A Travellerspoint blog

Laos

Chiang Rai – Chiang Khrong – Huay Xai – Pakbeng

Slow boat on the Mekong

24 °C
View Footloose in Laos 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Having left our lovely hotel in Chiang Rai at 06:30 this morning, we arrived at the border town of Chiang Khrong to find a long vehicle queue. The whole scene was very well orchestrated though, with porters grabbing our bags and hostesses giving us badges to denote which cruise boat we were on. Passengers lined up for Thai immigration and payment of a fine for those who have overstayed their visas – which seems to be quite a few, holding up the already slow moving queue. We follow the porters with our luggage to ensure the bags end up on the same longboat as us for the river crossing. The boats are very basic with a low roof and even lower seats: just planks of wood some 10 cms above the floor. Fortunately the journey across to the Lao side of the river takes just a few minutes.

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The boats crossing the border

More porters carry our bags to the Luangsay Cruise office where we are given forms to complete for the immigration formalities. One queue for visa applications, then wait to be called to the next window to pay for it. One person grabs your passport and form to be checked before passing them to another official in the back of the room who processes the visas. A third employee grabs a handful of of the completed passports and hands them to a fourth person who holds the passport up at the window, hoping you will recognise your own photo.

At this stage the two queues merge into one, with at least 50 people thronging into a small space. What started as an orderly queue soon disintegrates into a melee of confusion as there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the order in which the passports are processed. At least you do get a pretty visa glued in your passport to show for it.

Eventually, after a couple of hours of waiting around for the immigration, all 33 Luangsay passengers have their passports and visas returned and we're on our way to the boat at the slow boat dock a couple of kilometres outside town. People's selfishness at leaving their bags on one seat inside and actually sitting in another place outside, means that there initially doesn't appear to be enough room for everyone. The guide manages to rearrange passengers though so that we can all sit with our original travel companions.

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Our boat, the Luangsay

The low water levels slowing the journey down considerably and the fact that we left one and a half hours late because of the chaos at immigration, means we are unable to make the planned stop at a local village this morning. It does mean, however, that with seven hours of cruising, I can catch up on some much needed sleep after having been fully awake at 03:00 every morning so far on this trip.

The scenery along the side of the Mekong is somewhat of a surprise – I expected to see the cultivation and jungle with the buffalo, cows and occasional boar, as well as the people fishing, washing and playing in the water, but the two things that surprised me most were the rock formations and perfectly formed sand dunes. Jagged boulders of slate and sandstone litter the edges of the river, sometimes spilling into the middle of the stream, leaving only a narrow channel for navigation. With the shallow water being as low as just two metres in places, the captain has his work cut out as there is not much room for error.

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Thankfully we encountered no pirates on our journey, having read an article in the paper in Bangkok about how some boat owners have stopped using the Mekong after numerous attacks on their vessels.

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The newspaper article

Even though the sun was out and the temperatures were in the high 20s, it got rather cold on the boat this morning, especially with the wind and at times even the water spraying over the bow of the boat. Although not quite as exciting as the white water rafting in India last November, we did shoot a few rapids on this river too.

The sun was just setting as we arrived at the Pakbeng lodge. With individual teak villas spread along the hillside, the lodge is cosy and rustic, with all mod cons and perfect service. Some local children (and adults) put on a bit of a classic dance show before dinner, and more entertainment followed after we went to bed, with two of our fellow guests having a very public row forgetting that sound carries very well in the jungle...

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Our room

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Young dancers

For a country who have eaten most of their wildlife, there was an amazing amount of noise in the night – crickets, cicadas, frogs and geckos could all be heard, and added to the charm of the experience.

Posted by Grete Howard 04:25 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

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