02.03.2004 - 12.03.2004 26 °C
Following the formalities of passport and ticket checks I made my way down the steps, roughly cut out of the muddy slope leading to the waters edge. Declining the chance gravity presented of dipping my toes into the Mekong River, I wobbled accross a plank to the safety of the boat. I say safety, but the wooden benches certainly wernt the most inviting when put into the perspective of a two day slow boat journey to our final destination and I had forgoten to bring along a pillow. People arriving late onto our boat were kindly led to the adjacent vessel, which sported such luxuries as airline standard seating and a television. A mental note was made of this late arriving tactic.
Our boat pulled away first which was a small but ultimately insignificant victory for all of us aboard. We were also carrying on our boat many locals and cargo which ment many stops and as we scrapped (and I use this word litterally) into dock for the first night the other boat had beaten us there.
I have neglected to mention the amazing scenery along the Mekong, and it is really beautiful but I didnt enjoy it as much until the second day of our trip. As everyone made there way down the mud banks once more we found that the organisation had decided to attempt a circus trick as you may have seen involving clowns and a small mini. The two boats worth of passengers were to be amalgamated into one. Remembering the day before and holding back slightly, once the dust of the revolt had settled Kyla and I stretched ourselves out on the deck of a sparce boat along with a couple we had met the day before Will and Alex. Again locals joined us on our journey as did a whole array of cargo such as baskets of chickens and bags of garlic, all sorts. We sailed slowly down the Mekong, drinking any Beer Lao we could get and playing cards, communicating with the locals through a code of funny faces and bold hand actions and seeing the various settlements along the way. Water Buffalo grazed and waded on the edge of the river and locals exchanged various cargo.
We arrived at Luang Prabang as a bright sun set in front of us, casting a gentle dusk light on the town.
In the true light of day the town is welcoming, the architecture displays French influence but there are predominantly fellow tourists to be seen walking the streets. In fact the tourists are different from Kyla and myself as they are what I heard someone call 'FlashPackers'. This type of traveller is generally middle aged or above and when accidentally splashed by a muddy puddle screams such things as, "These trousers are dryclean only" "I'll send you the bill then shall I?" Regardless of the fact I'd just fallen down some steps. The palace museum in Luang Prabang is a favourite hang out of the FlashPacker but worth venturing into. Along with the normal displays there is a display of gifts from various countries including some moon dust given by the United States of America.
The journey down to the capital of Laos will go down as the best and worst bus trip of the entire year. In appearance the buss resembled a metal school pencil case and was packed to bursting with people and cargo. We drove through stunning scenery and passed little settlements where people gambled, worked and even cut their hair in the dusty streets. The roads were winding up and down the mountains and we passed a couple of vans that had turned over off the road until about half way the tyre in front of my window burst. Efficiently the tyre was changed and we set out again. Bang, the tyre blew again, this time conveniently near to a small restaurant, so we rested as the repairs were made. Maybe an hour later, the tyre blows once again, this time it is so hot that buckets and buckets of water are poured on. With steam rising, it takes ten minuites before it has cooled enough to be changed. Backpackers bailed out at Vang Vieng, even a guy who was meant to go all the way to Vientienne but he couldnt hack it, so just Kyla and I went on with no more problems, making it to Vientienne 5 hours late.
Before crossing to Vietnam you must et your VISA in advance and as we had arrived on a Friday and the VISAS are processed in working days, we found ourselves stuck here for longer than expected. We did little more than you would need a couple of days to do but contrary to what people had told us it is definately worth a couple of days stop off. The oldest Wat in the city has a graveyard of Buddhas broken through various wars, this is on the corner of a long road which at the end has a huge concrete arch reminiscent of the Arch de Triumphe in Paris. Following a road from there, we visited Phat Lung where a festival was on creating a hubub including pick up tucks carrying live bands.
Once your Visa is sorted a bus connecting Laos' capital to Vietnams is easily arranged and for the price of 24 hours of your time you can make such a journey. Starting about 7 in the evening we drove to a bus stop, slept there for a few hours before making our way to the border check.