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Laos, Lao Peoples Dem Rep Oct 26, 2001
Laos, Lao Peoples Dem Rep
Oct 26, 2001 01:27

interesting and adventurous place, friendly and hospitable locals
Cons: none

Upon leaving Chiang Mai a non inspiring few days in transit. Public bus from Chiang Mai to Tha Ton taking the fastboat along the river to Chiang Rai which was quite disappointing with extortionate prices for day trips. From there to the Golden triangle and opium museum. Then the following day to cross the border to Laos and catch the boat along the Mekong River to Luang Prabeng where fortunately things picked up!

As the only option to travel to Luang Prabeng, Laos from Northern Thailand was along the muddy Mekong River thought it would be sensible to take the slowboat. Perhaps because every other traveller I've met knew a horror story of the speedboats flipping over and killing all its passengers. But due to the efficient Thai public bus or more correctly open top pickup truck being delayed by 2 hours we missed the last slowboat for the week. Decision time...wait 2 days and have only 2 days to explore Laos before catching the flight to Vietnam or take a deathwish and chance the speedboat. We none so wisely chose the latter for the most petrifying ride of my life!

We set off in the tiny low sided 6 man boat,without lifejackets with my knees shoved firmly to my chest along the mighty Mekong. Naively thought this won't be too painfull as there were 4 other locals on the boat who obviously wouldn't be there if it truly was a hazard. Then full throttle, bouncing along the top of the water dodging rocks,trees, whirlpools and other boats with the most craziest, amphetemined up driver who I had foolishly left full responsibility of my life!!!Worse still the locals we passed on the other speedboats had not only lifejackets but crash helmets too! We were in trouble. After 1hour we caught up with the slowboat that we'd missed at one of the restbite stops. My negotiaitng skills let me down dramatically as I pegged it over to the driver and begged he let us join the boat to escape our fate. Communication failed and we continued on. However after a few more pitstops the other locals left the boat too and only Andrea and I remained with an off his head Laos muppet who had switched off the engine and was babbling on in between frenzied laughter and over energetic sign language. Between us we managed to figure out that the possibility of being stranded at the side of the river was quite high and the boat was unsafe to continue with so little weight as it would certainly flip over! He then beckoned some nearby Laos village women to climb aboard and began racing after the slowboat which had at this point now overtaken us. We drew up next to it and madhead shoved a fistful of kip notes to the slowboat driver and to my relief we were told to get aboard the slowboat. I sat shellshocked for the next few hours relieved to be with fellow farangs and travelling at a meandering pace.

At the overnight stop at Pakbeng joined a couple from London and some Swedish boys who were all quite entertaining and spent the next few days in Laos with them. The second day of the boat trip was great. Managed to take in the scenery, play a few card games with the gang and some New Zealanders with a few coldplay and Nirvarna tracks being played on one guys guitars. Now this is travelling!

Arrived in Luang Prabeng finding a very accomodating family run guest house. They were incredibly hospitable and friendly and despite the signpost stating an 11pm curfew they had no problem with us returning later also inviting us to a wedding and offering us to join them for dinner. After visiting the Pak Ou Caves which were an absolute waste of time made our way to the wedding in the central town hall. After greeting the bride,groom and family with the traditional bowing of heads and Sabadii joined what must be the entire village to indulge in a few rounds of straight Laos whisky. The Laos loved us falangs and found it quite humourous to ensure we were priority in all the rounds and also found the urge to put more food from their plate to ours.....rule number one dont accept food or drink of the locals! So abandoned the food and as safety in numbers stuck together with the London couple and Swedish boys for quite a late night and very early start to head for Vang Vieng.

Yip we missed the bus and fantasies of being able to snooze on the 7hr journey were soon quashed when we were flung around corners at frightening speeds as we climbed up and down the mountains. But great views a few sing songs to the Grease CD which was gladily supplied by Peter and humourous statments from Danny who thought it was the best 7 hours of his life in front of his girlfriend Nikki of 6 years!

Vang Vieng was beautiful and I wish that I hadn't been restricted by my badly timed flight to leave so soon. Also a very sociable time as most travellers knew each other from the boat trip and we would meet up in the probably only bar before being flung out at 11 to chill and chat on the guest house balcony. We hired bikes yesterday to explore the nearby caves. Absolutely fantastic day cycling through villages and mountains and walking along dried up river beds. Managed to find a real cave which put Pak Ou to shame. We were led by a guide armed with torches along some pitch black wet caverns which in itself was satisfying. But on the route out of the cave were forced to firstly crawl on hands and knees through long narrow neverending passages and eventually having to lie flat commando style to enable us to crawl through very narrow low caverns. Then found a nearbly lagoon to swim and clean ourselves up before saying farewell that evening to some very partied up backpackers.Perhaps a good thing that I'm moving on but it would have been nice to spend more time exploring and visiting some nearby villages. Yet another place I would like to return to.