The well worn trail from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang is typically one day on a bus to Chiang Rai and the border then two days on a slow boat stopping in the little village of Pakbeng overnight. The other option is the harrowing and death seeking one day fast boat. This trip covers the two days in 6 hours and has resulted in horror stories.
We found out there was a new route. One day on a bus east through the mountains and valleys of Nam, overnight at the border and one day boat trip from Pakbeng to Luang Prabang. We chose this one. We didn’t want to spend that long traveling and this way we’d still get to experience the slow boat on the beautiful Mekong River.
We were warned by the lady at our Chiang Mai hostel about the ride through Nam as being full of nausea inducing twists and turns. Surprisingly none of the 8 passengers on our large van got car sick but she wasn’t joking about those twists and turns. We were turning around the mountain sides at lighting speeds! It was quite the roller coaster ride. I was very impressed by our driver as he was doing these turns for hours.
Finally just before sunset we reached the border and crossed on foot. After getting our visas and me being told for the hundredth time that despite being Canadian I have ”the face of Asian people”, we were picked up and driven all of two minutes to a group of small bungalows where we were to stay that night. The room was actually much nicer than expected. The lady who ran the joint made us dinner and we chatted with our travel mates: 2 from Germany, 1 from Japan, 1 Aussie and 2 Chileans.
The next morning bright and early we piled back in the van and drove an hour to Pakbeng and got on the slow boat with those who presumably had been riding it the previous day.To get to Pakbeng we had to cross a ferry. You couldn’t call it a ferry by Canadian standards as it was just a metal and bamboo raft. There was no pier, just a dirt path down a hill and onto the raft. The captain sat at the front and pulled at levers which moved chains. We made it to Pakbeng and on to the boat. Because we didn’t overnight in Pakbeng we couldn’t get there early to secure a good seat but ours in the end was not bad. We found a two seater near the back if the main cabin and the baby behind us was (to our great relief) well behaved and happy. The Mekong is beautiful even in the dry season. There’s plenty to look at but after even the first few hours sitting on the old car seats your butt goes numb and you long for your book to magically become an engrossing 8 hour movie. I did enjoy myself on the boat ride. I got a lot of reading done, listened to my music, did some writing. There was a group towards the middle who decided to get wasted to pass the time. It wasn’t until they started playing games from middle school that it became truly groan worthy. After 7 and a half hours we reached the shore. Piled onto another tuktuk and pulled into the city, the red sun just starting its decline. We had a lovely meal and learned that Laotian food is actually quite different from the other Asian cuisines. Many different tastes. They favour sweet and sour. But don’t worry, mom, it’s not a clashing tart taste, some are very subtle. I look forward to more yummy meals.