst he retrieved his bag! It seems that we have another Matt on this trip, for when we did the Trans-Mongolian a couple of years ago, Matt left a trail of personal effects behind him as, the further we went, the more his wardrobe diminished by the day! 😊 Consequently, poor David has been copping a ragging from the rest of our group for losing things. This was the second cap he had lost since we had been travelling (a week.)

Breakfast at 7am at the restaurant just down the road from the hotel where we had dinner last night, started our day today. The hotel we were staying in didn’t do meals, but they had a deal with the restaurant, whereby you could order your breakfast for the following morning if you wanted, which is what we did, and which cost us 80 Baht or about AUD$3 each, for a western-style brekky – any kind of egg (we had scrambled), a small sausage, a salad garnish of tomato, cucumber and lettuce, toast and jam, tea and coffee.

Breakfast over, we walked the couple of minutes back to the hotel to pack up the last couple of things and grab our bags to be out front for an 8am departure for the border.

Since we started on our Intrepid tour, we have travelled in two mini buses as the 11of us couldn’t all fit into one and, so was the case again this morning. These little “buses” are also called “took-tooks”, as in Bangkok etc but, seems the spelling is different.

We caught up with the others in our group around 9am at border control and, were through the Thai formalities fairly quickly and then were in no-man’s-land (but all very civilised 😊 between Thailand and Laos. Whilst we waited, we passed the time just chatting and anticipating our next adventure whilst we waited for the shuttle bus to arrive to take us the couple of kilometres to the Laotian border control which took place in a very impressive building. We were on a large tourist coach, which stored our bags underneath, and it only took us a few minutes to get to where we had to go.

We had filled out all of our documentation for our visa applications at our Intrepid welcome meeting the other night so, the procedure was fairly straightforward as we fronted up to the window, handed over our passports and other documentation then moved to the cashier’s window to wait to be called to hand over our USD$30 for Aussies (USD$35 for the Brits) and, we were done. We even got a lovely visa in our passports. Something that is becoming rarer these days. Now, it’s often just a rubber stamp imprint. Very boring.

The whole process had only taken us around half an hour and once through, our little mini-trucks were waiting out the front to take us to the riverfront for boarding our boat and, it didn’t take the driver and helper very long to pack our bags up on the roof of the vehicle.

We drove for about 10 minutes and were soon at the boat landing on the riverbank to board our boat, as we would be spending the next couple of days cruising down the Mekong River from Chiang Khong in Thailand to Luang Prabang in Laos. We were boarded and underway by 10am. We had 140kms to do today before we reached Pak Beng, where we would overnight.

Our boat was wooden, 30 metres long and diesel-powered. Speaking with Kit, our Laotian guide, he told us that, to buy the boat, would cost about USD$30,000!

Our group is the only one on board, which is good and, there is plenty of room for us to move about and plenty of seats for us to sit on. In true Asian-style we had to remove our shoes as we embarked so, are padding around bare-footed whilst on board.

There was nothing to do on board but relax and enjoy. We were heading downstream and the river was flowing very quickly. We could see swirling eddies and whirlpools and also occasional small rapids. It was a lovely sunny and clear day and the scenery quite stunning.

Our hosts are Mr and Madame Gao. Mr. Gao is the captain and driver whilst Madame Gao looks after the food.

Lunch was at midday which was a beautiful spread of Laotian food and, I must say that it was the best meal I had had since leaving home. I’m not a fan of Thai food as, mostly, it is too hot & spicy for me and I’m also not a fan of dishes cooked with coconut milk. The food today was Asian-style but, not as hot and spicy as it is in Thailand. It was lovely. “Dessert” was lovely fresh, cold watermelon pieces. Lunch cost was LAK50 (Kip) or, a “poof-teenth” of an Aussie dollar (or, about 8 ½ cents! 😊

After lunch, some of us had a nana nap whilst I sat on to continue with my journal but, it was so relaxing and quite hypnotic, just floating down the river watching the world go by, that I soon found myself also drifting off, so, finally gave in, and had a bit of a catnap as well.

Mid-afternoon, Katy rounded us up to add yet another skill to our portfolio, buy teaching us to make some flower rosettes out of palm fronds. Whilst most of us began being all fingers and thumbs, with Katy’s patience and expertise in the art of rosette making, she soon had us on the road to making something quite presentable. 😊

We continued on throughout the afternoon just chatting, reading (or rosette-making) or otherwise occupying ourselves until arriving at Pak Beng around 4-30pm. Pak Beng is only a small village at the top of a very steep hill from the riverfront and our guesthouse, the “Phonemani”, about a 10-minute walk away. We had the option of dragging our own bags up the hill or paying the porters 5,000 Kip (about 90c) each bag, to take them for us. They unloaded our bags, packed them into a utility then drove them up to our accommodation for us , leaving them outside our rooms. Worth every penny, or kip! 😊

The “Phonemani” was this very green building, right in the middle of the village, and we were in Room 201 on the first floor. The afternoon was very hot and humid, with no breeze at all. We were hot, tired and sticky but, there was no point showering or changing our clothes as, you would be just as hot and sticky and sweaty again in no time at all.

By now it was around 5pm and we had arranged to meet Katy, our tour leader, downstairs for dinner at 7pm, so we had a couple of hours to ourselves, just to relax. It was very hot in our room but, there was a ceiling fan going (not like the big ceiling fans we are used to) but the same size as an ordinary household fan which oscillated, whilst attached to the ceiling in the centre of the room, being quite effective. However, we were ever so pleased to see that the room was also air-conditioned, so wasted no time in getting it going - set on 18deg! 😊

Our room wasn’t large but was quite welcoming. We also had quite a large bathroom but, like many bathrooms throughout budget accommodation in Asia, often there is no actual shower enclosure so, you have to make sure that you don’t have anything in the bathroom that shouldn’t get wet and also, don’t take your clean clothes into the bathroom with you, as the whole bathroom, including your clothes, can get a shower as well. 😊

All the showers we have had throughout are those awful European things that are a nozzle attached to the end of a hose, detachable from the wall. Standing under it like a conventional shower head, the water spray is quite weak and misses most of you. I usually rotisserie myself until I get wet enough to soap myself all over and then detach the hose from the wall so that I can have a good rinse off and thereby feel as though I have actually had a shower.

We have also had free wi-fi throughout - except for Bangkok – 370 Baht (or about AUD$14) for 24 hours but, hotel reception had also given me a free 24-hour voucher, as well. In Chiang Mai, it was 60 Baht (or a bit over AUD$2) for the duration of our stay, which was several days.

We have also had free wi-fi at the last two guesthouses we have stayed in. Night before last at Chiang Khong, it was fine – not fast, but okay but, tonight, it was very intermittent and kept dropping in and out. We had some connection but the signal was weak so, I gave up in the end as it was just too hard and frustrating. Reception was much better in the foyer but, a bit inconvenient for what I wanted to do and also too warm to sit down there, as the foyer wasn’t air-conditioned.

We met Katy down in the foyer just before 7pm and Catherine was already there on her computer, so we chatted for a bit, then decided to have dinner at the hotel instead of going somewhere else, as Katy said that the food there was rather good.

The others of our group had wandered off somewhere as they often did so, we weren’t sure whether they would be joining us or not but, they wandered back in a little later on so, we all decided to eat at the hotel. The management had set a large table out front for all of us and also had small candles burning on the table, which made for a lovely ambience.

We sat and chatted over dinner whilst reliving some of the days’ events and some of the amusing things that had happened, which made for a lovely relaxing end to the day. Dinner over, we then headed off to our room around 9-30pm for a nice, refreshing shower and air-conditioned sleep.

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21st September 2016

So glad...
..that you've continued blogging about this trip! It's one that has always fascinated us and we'll definitely be doing it one day. Looking forward to reading more :)
21st September 2016

the Mekong and more ...
Hi Ren and Andrew, Thank you .. got a bit bogged down with life this year which stalled my creative blogging urges somewhat and, was in two minds as to whether to pick and continue with this trip's blogs or not. However, felt the urge again so, decided to press on. Even though our trip was awhile ago now, I figured that, whilst it is a personal account and record of your travels at the time, the information still remains valid and, if your experiences can help and/or inspire others in their travels, I have achieved my goal. :) Getting your comments have now inspired and encouraged me once more to continue blogging this trip. Thank you for that ... so, watch this space. :) Jan xox

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