I had an early morning and headed from Chiang Rai on the 6am bus to Chiang Khong on the Thai borderm thinking there would be a rush for the boat, leaving between 8 and 9am. The border crossing here is so easy…. a stamp from the Thai immigration, then a 20 Baht boat across the Mekong, then you arrive at the Laos immigration….gazebo. Immigration grab your attention as you almost stroll freely into the country, you fill out a form, hand them $35 US (this differs depending on your country), then generally hang around and have a bit of banter with the immigration officers. While they hand your form into the uniformed guys, you leave your bags around, stroll up to the boat ticket office he sends you to, then saunter back in a wee while to get your passport back. When you do, you walk 20 yards up the street and get stamped into the Check In counter, boat ticket already in hand. They hand out 30 day visa automagically now, so no worries about a paltry 15 days anymore and extending it. In saying that you could easily loose a month in Laos. As I type this I’ve been inLuang Prabang for almost a week, and still never quite feel like leaving.
I’m sure you pay a little bit more for the boat this way, but it beats trying to make your own way to the jetty (2km South for the speedboat, 1km North for the slow boat).
There was a great crowd on the boat, and we scored lucky and had some space to wonder around. I’ve heard of stories when you are crammed in here, but not in our case.
I stopped for the compulsory slow boat night in Pak Beng, a tiny little town where there’s not much to do except eat, drink, and refuse all the offer of opium you get. I bumped into a great crowd in the tiny restaurant, andit turned into a pretty late night, all fired by the free whisky the Americans handed out. It was here I met my friendly Mancunian, with a past more potted that the roads in Myanmar. He made a nice habit of breaking up the conversation about China dominating the world, with such retorts as ‘Yeh, but I don’t give a f*!k, that’s hardly going to affect me selling crack on the streets in Manchester’…and to the comment about what happens when I Chinese company takes over his work : ‘Yeh, but I’ve not worked a decent day in my life mate’. Well that’s one way to put the silence on a loud American (ok, it didn’t but it was a good try).
The second day of the boat was a bit more exciting, with several card games going on, drinking games, and general chatting. I didn’t do that much though, just counting down the hours of more ‘beautiful riverside scenery’. It was beautiful, but a few hours would’ve done rather than 14.
It was this day that brought a big group together on the boat, and for the following few evening we made an assualt on Luang Prabang….