Mighty Mekong

Trip Start Nov 06, 2012
Trip End Mar 23, 2012

Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines

, Louangphabang,
Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Getting into Laos from Thailand was always going to be a time consuming affair. From Chiang Mai it was 6.5 hours in a minibus to the border, followed by the journey to Luang Prabang, for which we had three options:
1. Slow boat down the Mekong River. 2 days travel and a hotel stop halfway along. This option sounded nice, but a bit slow.
2. Speedboat down the river. Only 1 day, but by all accounts a skull-rattling experience and not overly safe.
3. Overnight bus ride. 14 hours, but sleeping on the bus meant getting to our destination in the morning and giving the most time there.

Of course, as you would expect from us two, we chose poorly. The bus, touted as a 'VIP' option, was a trade descriptions violation. Firstly, said VIP bus had no toilet. Passable for the chaps onboard as there were fairly frequent roadside stops, but not as pleasant for the ladies. The second issue relates to the first. These frequent stops (about every two hours) were accompanied by the turning on of all the onboard lights, waking anyone lucky enough to get to sleep. This problem didn't affect Clare and me though. As sleep was barely an option. I am not tall, but I couldn't fit my legs in the seat, but had to sit at an angle. This space issue was compounded by the fact that the lady in front of Clare put her seat back as far as possible from the moment we boarded at 5pm. Oh, and then there were the road conditions. The ride was as smooth as sandpaper and had more curves than a sine wave (gotta love nerdy comparisons).

On arriving in Luang Prabang, feeling refreshed and full of joy, we quickly found a cheap guesthouse and slept for a few hours. Next time I think we should just fly EVERYWHERE.

Oddly enough, Clare and I didn't realise we'd both written about the journey, so I've copied and pasted her version here:

* * *
'It took 12 hours to travel about 300 miles. There was absolutely no leg room so Max had to sit sideways with his legs in the aisle and I had the rudest woman in LaosTM sat in front of me. She dismissed other passengers from the empty seat next to her with a cursory wave, telling them that if their ticket didnt have the number 17 on it they would have to stand and when i politely asked a couple of times if she would move her seat slightly forward i was treated to her adjusting it back a few inches further. Heinous biddy.

Initially said bus struck us both as hysterically funny and we took fotos and laughed with the Laos people next to us. They were most likely laughing at us 'Poor big clumsy old sods, they wont be laughing later on when the DVT sets in!!!'

The worst roads I've ever been on and a total lack of sleep meant that the amusement soon wore off. The only respite was some kids at the front playing Gangnam style and Akons 'Smack That' at full volume at about 2 a.m. (Haydog thought of you at that point:)!!!

In hindsight, I now believe that The Bus Journey was a kind of baptism of fire, a test of character that they put you through to enter into the Paradise That Is Laos. And putting up with the Heinous Biddy turned out to be altogether worth it...'
* * *

Luang Prabang is a very, very pleasant, relaxing town. It looked a little like the towns we had been used to in Thailand, but this place has a very clear old colonial look and feel about it. The influence of the French is strong, meaning there are good bakeries, European looking architecture and a ton of French tourists (naturalement). UNESCO cash has ensured that the fine old buildings were restored and retained in the old part of town where we and most tourists stay.

We arrived at about 6:30am and this coincidentally is when the local monks receive alms. This consists of locals sitting on the pavement in rows, handing food to long lines of monks as they file past. We noticed quite a few tourists paying to join in and thought this a bit odd, as the motivation seemed to be about appearing in photos to show friends rather than a spiritual urge to take part in a Buddhist tradition. And the other tourists taking photos right in the monks' faces seemed a little intrusive. Or maybe that's just me (and Clare).

The Mekong river is pretty darned big. There doesn't appear to be huge amounts of traffic on it, just a few fishermen and tourists on their speedboats and large slow boats floating by. Though it was busier in times gone by I'm sure. The speedboats, that were an option for getting to Luang Prabang, are clearly not for the faint of heart. They go at (possibly literally) breakneck speed and bounce along in a way that suggests they are only flirting with the surface and might jettison into the air at any moment..

A quick note on currency. In India the Rupee was about 90 to the pound so we made do with a very rough 100 to the pound for calculations. Thai Baht is 50 to the pound, so again, fairly simple maths. The Lao Kip on the other hand, is about 13,000 to the pound. So as long as you know your 13 times table and remember to take off three zeros, you're sound. As a pound.

Max and Clare
Report as Spam
  • Your comment has been posted. Click here or reload this page to see it below.

  • Please enter a comment.
  • Please provide your name.
  • Please avoid using symbols in your name.
  • This name is a bit long. Please shorten it, or avoid special characters.
  • Please enter your email address to receive notification
  • Please enter a valid email address

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: