Luang Prabang

Trip Start Mar 09, 2008
Trip End Dec 10, 2008

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Tuesday, March 25, 2008

March 25 2008  10pm  
Well we are in Luang Prabang and the slow boat was rather enjoyable, it is the kind of thing you have to do at least once when in Laos, But it was very slow.  Here is the whole story, starting from our trip to Chiang Khong.
We checked the night before and sure enough there are lots of buses that go to Chiang Khong from Chiang Rai, just nothing that is air conditioned, unless you get a private minibus, but those people are getting ripped off, which seems to happen a lot as you get farther away from the main cities, as we have heard from other travelers.  So the night before we checked the bus schedule, and this entailed going to the bus terminal, because there is nothing online to look at.  There are no government bus service, or anything national like Grey Hound.  Anyways, we go to the station in Chiang Rai, and the girl at the info desk basically tells us she can't help us, and we should just go out and buy a ticket on the platform.  Sound like the ticket agents only work for the major companies, oh well, out on the platform we go to stall 13, only to find it it's stall 19.  Oh well they leave every hour on the half hour, no biggy.  Oh and 57 baht each.
So we get up and take the bus at 10:30 and go to Chiang Khong.  Boy was it the BUMPIEST bus ride of our lives !!!  Yes, capitals and explanation marks !!! Well we made it to Chiang Khong after a 2 and a half hour trip, no worse for wear.  On the bus we met a British Asian girl, and we walked into town together, not a big town and you do not need a ride anywhere if you're willing to walk 2 km.  Of course on a Sunday all the immigration stuff is closed, or at least charging a weekend/holiday fee.  So we grabbed a bungalow next to the ferry launch, which we thought was super cool, but turned out that the place smelled like a sewer all night, and was ( or seemed to be ) infested with termites.
One word of advice, pay the weekend fee, 30 baht, and get your Laos Visa a day early, because waiting for it at the border seemed like a good idea, but really, it was getting close to missing the slow boat.  We must have waited an hour, at least.  And that doesn't even include the people that didn't even get there passports back in time and missed the boats ( but I think that was a scam)  We made the boat and the slow trek down the river began.
Well, it was a once in a life time experience going down the Mekong River and well worth the 2 day trip, although things were a little repetitive, it reminded me a lot of the McKenzie River in Inuvik, it was the same brown, silty river, but along the banks in places there were HUGE sand dunes, maybe 300 meters long and 100 feet high, ok that was probably the biggest and those were rare, but still really neat. 
We met an older couple and their son from Australia on the boat. Very talkative and informative. We stopped over night in a small town called Pak Beng, and if we could do it again, we would have bought a ticket here only and stayed a few days instead of booking straight though to Luang Prabang. It is a beautiful village, and the hotel we stayed in would rival any 4 star hotel any where in the world, just beautiful and it WILL be the nicest place we stay in our whole trip by far.  The aussie couple had heard about it and we though we would go with them and check it out. The price though, was only 500 baht, bargained down to 350 ( it is the slow season after all) we took some pictures, but I'm sure it will not do it justice.  Most people at the hotel speak English, well at least the ones you need to talk to, shop keepers, restaurant and hotel staff.  There are no shortage of guesthouses and hostels at Pak Beng, and honestly, this is the place to spoil yourself, because most rooms at the guest houses are 200 baht.  So twice as much gets you 10 times the value.  Apparently there are nice waterfalls and caves here and again we wish we would have known, because NO ONE stays more than a night, as it is just a compulsory stop over with the slow boats. Even the couple of locals we talked to didn't understand why no one stays. They need to advertise in Chaing Rai or Chiang Mai or something!! We got bombarded by Guest house owners at the beach, they take no for an answer which is nice, but really unless it is the high season, we wouldn't even need to worry about accommodation.
Our advice, if you do the slow boat to Laos from Chiang Khong, make you own way to the border and into Laos, the package tours are more money and honestly, they have your money and you will never be back in Bangkok, or Chiang Mai again, so what do they care if what you paid for is not what you get.  The cheapest package we found from Chiang Mai was 1500 baht each.  I believe it only cost us 2000 baht in total for the same thing, and we had more fun doing it.  Get your Laos visa a day early, even if it is a weekend, pay the dollar more, because it will save you a hassle for sure at the border.  We don't know if you can get a ticket at the actual boat, but one guy back in Chiang Khong said it was 700 baht, well we paid 900 from a company just across the border in Laos.  You probably could have paid at the boat, and again saved some money.
We are in Luang Prabang now, and again, you get rushed at the beach with hostels, etc.  You can walk along and get a place on your own super easy, prices range from 80,000 kip to 350,000+ (what the Australian couple paid), our room is great, clean sheets and clean bathroom, on the second floor, our room had air conditioning, but we had them take out the controller, so we couldn't use it, as it would have been 120,000 kip instead. 80,000 for the rooms downstairs. ( much quieter up here).
We walked around Luang Prabang today, what a nice place, one could almost live here !!  Beer and food is great and cheaper then any where else so for, 10000 kip a beer ($1.00) and 15000-30000 for a meal ($1.50 - $3.00), we are going to stay a few days, and we have no problem with that at all.  The mosquitos sure got us the first night!!! We forgot the deet when we went out for dinner. Kylie's whole left leg has been eaten up. We are now wearing deet 24/7.  We wish we could have found a wireless hostel, or café, but no.  Not in Laos yet.  It is still very basic. There are only 2 ATM's as well...and you can only take 700,000  kip ($70) at a time. We will have more to tell you about soon!!! It's just the beginning of our Laos experience!!
Bye for now,
Keir and Kylie
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