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Published: January 1st 2008
Across the Border
Heading toward Huay Xai in Laos
Leaving Chiang Klong in Thailand we cross the Mekong River into Laos landing at Ben Huay Sai. Here, any delusion of group travel held since leaving Changmai disintegrates. Its every person for themselves trying to get papers processed and passed through immigration. Through immigration I am whisked off to a cafe and told to stay. Half an hour later I am moved across the street to another cafe, and once again am told to wait. Maybe they were hoping I would buy something, maybe it was disorganisation. Finally I am shunted onto the slow boat to Luang Prabang.
The boat, about sixty feet long and ten feet wide, complete with wooden bench seats. A few had a thin plastic cushion which were quickly acquired and poccessed by the chosen few. Provisions, not for us, were loaded aboard and at last we were on our way, down the mighty Mekong.
During this day, the first day of a two day journey, people are chirpy, interacting with each other, taking lots of photographs of the banks and river traffics, the novelty of it all. It quickly became apparent why the boats are long and narrow. Jagged rocks are revealed by the
Some provisions being loaded. Many of the boats plying the Mekong carry cargoes,
low water. Located all across the river this rocks could easily tear the bottom of any wooden boat.
At day's end we reach Pakbeng, where we are to spend the night. Upon arrival a young fellow grabs my backpack and scoots off with it to a guest house of his choice. Not the one I had book the night before in Chiang Klong. Then he demands a 100 baht payment for services rendered. Yeah, I paid the 100 baht, so call me a wimp and made my way to the correct hotel. Had a nice meal overlooking the river and a sleep on a rock hard mattress.
Awake, breakfast over, boat leaves at 8:00AM precisely! Many young men around offering to take our packs to the boats for 100 baht. Few takers. Aboad the boat which will finish the journey. More and more people board until the boat is what I would regard as full. Still they come, and I am having images of a boat sinking and the majority of us floating face down in the river to Luang Prabang. Finally good sense prevails and another boat is allocated. I alight and board the new boat. "It
These jagged rocks could easily tear the boat bottom.
will be another half - hour as we are waiting for people." Can't be bothered going back to the original boat, I stay. I noticed some of the boats have the same type of seats that are found on the VIP buses in Thailand. I look at my wooden bench seat, now I am envious. Finally, finally we leave. This boat feels faster, a fast slow boat. Indeed within an hour we catch and pass the boat I first boarded.
Onwards we go, often seeing people along the river bank where the rainforest gives way to a 'beach'. Where do they come from, what do they do? The whole area seems to be river, a few beaches and rain forest. Today, the passengers aren't so chirpy. Is the novelty of river travel wearing?
Knowing we are near journey's end when we cross the path of day trippers visiting the Cave of a Thousand Budda we sail on arriving at dusk. Tuk-Tuk drivers are out in force, to take people to guest houses which are ocated within a hundred meters. I walk!
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