22nd, 23rd & 24th April 2016
After the most amazing day at the Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai I was not looking forward to the 3 day journey from CM – LP. Having read a lot about this journey I knew it was going to be horrible but nothing quite prepared me for what was to come…
We had looked everywhere in Chiang Mai to find the cheapest tickets possible and ended up paying 1750 bhat which is quite a lot but it did mean everything was arranged for us and also included a nights accommodation in Chiang Khong. We were picked up from our hostel about 9.30am and started our journey to Chiang Khong. After about 2 hours we stopped at a roadside cafe to buy lunch and then carried on for another hour and a half to Chiang Rai where we got out and had 40 minutes to explore the White Temple which was absolutely amazing!
The White Temple is by far my favourite temple that I have seen since so far – it is so beautiful and very very different from most temples. As there were no signs we decided to make our own interpretations and decided it was a heaven/hell, good/evil kind of theme with a mix of weird – there were superhero characters, minions and bottles of whiskey… say no more.
From Chiang Rai it was another 2 hours on the bus to reach the border crossing in Chiang Khong. We finally arrived at around 4pm and checked into our hotel for the night which was included as part of the ticket we brought. The room was basic but it was fine for the night and it was right on the river so you could look across and see Laos! Also as part of our ticket we had dinner included (we didn’t actually know this when we brought the ticket) so at 6 we walked down to find the restaurant. The food was surprisingly nice it was a Thai curry with veg and potatoes!
We were down in the hotel lobby at 7.30am for breakfast (which again was included in our ticket) and had an omelette sandwich… interesting! At 8.30 the guy from the hotel came down to make sure we had everything we needed to cross into Laos: Thai departure form, passport photo, Laotian Kip, $35 dollars for the visa, our tickets for the boat and lunch which again was included! We left the hotel in a minibus and got dropped off at the Thai immigration checkpoint so we could get our passports stamped to leave Thailand. We then paid 25 bhat (we had been give 20 bhat by the guy at the hotel but the lady on the desk insisted we all paid an extra 5 bhat – everything over here is such a con) so that we could get a coach from the Thai immigration over to the Laos immigration checkpoint. We arrived, filled out and handed in our visa forms with a passport photo and then waited to be called up to get our passport and visa back. Eventually we were called up, paid our $35 dollars (which was now $36 as they were charging $1 overtime pay….) and made our way through to get back on our minibus to be taken to the boat. However, just as we were walking through immigration we saw the door to our minibus close and then pull away… SHIT?!?!?!
We ran over to the woman who had taken our names and tried to explain that the bus along with the rest of our group had just left without us but her English was very limited and she just kept smiling… No no no I don’t think you understand OUR BUS HAS JUST LEFT. Another guy came over and just kept saying ‘it ok, you sit down’ ‘do not worry’ It was now 10.15 and we had been told the boat was leaving at 11, I really didn’t think we were going to make it. Daniel found a number for the company we had booked with and rang them but couldn’t understand a word they were saying apart from ‘you wait there’ By 10.40 no one had turned up and no one could tell us what was going on so I rang the company back and could barely understand a word they were saying so I just kept shouting ‘JUST TELL ME, IS THE BUS COMING BACK FOR US OR NOT?!’ eventually she understood and told us to just wait and the bus would be coming back. I was absolutely s**tting myself, I really didn’t think it was coming back.
After another 10 minutes or so the bus finally turned up and we just ran to make sure we got seats, which we did. PHEW we made it… There were a few other people in the bus with us and we set off for what we thought was the boat… We pulled into this station and all got out and then the driver points to me and Daniel and tells us ‘no no not you, you get back in’ What the hell we are going to soo miss this boat. We got back in and started driving again – 2 minutes later we are back at the immigration building where we had just come from… What the hell is going on?!? A few more people jumped in the bus and we set off AGAIN… After 10/15 minutes we finally arrived at the slow boat and saw the rest of our group – I have never been so happy in my entire life. Turns out the boat didn’t leave until 12 so we actually had plenty of time…
At 11.30 we walked down to the boat (having read a lot about this boat I knew we had to be one of the first ones on or we would not get a seat and would be stuck at the back of the boat with no seats next to the engine) and managed to get seats which were by no means comfy. They had overbooked the boat by a ridiculous amount of people and loads ended up with no seats and had to lay out the back next to the engine which was extremely noisy or lay in the isle of the boat… We finally set off about 12ish – the journey wasn’t so bad it was just very squashed and really really hot… The views were incredible, we met a really cool bunch of people and drank lots of beer so it wasn’t too bad 😉 It was about a 5 hour journey to Pak Beng where we had to get off and stay the night.
We arrived in Pak Beng and found some accommodation for the night for only 25,000 kip each. The room was really really small but it was clean and was only 1 night so it didn’t really matter. We went out for dinner with a few people from the boat and then went back to the guesthouse to get ready for day 2 on the slow boat from hell…
We had been told that we were going to have a bigger boat on the second day but not believing a word they said we got up at 6, went to get breakfast at a beautiful little restaurant overlooking the Mekong and then walked down to the boat so that we were first in line to get a seat. We were literally one of the first ones to get there so getting a seat was no problem (however the boat was exactly the same size as the day before) As more and more people started to arrive the boat was getting more and more full and people were getting really annoyed – eventually they pulled over a second boat for people to get on which was amazing as we had so much more space.
The boat left at 9 and we had been told it was a 9 hour journey to Luang Prabang (turns out it was only 6 hours) so we got out some cards and played a few drinking games with a bottle of whiskey and rice whiskey to pass the time. By about 2 we were all thourghly fed up and really bloody hot. The next few hours really dragged and we were all so uncomfortable so when we finally arrived in Luang Prabang it was the best feeling.
None of us had booked any accommodation but had planned to get off the boat and just walk around the town to find somewhere… typical SE Asia style they dropped us off at a different pier which was 7km from the town, meaning we had to get a tuk tuk. We finally found a guesthouse for only 30,000 kip a night and decided to just go for it as we all desperately wanted to drop off our bags and have a shower.
I can honestly say I would never ever in a million years do this journey again (you can actually get a bus from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabrang which takes a fraction of the time but isn’t so scenic) but I am glad I can say I have done it… Or am I haha?
Anyway my next post will be a lot better as I loved my time in Luang Prabang!