OYOP: Chiang Rai, Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos- The 2 Day Slow Boat
We left Chiang Mai, Thailand for the northeast city of Chiang Rai as a launching point to take the two-day slow boat across the Mekong River into Laos.
Chiang Rai is a small town in the northernmost province of Thailand. It has a lovely night market with a large outdoor food court area, serving fried tempura dishes, fruit shakes, coconut ice cream, and what seemed to be the town’s most popular dish – the hot pot, an individualized clay pot to cook your own soup at your table.
Chiang Rai is also home to two unique sites in Thailand- the white temple and the black house. We visited both, and I was pleasantly refreshed by the quirky, odd, and downright strange artistic liberties taken by each artist who turned these otherwise beautiful, traditional structures into their own masterpieces of art.
We were headed into Laos next, and instead of taking about the hundredth bus ride of this trip, we decided to take a boat for two days, slowly cruising down the Mekong River, the longest river in Southeast Asia.
We were looking forward to two days bobbing effortlessly along the river, enjoying the mountain views, and when lucky, the riverside wildlife of cattle, water buffalo and the occasional elephant. Of course, we were all also there to mingle with other like-minded travelers, and share a few stories and some BeerLao along the way.
The adventure began before we even made it to the slow boat. We took the local bus at 6:00am from Chiang Rai, to ensure that we’d catch the slow boat that day, which only leaves one time per day at 11:30am. We met the only other 4 travelers from the bus, quickly bonded, and stuck together through immigration and finding out how to get to the slow boat. We opted to use a “company” that cost about 10,000 kip (a little over $1) more than the boat ticket price that provided transportation and food, of which the smiling sales lady was over-insistent there was none of on the boat. The company tuk-tuk took us to a small market, the “provided” food, where we could *buy* sandwiches and snacks from the shop, of which we of course all did because how could we go the next 6 hours without lunch?
Upon arrival at the boat, where the kind sales lady was no longer present, there were endless street vendors for food and drink, and as soon as we stepped on one of the two slow boats, we saw the large stash of snacks, water, and BeerLao for sale. We’d been swindled, but for only $1 and to buy food at her shop, we could only laugh.
The first night on the boat trip, we stopped at the small, small town of Pakbeng. At the riverside where the boat docked, locals were waiting to sell you their guesthouses for the night. Our 6-person group added one more traveler, and the 7 of us went together with a local offering rooms for 50,000 kip (less than $7) per night. We all decided to stay there, but let’s just say, we got what we paid for. After putting down our backpacks, we were all outside in seconds at the next door restaurant because the room was not one in which you wanted to spend any more time than necessary. However, the dinner was actually very delicious , and we ate overlooking the sunset on the Mekong River.
The second day on the boat was a bit longer and much more packed. Many locals joined from the town to take the boat into Luang Prabang, the town we were headed to in Laos. Our group moved slowly that morning, laughing over breakfast like young girls on the morning after a sleepover, only to show up late to the boats and realize we’d have to split up on the two boats and cram in the last seats available. The second day was filled with more beautiful scenery, but also with travelers who decided to continue the party from the night before. The previous day’s sounds of the rushing river and blowing wind were replaced by a Bluetooth speaker playing today’s latest hip-hop. But you know what they say, when you can’t beat them, join them!