Monday, October 25, 2010

Slow Boat on the Mekong River from Thailand to Laos

To get from northern Thailand to Laos, there is boat that cruises, ever so slowly, down the Mekong River. The trip takes one day by bus and two days by boat, so it is not necessarily the most convenient mode of transportation, but the slow boat affords many scenic views and has become somewhat of a necessary thing to do among the backpacker set.

Starting off from Chiang Mai, the first day was spent in a minivan/bus that heads to the Thailand border city of Chiang Khong. We stayed the night at the border, then the next morning crossed into Laos and got onto the boat.

View Across the Mekong to Laos

The first day of the slow boat trip was very enjoyable because we had a lot of new things to see, new people to meet, and the weather wasn't too hot (at least for Southeast Asia in the summer). The group of people we met on the slow boat was one of the best of our trip and we bumped into several of them in different cities as we worked our way from north to south through Laos. The boat itself consisted of row after row of hard, wooden benches, which we often abandoned to sit on the floor and play cards. Most of the people on the boat were westerners, making the slow boat somewhat of a tourist affair, but there were a few Laotian people coming on board to sell things or traveling shorter stretches on the river.

Cruising on the Slow Boat

Pit Stop at the Local Convenience Store

A Young Entrepreneur Selling Booze and Smokes

We really enjoyed the river scenes, with people tending their fishing poles and nets, locals cruising on the long and slender boats typical of Laos, and kids playing in the water. The pristine countryside was really amazing, with nothing but blue skies and green hills the whole trip.

The Mighty Mekong

The Local Bus

 Fishing Poles

Blue Skies and Green Hills

More Green Hills and Blues Skies

Playing on Rocks

Water Buffalo Cooling Off

After the first day on the river, we stopped in a small town called Pakbeng to stay the night. Like most of the cities in Laos, Pakbeng is a one street town and doesn't have too much going on. However, at night with a clear sky and few lights on in town, it all paid off when I saw more stars than I have seen in many years after living in polluted China.

Arriving in Pakbeng

One Street Town 

Local Market

 Wes Melting in Southeast Asian Heat

The second day of the boat trip was kind of miserable. It was much hotter the second day and the trip lasted a lot longer as well. After the novelty had worn off and the views started to blend together, everyone just wanted to the trip to be done. Finally at the end of the day, we arrived at our destination, Luang Prabang.

A lot of people call Thailand the "Land of Smiles", but for me I will always remember Thailand as the land of scams. I think the true "Land of Smiles" is Laos. I don't think I've ever been in a country as happy, friendly, and smiling as Laos. The slow boat was just a taste of that and we were able to enjoy it for our three weeks in Laos.

Locals Eating Laos Style Sticky Rice with Food on Banana Leaf

A Smiling Laotian

Another Smiling Laotian

The Winner of Worst English on a T-Shirt: "Sell the Kids for Food"

For more pictures of the slow boat trip, see picasa: