After leaving Chiang Mai, our next destination was Luang Prabang, Laos (a whole new country!). The journey between Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang is a 3 day, 2 night journey which meant that we’d be spending nights in two smaller towns along the way.
We departed Chiang Mai Sunday morning at 10am on a minivan destined for Chiang Khong (a Thai border town). At our first hostel we had run into a couple who had told us that if it was raining we SHOULD NOT take the bus between Chiang Mai and Chiang Khong because the roads had not been repaved this year so it was “one of the most dangerous drives in the world”. Despite our doubts about the validity of their warnings, we still had slight reservations when we woke up the morning of our departure to a heavy rain fall. However, the drive was totally fine, and uneventful — just as we were hoping for. Along the way we stopped at what was apparently a cashew farm for lunch and also in Chiang Rai where we were dropping three people off and to have a quick look at the “White Temple” (Wat Rong Khun). One of the passengers in our minivan whom we started chatting with was a man from Washington state who was going to volunteer doing manual labour at an orphange in Chiang Rai. Throughout the ride he had told us about the coconut icecream that they sell outside of the White Temple and how delicious it was. Apparently it was too good to risk us passing it by because he offered to buy us our first coconut icecream when we arrived…which was, as he said, delicious!
After our quick stop in Chiang Rai we finally headed towards Chiang Khong. We arrived just in time to eat some supper and briefly explore the small town. That night we ended up spending time with a German couple who has been living in Australia and New Zealand for the last three years. We had a few beers with them at the hostel and then walked down the street towards a small bar and had a few more beers, and that was about it for our time in Chiang Khong!
Bright and early the next morning we woke up to more rain, had some breakfast and headed to the pier. First we had to be checked out of Thailand by the Thai customs authorities. Luckily Kelsey and I both still had our “departure slips” that we had received when we first arrived in Thailand because those absent-minded folks who had lost their’s had to pay an extra 100 Thai Baht for a new one. Once being processed out of Thailand we got into a speed boat and crossed the Mekong River to the Laos side where we went through more customs to get our Laoation visas. For some reason the visas for Canadians are the most expensive at $42 USD…why?! A few hours later we finally boarded the slow boat destined for Pekbang and then Luang Prabang.
We had heard that the seating arrangements on the slow boats could vary quite a lot. Some boats have only wooden benches to sit in while others have bus or minivan seats. We both purchased a cheap pillow in case we were some of the unluckies to get a boat with wooden benches but, one benefit of being here during the low season is that we all were able to get comfortable seats and our boat was not overpacked.
After six hours on the boat we arrived in Pekbang to spend the night. Kelsey and I were both tired so we pretty much just had supper and crashed early. We had to be back at the pier at 9 am the next morning to catch the boat for our second day of sailing which would be a 9 hour day. Along the way we stopped to drop locals off at various small towns established along the river. It was interesting to see all the little communities but it also took a long time to stop and dock the very long boat every time we made a stop. The scenery along the boat ride was beautiful but it was, again, raining so it also got quite chilly on the boat. At one point in time the rain started coming down so hard that we had to pull down all the tarps along the boat windows to keep us dry on the inside. At another time, we heard screaming coming from the back of the boat, naturally we all looked only to see a female crew member holding some sort of hose that had water just gushing out at her. I think for a brief moment we thought we might get ship wrecked but by 6pm the skies had cleared and we had finally arrived safely in Luang Prabang.