Following several days in Chiang Mai, we booked travel to Luang Prabang, Laos, passing through Chiang Rai en route to the border (stopping very briefly to visit the White Temple), where we spent the night before crossing into Laos.
We'd booked travel via our Chiang Mai hotel. It was about $70 each which included: bus to the Thai border (about 6 hours); "hotel" on Thai border, with dinner (skipped as we walked into town instead); breakfast at "hotel" (eh); transport to the border; once in Laos bus to the dock; lodging at the half-way point, Pak Beng; and, of course, two days on a slow boat down the Mekong.
First, we drove through Chiang Rai, stopping to see the White Temple.
The White Temple. Not a true temple. More of an artist's vanity project. But a popular tourist destination. It is only a dozen or so years old. Impressive.
After spending the night on the Thai border in a dusty little town, and an awful guest house, we were driven by bus to the border where it took about one unorganized hour to get our $35 visas. The poorer the country the more elaborate the visa I find. We passed into Laos and a tour representative met us and got us on a bus to the dock to board the slow boat to Luang Prabang. It's a two-day journey with a stop in Pak Beng.
Boarding a slow boat.
We sat near the front, here's a selfie looking back.
Departing the dock.
In many ways the boat trip was a highlight of the trip. There was nothing to do but enjoy the views in this unique experience. We passed some very isolated villages. Mostly we looked out at verdant green hills, cliffs and karsts. Occasionally a "fast boat" would overtake us: you can do the 2-day slow boat trip in a speedboat in about 5-hours. We were told it's very uncomfortable and there are often accidents.
Arrived at the Pak Beng dock near sunset.
After finding the hotel we went for a walk for dinner and Susan found a puppy.
Pak Beng in the early morning. Our boat was slated to leave at 9:30. I got up and looked over the balcony and saw what I thought was mist but really was fire from charcoal stoves. As in Thailand, most cooking is done outside in Laos. Most everyone uses charcoal, unlike in Thailand where canisters of gas are preferred.
Some local women await the monks.
Monks with their begging bowls.
Pak Beng is a small town with just one road and seems largely supported by overnight visitors. Here's the main thoroughfare.
I went for a walk before we trekked back to the dock and not far from the guesthouse found the local market.
Then back to the boat. We had a stand off; the boat was very full, the only seating in the rear behind the noisy engines. Two dozen of us demurred. Per the "Lonely Planet" guidebook we stood our ground. Some westerners had been on board since 8am, told (like us) to "get there early to get a good seat up front." By 9am the boat owners began selling tickets to locals. By the time we arrived, not much seating left. We were told it was the only boat of the day, several times. Ground stood, firmly. Eventually they demurred and another long boat was procured, around 10:30am. We marched off and to our surprise it took off as soon as we boarded, leaving even before the original now very crowded boat! We had ample room, and we celebrated amongst ourselves (once out of ear shot of the first boat, that is...) Felt guilty, but sometimes you get the breaks.
This was one of those magical traveler times where you gel almost seamlessly with new travel mates. A great day.
Arriving and Disembarking at Luang Prabang, Laos. Several years ago you were dropped off right in the heart of the town. Now it requires a several dollar tuk tuk from the new "dock" several miles out of town. Frustrating and not a great welcome. (Laos, overall, has a way to go on customer service. I understand that they're relatively new as a travel destination, but it's only going to pick up.)