A two-day boat ride down the Mekong river into Laos? What? Mekong river? Boat? Two days? Yes please! My journey started out in the sleepy Thailand village of Chiang Khong which was a precarious 6 hour drive from Chiang Mai. The precarious part was due to my driver practicing his “too fast too furious” drifting moves around each mountainous turn. We literally skidded, fishtailed, and screeched the tires around each corner. Apparently the race car driver,cough cough, I mean the minivan driver gets paid extra if he can fit in another trip during the day. I would have gladly paid extra for him to relax. We did make it to Chaing Khong safely though and my driver did get his bonus, I am sure! I have to say I really liked the quant village of Chiang Khong. It is not too big and seems people have a healthy spirit of a simple life here. Walking down the back streets, people waved and smiled. The owner of my guesthouse knew how many of the same type of dogs were in town. I think this is one of those towns where everybody there knows everything about about everyone. My last night in Thailand was spent in a lodge overlooking the Mekong river listening to weird river noises and faint loud Lao music blasting from the Laos side of the river.
Place I stayed in my last night in Thailand. $5/night
I was uber excited for my boat journey and didn’t have anything prebooked. Most opt for booking tour packages in Chiang Mai or Chiang Khong where your tuk-tuk transportation, boat ticket, lodging, and lunches are included but that would be too easy for me. As the more I travel, I find I like the not knowing and spontaneous adventure of seeing where it takes me.. I absolutely love being my own tour guide and the serendipitous journey of it. I think it is fun to roll into a town with no plan or reservations and seeing what happens. Living in the moment and making decisions based on gut feelings! So the morning of my two day journey into Laos, I got onto a morning shuttle to the Thai immigration office at border. On the shuttle, I had the had the pleasure of meeting Ian from Canada who was doing the same thing as me. It is nice having a partner in crime sometimes. So at the border, there was another opportunity to buy a package deal again which I again refused. My plan was to go to the dock, look at boats, and negotiate. After we crossed the border, there was a bus to carry us across the bridge into Laos. We then shuffled through the Laos immigration to the other side where tuk-tuk drivers were waiting. Well, here is where things got interesting. After I crossed the border, my bag was thrown on top of one tuk-tuk and they wanted to wait until we had a full house of 5 other passengers. I was in a hurry to get to the boat because I had heard you want to get there early to get a good seat. Sitting on the wooden bench next to a loud screaming diesel engine for a long boat ride didn’t sound appealing to me at all. While waiting, I saw other tuk-tuks filling up and leaving but they were for the tour package people. I tried to get on one of those but the drivers refused to let me on. Asking around, it seemed that ever other traveler that I saw had the tour package. Did I make the right decision? As I was waiting, Ian rolled out so there was someone else in the same situation as me. After 30 minutes of waiting and watching other tuk-tuks roll on, we finally started our way to the docks. During the drive, I think Ian and I both had the question if we did the right thing by not pressing the “easy” button but that very quickly dissipated once we were finally on the boat. And yes it was the right decision!
So after purchasing our ticket and with a sense of accomplishment for “do it yourself travelers”, we loaded up on the slow boat. We cruised for 6 or 7 hours down the Mekong which was absolutely awesome! We floated down the lush mountainous river at a peaceful pace where bamboo fishing trot lines lined the rocky shores and primitive huts scattered the hills. I couldn’t help to be excited and think “I am floating down the Mekong on a boat!!!” I have always been infatuated with the Mekong and have watched numerous National Geographic shows on the magnificent river. So seeing the Mekong in person and actually floating down it was definitely a dream come true for me. These are the moments where I get chill bumps and have to pinch myself and say “this is happening!”. As they say in Dutch “Lekker Gezellig” which pretty much means super awesome. At the end of the first day, we stopped for the night in the village of Pak Beng, Laos. Then in the morning we loaded on another boat to continue the journey down the Mekong to Luang Prabang.
Pak Beng – Village on the Mekong that we stayed for the night.
The second day turned out to be better than the first. As I travel, I really am loving meeting the people. So I walked up to the front of the boat to get some photos. As I waded though the locals chilling on the floor and trying not to step on anyone, I gave a really big courtious smile and said “sa-ba-deeee” (hello in Laos) to all the locals. Most travelers sit in chairs in the back and don’t really intermingle with locals on the boat. After snapping a few photos and returning to the segregated western section, there was a friendly gesture from a local in front offering some food to come back. How do I say in Laos? YES I WOULD LOVE TO JOIN!! So I eagerly returned and sat in the front. Not knowing any words but hello in Laos, I smiled and kept repeating hello as I ate fish, pork, chicken, sticky rice, and bak chow. The one cool thing about hanging out with locals is that you start learning local words and culture. I pointed at things and they would tell me what the words were in Lao. They then poured a cup a Beer Lao and handed it to me. Drinking with this group was more communal than any other drinking experience I have ever had before. So there was one girl in the circle, Sopa who I will call the “master pourer,” she would fill up one glass with Beer Lao, then hand it to one person to chug, after they guzzled down the glass of beer, they would then return it back to Sopa, who would then refill and pass it to the next person. As you can imagine, in this situation, you are obliged to chug so you are not holding up everyone else for their beer turn. After that round of beer, I felt that I should return the favor and buy a round of beer for the group. As I returned with the beer, everyone clapped and applauded which seemed to happen anytime anyone bought a round. I have to say it was really fun and everyone got equally inebriated. (“mao” in Lao).