A trip along the Mekong River by boat

Trip Start Oct 31, 2012
Trip End Dec 12, 2012

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Tuesday, November 6, 2012

One of the highlights of visiting Luang Prabang is taking a boat ride along the Mekong River.  There are several destinations to go to, but the most popular is the half day trip to the Pak Ou caves, which is filled with Buddhist statues, and was first discovered by a French explorer around the 1860s.  I had wanted to do a similar trip while in Burma, but didn't have the time, so now seized the opportunity.

When you buy a ticket at the travel agency, they tell you to be at their office by 8 am the next morning because the boats don't wait.  So, the next morning, I arrived at the agency around 7.45 am, only to find it didn't open until after 8 am; actually quite a bit later.  Several tourists and I waited around, but nothing.  When they finally opened their doors, one of the tourists asked about when we would be going to the dock.  "In five minute," was the response.  We waited for those five minues, and another twenty, only to be told that we would be leaving "in five minute."  After a few more "only five minute" reassurances, the van finally arrived, only to take us about five blocks away.  (I have learned in my travels through the developing world that "five minute" is a standard response to just about any question asked.)  

When we got to the pier, we were joined by a mob of tourists who would also be waiting for "only five minute" to depart.  We sat and waited, and it appeared the process was slowed down because the woman who processed the tickets was busy selling lottery tickets on the side.  Finally, they assigned a number to each tourist, then divided the number of tourists by the number of boats available, then assigned you to a boat.  On this day, each boat, and there were many, was assigned six passengers.  This method ensures that all boats got work for the day.  The boats are then sent out in staggered times.  Luckily, I was on the third boat out.   

The ride to the caves takes about two hours, with a quick stop to an "ethnic" village that's known for its rice alcohol.  As we were cruising along, I noticed that the driver kept looking to the side of the boat, and I knew this meant trouble.  Some of the boats that had left after us had since passed us, and then, as expected, the driver pulled the boat over to the shore to work on it.  Finally, he got the boat working to his liking, we rejoined the other boats on the river, though he continued to monitor that one side, which didn't make me feel confident that we'd reach our destination, or complete it in half a day's time.   

When we arrived at the "ethnic" village, they welcome you a shot of the rice whiskey.  You are also given 20 minutes to buy handicrafts and alcohol from the local community.  Few handicrafts were sold, but plenty of bottles of liquor were. Finally, we arrived at the caves. There's the lower cave, which is at the dock, and then there is the higher cave, which most people don't try to visit, due to the steps and the heat.  Since the upper cave is in complete darkness, if you don't have a  "torch" (flashlight), then you can rent one at the entrance.  We were gtven 40 minutes to visit both caves, then back to Luang Prabang, but at a quicker pace.  Luckily, our boat made it back.   

The rest of the day was spent exploring hidden areas of the old town for photo opportunities, buying water, and trying to escape the heat. 
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