Every backpackers in Southeast Asia loves to rave and rant about the border crossing from Northern Thailand to Laos. From Chang Mai I took a five hour cramped mini bus trip to the small border town of Chiang Khong. This town is important to many local hill tribes as they come down here to trade goods and buy food and medical supplies. The bus ride was arduous to say the least and my vague memories of this trip were just zipping around small road side villages. We arrived in Chiang Khong in the evening. I bunked up in a really nice hotel room with a British bloke and we joined two Aussie girls for dinner. The town can be seen in its entirety in about a ten minute stroll. It really gives me the creeps coming to tiny towns like this. The majority of business comes from tourists who arrive at around 7pm and leave the next morning at 6am. Growing up in Chang Khong would be brutal to say the least.
The following morning at the crack of dawn I rolled out of bed and grabbed a tuk tuk to the Thai border where I was stamped out and then quickly walked down a steep slope and hopped on a boat which floats across the river to the small Laos town of Hay Xai. Once across the river everyone has to spend about 30 minutes to purchase their Laos Visa. No one stays in Hay Xai for long as it is tinier than a postage stamp. I retract that statement: there was one man who I met on my boat who claimed to have stayed in Hay Xai for a week stating “the ladies are beautiful.” This creepy sex tourist will haunt me forever as he was a short, chubby and hairy pedophile.
You can get from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang by boat in one of two ways: a fast boat or a slow boat. People complain about both travel options. The slow boat riders complain as the boats are slow and take two full travel days (including a sleep over in dubious “in the middle of nowhere shacks). The speed boat is twice the price and takes about 7 hours. Lonely Planet chirps, “unless you love white-knuckle experiences, don’t mind being cramped and narrowly avoiding pillars of underwater rocks, this may be your idea of fun.” They also go on to describe the motors as “giant chain saws” and mention the high fatality rate of the adventure. I of course opted for the fast boat as I am always looking for a new reckless adventure!
The driver stood in the back of a run down canoe basically (holding onto his chainsaw motor, stuffing ear plugs in his head and fastening on a helmet). All of our bags were placed at the front of the boat. My best bit of advice is to run to the front of the boat and sit right in front of the luggage. I was able to dangle my feet over the side of the boat and rest them on top of the luggage while passengers in the middle rows were stuck crossing their legs for 6 hours straight! The motor is incredibly loud and the seating is most certainly uncomfortable. I plugged myself into my ipod and listened to Daft Punk blast itself along the river. I fastened my helmet snug around my head and had one of the most beautiful journeys of my life. Once everyone was in the boat we literally floating 1/2 foot from the water. I felt like I was sitting on a lily pad buzzing through rapids.
For the next several hours we blasted through rapids and some of the most remote countryside in the world. We drove for what seemed like two hours without seeing a soul. We would then encounter a few remote villages (maybe two or three huts) on the river bed. Little naked children would wave at us from the shore as their mothers cleaned their cloths on rocks and fathers kept busy on the family rice paddy. We stopped for lunch and stretched our bodies in as many directions as possible. We were offered bags of cannabis from every server in this riverside floating restaurant.
After lunch we had not been in our boat for more than 5 minutes when our motor died. Everyone on board started to moan. We were let off on a sand dune in the middle of nowhere on the Mekong River while we saw our driver swearing whilst trying to get our motor up and running again. We would spend the next hour along in the middle of nowhere. There were two Laos girls maybe 15 years old who the grossly obese pedophile from Boston would not stop pestering. My British friend and made it our responsibility to watch over these girls, lordy lordy!
I literally thought I might die out here on some dried up mud pit on the Mekong Delta but was finally relieved when our driver returned to pick us up. This delay cut into our travel time by an hour and we were now all frantic about getting to Luang Prabang by nightfall. We drove very fast through beautiful gorges and limestone cliffs. My heart was racing as I knew that boats could not move on the Mekong once the sun set as none of the boats had lights and the riverside had zero visibility. I was dreading having to sleep on this boat in such cramped conditions! Would be dreadful! The sun was setting a blistering red and orange and my heart was racing. Thank God we pulled onto a beach seconds before the sun went behind the mountains.
We hefted our bags up a steep cliff and found a tuk tuk “waiting to be of service.” At this point I was irritable from a long day and had barely eaten. As expected the driver overcharged us an insane amount. He wanted 10 USD each for a 5 minute tuk tuk ride (ridiculous!) He had all of our bags on the tuk tuk and I made an outraged face when he mentioned this price. All of the people on my boat were newbie travelers so I told them I would take care of the situation. I screamed in outrage and ripped my bag off the top of the tuk tuk. I then just started to walk to the main road. The driver made great haste to stop me and told me he would give me a better price. We then agreed to pay 1 dollar each for our ride into town which was much more reasonable. The tuk tuk grumbled across the dusty side street and we soon found ourselves on a calamitous main road heading straight into Luang Prabang.