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Published: February 3rd 2009
Our overpacked Slow Boat.
We left Chiang Mai at noon on a Minibus to Laos, the drive wasn't too bad but did last until 6:30. The funny thing about bus rides here is that the people driving the bus have no issues with running person errands while taking paying customers from point A to point B. Besides taking numerous "bathroom breaks" at little stop offs on the side of the road where the driver seems to know everyone, we stopped at one point so he could drop off some fruit he had purchased for his daughter. We were all waiting on the bus while they had a mini reunion in the front yard. This is nothing new, however it does tend to surprise you a bit. I forgot to mention in my blog leaving Koh Chang that we were on a 55 person bus and the driver felt the need to stop at a fruit stand to pick up some watermelon for himself before we were on our way again.
Anyway, we arrived at our guesthouse in a little village called Chiang Khong which was still on the Thailand side of the Mekong River. Our guesthouse overlooked the river which was pretty nice. We had
The view from our boat.
dinner then headed to bed because we booked a two-day slow boat trip down the Mekong so we wanted to get some rest.
The next morning after breakfast is where the disorganization and mass confusion started. There were about 60 fellow travelers as well as ourselves waiting to leave at 8:30, this is a time the set, not me. We were all standing there ready to go when they pulled in with a minibus that holds 12 people max. So, as you can imagine it took quite some time to take 5 separate trips to the river. We ended up being in the last minibus at around 9:45-10. The part that pissed me off is that the minibus took us about a quarter of a mile down the road. So, we all sat around for an hour and 15 minutes for a 1 minute bus ride. We literally could have walked there in under 5 minutes. The bus then drops us off at the top of the hill so we have to walk down with all our belongings. From here we get in a little boat and cross the Mekong over into Laos. This all could have been avoided if
First sunset in Laos!
these boats had simply pulled up to our guesthouse, which as I mentioned earlier is ON THE RIVER. By the time we get to Laos it's around 10:30, two hours wasted.
Once in Laos we go through customs which is set up in something similar to a backyard shed, although I've seen nicer sheds. We fill out the necessary paperwork and give our passports to some random guy in a leather coat who turns around and hands them to the guy behind the counter, what he gets paid for I'm still not sure? I guess the guy in the leather coat isn't allowed to deal with money because once they want to get paid for the visa all of a sudden you're allowed to speak to them. He takes the money and directs you to another window about 5 feet away. The problem with this is that the payment window and the visa window are 5 feet from one another and are built into a corner, so you have two lines of 60 confused people criss-crossing one another. Due to the well thought out architectural design of the shed this tacks another 1.5 hours onto the process, 3.5 hours wasted.
The death trap we got dropped off on.
Once you get your stamp and put the passport away and head up the hill towards the town, they stop you and ask to see your visa stamp so this causes more chaos as everyone has to take all there bags off and dig around for the visa that they obviously just got. Once to the top of the hill we are herded into yet another minibus that takes us through town and then back to the same river that we started on about a half mile down the road. We all wait at a restaurant for another hour while these people take everyone’s passports, yet again, so the police can verify that we got our visas. I think what the deal is, is that nobody thinks the other is capable of doing their job, so everyone wants to check, check and then check again.
Finally, at one o'clock we get on the slow boat and head towards our destination. The slow boat is another story in itself. They built little wooden bench seats that were designed for midgets and put them all over this long narrow boat in no particular order. So, again everyone was confused as to where
to sit. We rode on the boat for 6 hours while making various pit stops along the way to run more errands that had nothing to do with any of the paying customers onboard. What could I possible want with 2,000 lbs. of burlap sacks? Nothing, yet we stopped so they could be loaded onto our roof. Also, there were two other random stops along the river so herds of villagers could storm the boat and try to sell food, drinks and beer at higher prices than what the boat itself was offering. I'm not sure where the logic is here, but what do I know?
We finally arrived at our location for the night in a little village and this is where the chaos continued. So here is the scenario: All the bags are in a compartment under the floor at the very front of the boat. So, they pull the floor up as 120 people are trying to walk past to clear off the boat. Because there is no floor, they are handing out everyone’s bags and directing them to jump from our boat to the boat parked next to us with all our bags in tow. From
Little river village.
this boat we had to walk across a plank of wood over the water, while the boat is swaying, onto the shore. The shore was literally a steep sand dune with jagged rocks protruding from it. So, we have 120 peopl... men, women, children and old people taking everything they have with them and scaling a sand dune to get up to the village. It was a site to see, let me tell you. Once we got to the top we found a guesthouse, showered up and grabbed some dinner.
Somewhere throughout the night I lost my wallet with the equivalent of $120 US in it so I knew that I was never going to see that again. I'm guessing some of the people in the village don't make that in 6 months, so I guess it'll go a lot further in their hands than in mine. I was pissed at first but out of all the things I could have lost, that was probably the least important. That night I had to remove a good sized cockroach from my bed before I could lay down, it was pretty nasty.
The next morning we were the last group to head
I have no idea but I'm sure Buddha has something to do with it.
down to the slow boat which worked out extremely well because they over packed the first one as they had the day before and they let us get on a second boat with more than enough room. Needless to say, we were comfortable. This was the long portion of the journey so we were thankfully we got some good seats.
The Mekong River is brown and you cannot see through at any point but all along the way people are fishing and bathing in the river. It was a beautiful ride with huge mountain peaks and all sorts of cool vegetation. I'm not going to say that I would want to do it again in the near future but I'm glad we did it once. Upon arrival in Luang Prabang we hopped off the slow boat and headed up to the city. We decided that there was not much to do there so we booked a night bus to Veng Viang and headed out.
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