Rob and I were promptly picked up from our lovely accommodation in Chiang Mai to endure the 5 hour minivan ride to Chiang Khong, a small town on the edge of the Thai border. The ride provided gorgeous views and since we were the last 2 picked up we got the shotgun so no carsickness for me! Along the way we passed lush green rice paddies, small towns, and plenty of scenes of local day to day life. We even stopped at the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun), an epic structure built entirely of white materials with mirror accents. This one left me speechless. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it. That, and with the sun’s glare, it was truly blinding.
Our transportation costs included the night at a cute little resort in Chiang Khong just a short walk from the river. After dinner we went for a wander to one of the only British bars in town. The Hub Pub is actually owned by the Guinness World Record holder for the quickest circumnavigation by bicycle – Alan Bate. Nice, friendly guy from, would you know it – Liverpool! My second home…or third. Anyway, after getting back to our room, we did our best to rest up for the two day boat ride but the walls were so dang thin! We could hear every cough, toss, and turn from our neighbors, not to mention the crazy roosters crowing at all hours of the wee morning.
After breakfast we were shuttled to the boat, freshly approved visas (handled by the hotel overnight) in hand, eager to begin our journey. Turns out the boat we were shuttled to was only a ferry to cross into Laos. 5 minutes and we had jumped countries. The immigration process went fairly smoothly, as much as you can expect for visiting a country whose language you can’t read or understand, and whose culture does not abide by the standardized queuing system we grew up with. Then a tuk tuk ride to a storefront where we apprehensively handed our passports to one of our temporary “chaperones;” then another tuk tuk ride to a grocery store/travel agent where we waited an hour and a half until we were given the go ahead to walk down to our longboat (and got our passports back).
A bit rickety but it did the job, thankfully. They oversold tickets so aside from being a little uncomfortable already, it was really full as well. Rob and I sat back and used the time to take in the gorgeous, unfiltered views of the jungle that stretched in all directions. The Mekong River itself is a bit muddy, but that provided a sharp contrast to the greenery that borders the banks. The first day, the sun shone down on our side of the boat for hours as we passed small village after village, miles between each other. As the sun went down we arrived in Pakbeng, Laos, a small sleepy stopover of a town to stretch out, eat up, and catch some winks. So far, that was the most meager of our accommodations, with ripped curtains, a hole in the window, an unlockable door, and stained mosquito nets…but it had mosquito nets so that is a major plus! We are not complaining – it was cheap, had great food, and a place to rest our heads, but I don’t need to return any time soon.
The next morning we headed out again on the river, this day much breezier with a calm coolness in the air. A longer ride, however it seemed to go much quicker. We spent the majority of those two days alternating between daydreaming, photographing, reading, snacking, and napping – doing all we could to keep ourselves from growing bored, because let’s face it, riding a boat down a river in the middle of Southeast Asia? Not boring! Around 4pm that second day we had reached our destination. An accumulation of nearly 15 hours on the Mekong had led us to Luang Prabang, Laos and we were stoked!