On the way up to Chiang Khong there are a lot of traditional Thai houses and some very modern places, most with a lot of columns (reminiscent of Italian houses in Australia!) and painted in very bright orange, hot pink or lime green amongst the market gardens and villages.

Chiang Khong is a sleepy place right on the Mekong. It took us 5 hours in the full mini bus to come from Chiang Mai.

Our bungalow style hotel in Chiang Khong was very new and the staff were lovely.

We were the only guests and they cooked us a wonderful dinner. We did ask if they would prepare us a couple of sandwiches for our trip up the river. We didn’t realize that they didn’t understand this until we sat down for breakfast and they presented us first with what looked like hollandaise sauce, so we thought we would get an egg, but then they brought out the club sandwiches and chips on a plate for breakfast! After a mimed explanation, they took them away and came back with them in a styrofoam box so all was well. They even took us down to the Thai Immigration office in their golf type buggy. We had a nice conversation with a Older Thai lady who was a protestant missionary and she was taking her mother and aunt over to Laos to visit a friend. She spoke good English.

I’m glad I wore my rubber crocs as the little boats to cross the Mekong river just pull up on the sandy riverbank on the Thai side and then we staggered up a steep hill at Houey Xia on the Laos side to fill in the Laos visa forms and pay our 30 US dollars. The visa had to be paid in US dollars but otherwise they are not fussy and accept Lao Kip (about 8000 to the AUD)Thai Baht or US dollars which is handy for tourists.

We negotiated a price with a tuk tuk driver to take us the 15min trip to the long boat. When I went to buy the tickets there are two big signs saying boat fare to be paid in Laotian Kip and there was no sign of any currency exchange. I went to the girl and said that I only had Baht an she said “fine”. I did wonder why they had the sign there in the first place!

Maurice staggered down with both soft bags and was told “papa strong”. The way down was precarious again with steep steps and rocks.

The long boat to Pak Beng was very clean and tidy. It had a frilly fringe with tassles around the top of the boat and the seating was made up of half bolted down car seats and half high backed wooden bench seats with a thin cushion on them. We were very early so chose the car seats with adjustable head rests.

We had read that one should get there early to get a good seat away from the engine which was very loud and the diesel fumes.  

We were there just after 8 o’clock. The boatman told me that we were going to leave at 11.30 so we settled down to wait and slowly the backpackers filtered in. No one appeared for a long time so we thought that we would have lots of room but that wasn’t to be. A little Laotian appeared and said that there would be over 90 people on board and to sit in our allocated seats – there were 70 seats altogether so they passed more seats in from another boat and put them behind the engine.

It was packed by the time we left at 12 o’clock for the 7 hour trip. After the first few hours people started talking to each other and buying the cold drinks which were in an esky on board.

Most of the backpackers got stuck into the “beer Lao” and when we finished our water we decided we needed a cold beer too so we had a few bottles which kept us cool (or we didn’t feel the humidity so much!) and we had some great conversations with Carla and Leyla from Chile, Leanne a nurse from Boston who had spent a year nursingn in Sydney, Eddy and Bjorn from Norway, Scott and his wife Kung from the Northern Territory and a couple of English girls from Plymouth. The Chilean girls were from Conception but Leyla worked in Santiago for a Taiwanese trade commission and was also learning Mandarin.

Scott and his Thai wife sponsor two Thai children who live with their parents in a very poor village and they will pay for them to go to school and look after them financially so that they can remain with their parents.

I thought Maurice could talk but the two nice Norwegian guys could have talked for Norway! About 5 o’clock we got a few drops of rain and then a torrential downpour for about 1/2hour and we only had material curtains which we all tied together but they were soaked through but we just got a little wet.

We arrived at Pak Beng at 7pm. The town was made up of one street and a resort on the other side of the hill. We had to negoatiate our way off the boat onto rocks and then up steep, rough steps.

We managed to find 2 guys to take our bags for us up to the guesthouse up another steep hill which was just as well as it got dark before they got up the hill. The guesthouse which we had rung and booked from Chiang Mai was clean and tidy with towels, soap,a bottle of water and a fan for $8 for the room so we couldn’t complain!

There were a lot of flying insects and large beetles but we managed to have none in our room. We had also read and been told that the power went off at 10pm and we weren’t looking forward to a night without a fan but they must have installed generators since and the fan stayed on all night.

We had a very basic Indian meal – the owner of the place kept appologising because a staff member (we guessed the cook) hadn’t turned up so he was doing his best with a full restaurant with the help of two boys who were about 8 and 10years old.  The guesthouse owned the bakery across the one road so while Maurice went down to the boat about 7am to get good seats away from the engine, I had breakfast, got him some to take down to the boat and had a couple of rolls made up for lunch.

I again managed to find another couple of guys to take the bags back down to the boat. Even the young backpackers were complaining about the way to the boat but they didn’t want to pay the $1 for someone to carry their backpacks.

Our boat the next morning a different one and was even more comfortable with not as many people on board and we had some tables and bench seats so we had more room. We even had separate toilets for men and women and they had a window opening so you could look out even from the toilet.

The scenery along the riverbank was lovely with jungle nearly down to the water and in other places large outcrops of rocks in and around the river. We only passed a few villages near the water’s edge and many pink and black water buffalo, a few goats, cows and a few black pigs. We saw lots of groups of childlren playing in the water who would wave energentically when the boat passed them.

Occasionally the boat rocked a bit as we went through gentle rapids or whirlpools which occurred along the the length of the whole river.

There are a lot of fish nets set on poles from the rocks along the water’s edge and in a particular area where there was a carpet of stones into the river a lot of men were panning for gemstones which are apparently found in that area.

The second day’s trip took 9hours and there were more small villages along the way. The boat also picks up locals and deposits them further along the river.

We stopped at one point and the helper on our boat came back with a couple of large fish in a bucket. When we got near Luang Prabang we stopped again and a man came and got the fish from the boat, obviously dinner.

The hotel we are staying at is right on the river and is a very traditional design but with new bathrooms and all mod cons inside each bungalow.

It is set in a beautiful garden right on the Khan River.

 There is a lot of birdlife and lots of colourful butterflies which fly around after rain.As we got in late we decided to eat at the hotel where the food was simple but delicious. The menu was amusing as usual in this part of the world.

They had Peta cheese salad, french fried, Pan Cakes and beef stiploy.