Tuesday June 27, 2017
Hits: 4581
Luang Prabang To Chiang Mai Via The Mekong River
River Monks Performing Afternoon Prayers

Slow Boat To Thailand

“Lao Lao,” insists Mr Sysomphone, holding a bottle of the local whiskey.  Not wanting to offend my new host’s offer, I accept and proceed to flick through the pile of scrapbooks which contain photos and comments from the countless travellers that have stayed with my host and his family in the four years he has run his guest house in Luang Prabang.

The sound of drums rings throughout the town, monks go about their late afternoon prayers and I decide to check out the central night market along the main street, Thanon Phothisalat.

Started in 2003, each evening locals take over this stretch of road with crude lighting strung up. They carefully lay out their handcrafts, ranging in everything from handmade Lao silk, jewellery, rice paper covered lampshades to Beer Lao t-shirts.

The previous night a group of us backpackers wound up at the happening late night Hive Bar. However, this evening I head back to the alleyway previously discovered on a previous nights adventure. Although narrow, it contains a frantic atmosphere of tightly packed food stalls with selections on offer ranging from barbeque chicken, mekong fish, fresh fruit and vegetables. Going once again for the very tasty fish, I squeeze onto a table alongside several other tourists and local couples.

Rising early, I want to experience for myself the daily ritual where small groups of Monks gather to receive their morning alms.  These are the food offerings many local Buddhists place in the patiently waiting monk’s open bowls, as they silently file past them along the quiet early morning streets.

Later that morning, Mrs Sysomphone kindly makes up a couple of filled baguettes and packs a few small sweet bananas into a bag for me.  I bid farewell to my hosts and hurriedly rush out to catch one of the many Lao three wheeled taxis, know as a jumbo, which will take me down to the long distance ferry wharf to catch the 8.45am slow boat travelling daily up the Mekong River to Pakbeng and eventually on to the Lao border town of Huay Xai.

As I pay my driver, down on the river bank, wating to depart is a long narrow ferry boat with about 20 other tourists and locals accompanying their precious supplies.

The journey upstream passes steep limestone cliffs leading up toward the location of the famous Pak Ou caves, which contain a much famed collection of Buddha statues.  From time to time we stop momentarily alongside the riverbank at small villages to load and unload supplies and passengers, always causing quite a commotion with expectantly waiting villagers.

Fully loaded boats packed with weary looking passengers pass us, travelling down stream toward Luang Prabang.  Other tourist opt for the spped boad option, passing us far more quickly.  These are overpowered, narrow five meter boats that cover the distance in six hours as opposed to our slow boat trip of two days.  Though quick, the trip trip was later described to me as deafening, soaking and cramped. I certainly wasn’t in that much of a hurry.

By late afternoon we arrive into Pakbeng, and struggle up the steep sandy riverbank to the main street, where we are met with offers of accommodation for the night’s stopover.

Unfortunately, for me my choice is not so great.  After an evening meal, the generator supplying power to the village is cut and as if on queue my guesthouse comes alive with rats in search of food.

River Boarding The Slow Boat At Luang Prabang

River Boarding The Slow Boat At Luang Prabang

Pak Ou Caves

Pak Ou Caves

In the morning I try to explain to the owners that some poison might be a good idea, though all I get in answer is just a smile.

Villagers stand along the roadside selling more baguettes and fruit, catering for the passing groups of sleep deprived travellers making their way down to the ferry ticket shack, where I learn that some of my fellow passengers had been far more fortunate with their choice of accommodation the previous night.

Now with fewer of us on board, we spread out on the narrow planks which serve as our seats, trying to relax and get comfortable in between reading books and gazing out at the scenery. In the background is the ever constant drone of the engine coming from the rear of the boat.

By late afternoon, we finally pull into the Lao border town to Huay Xai, passing by local families gathered to bath along the rivers edge, all of whom excitedly wave out to us as we slowly pass them.

The border control into Thailand is closed for the evening.  A group of us check into a nearby guest house and head out for a well deserved meal on dry land.

With morning comes passport control. We clamber onboard a small row boat, to make a short final crossing of the Mekong to the Thai border town of Chiang Khong.

Completeting immigration formalities, we find ourselves dropped off at the central bus depot.  Some confusion shortly follows and we soon learn that a bus is leaving for Chiang Mai in around a minute’s time.

Empty at first, the bus slowly fills to capacity as the hours pass by.  A few plastic chairs placed in the aisle takes care any of extra passengers, after several stops and six hours we arrive into Chiang Mai.

As confirmed by my fellow travellers, it is the end of a long, but a thoroughly worthwhile river trip.  However, now I am only too happy to dump my bags, grab a shower, and head out to explore the city’s famous night bazaar.

Luang Prabang Markets By Night

Luang Prabang Markets By Night

Luang Prabang Markets

Eventing - Luang Prabang Markets

River Monks Performing Afternoon PrayersRiver Monks Performing Afternoon Prayers

Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

“No”, gasps the women behind the counter, as I hand over my passport and paperwork.  In an attempt at her best English she replies, “You need to sign out of Ecuador first”.  My heart sinks for the second time this evening.  The man ahead of me from the bus turns around and interrupts in English, “You need to return to Ecuador border control to sign out, first”.

“30 minutes, that way” he continued, pointing back in the direction we had just traveled from.  “The bus driver says he can take your backpack and you can collect it from the depot in Tumbes”. 

Get Jealous - Rob Robert Groothuis

Joey Thomas

A Chat With Australian Actress Jo Christiaans

Google Map Luang Prabang, Louangphabang, Laos

Google Map Chiang Mai, Thailand

Contact Rob

S5 Box