Today we left Thailand and crossed into Laos. We took our mini-buses to the river where we went to a semi-official looking window near the river bank and got our passports stamped for leaving Thailand. After that we picked up our heavy bags and walked into the land in-between countries.
Somehow Mum and I managed to lose the rest of our group and ended up on a little boat with some strangers. We were two people not officially in any country and bobbing around on a little boat.
The boats were actually a lot speedier than we expected, so we clung to our backpacks as we zoomed across the Mekong into Laos. We lugged our bags up a hill to the border crossing point into the Lao town of Ban Houay Xai. We got our visas processed (Mum and I had got them in Australia) while the rest of the group bought theirs. We then said about figuring out money… We didn’t have much baht left, and there were no ATMs in sight, so some quick lending between friends meant we had some baht to change into kip. Kip is the currency in Laos, and AU$1 gets you about 8000 kip, so with not too much money you can feel like a millionaire. It was strange going through the border crossing because it seemed like there were no rules. I am used to the signs about cameras and intimidating-looking border control. For this border all I had to do was squat down at an absurdly low window and get some stamps on my passport and visa.
Officially in Laos, we took a songthaew down to a dock of sorts and boarded our transport for the next two days. We were a bit worried about the boat – I mean we were on it for two full days. When we saw it I think we were all impressed by how lovely it was. It was decorated with turned wood and had a few really comfy chairs, bus seats, a big table and a toilet – pretty flash. The boat was owned and operated by a local husband and wife who spoke little English but smiled a lot and seemed to appreciate my attempts at Lao. We were also joined by a local Lao guide at this point (who helped me learn some new words) and seemed to have the answer to anything we asked, he smiled a lot too.
The Mekong is an amazing river. Although it was hot, we didn’t see anyone swimming in it. When I asked why, I was told that the currents are really strong because of the fast flow and underlying rocks. Sometimes kids would swim in protected areas, but mainly the river is left to boats. The scenery was spectacular with jagged rocks and green hills. The water was brown, but not dirty. There was no pollution, it was just fast-flowing. The water twisted and churned beside the boat and around the rocks like there was some monster underneath. It was pretty clear why it gets called the Mighty Mekong.
I did love the scenery, but also loved the opportunity to really get into my book.
We were all sick of 7-11, and so the night before we left asked Pan Pan if there would be any other option for lunch on the boat. He said there was another option if we really wanted, we could ask the captain’s wife to make us lunch. Everyone was keen and for the equivalent of AU$6 we got a banquet. There was a deliciously delicate curry, morning glory soup, beans in some magic sauce and noodles. They best thing for was that for every meat dish there was a vegetarian one! It was a lot better than twisties for 7-11.
After a day that was long but very enjoyable we arrived on dry land at our stop for the night. Pak Beng is a stopover for local traders and tourists heading to Luang Prabang. It’s a lovely village with just one street and a surprisingly largenumber of motorbikes… and chickens.
After dropping our bags we exercised our legs and walked around the town, well up and down considering there is only one street, checked out the market and had an absolutely fantastic dinner. So far, loving Laos.