Jenny\'s Southeast Asia/China Adventure

Travel time: February - June 2004  |  by Jenny Chu

Laos: Border Crossing / Slow Boat

Saturday, 2/28/04
Day 25, Up to Chiang Khong

The minibus came by at 10:30 this morning to pick me up. I was the last one to board, so I luckily got to ride shot gun the whole way up to Chiang Khong. Unfortunately, that meant I didn't get to really talk to anyone else on the bus and when we arrived to our guesthouse four hours later, I felt like a big loner.

Chiang Khong was nothing special. It had a few roads with stores and some street vendors, and of course the Internet where I killed some time. I did finally get to use a bit of my Chinese when I tried to order Thai iced tea from a woman. She couldn't understand me and asked if I was Japanese. No. Chinese? Yes. Ni huay jiang zung wan ma? Huay! So then we talked a little bit and she told me I better be careful in Laos.

Later at dinnertime, my whole bus was sitting together and everyone else from the later buses were eating in groups as well. And then there was me, sitting all by me lonesome in the middle of the restaurant. Still a loner. Still have not met a single soul. I was getting a bit nervous that I would be traveling alone in Laos.

Sunday, 2/29/04
Day 26, Crossing into Laos

This morning I finally broke the ice with a girl who I had met briefly in Bangkok, saw on the overnight train to Chiang Mai and again in Chiang Khong. When we introduced ourselves again, she told me that she had also seen me in Pai. We had basically been on the same travel route this whole time, our paths diverging only when I went to Ko Tao and she to Ko Lanta. Fran was now also traveling with her bf John, who invited me to join them at breakfast. They were from Oregon and of course laid back, so I was glad to have met some folks that I could talk to on the way to Laos. I think in total, there was only about 4 or 5 Americans going into Laos that day. Loads of British, and hardly any Aussies/Kiwis which was surprising.

Anyway, after breakfast we jumped on a truck that brought us to the ferry (small boat). It took across the river where we then got off and got in the line to cross the border. We stood in line for some time, but I didn't mind. I thought this all was a bit fun and exciting. With my visa already in hand, I went through immigration pretty quickly. Funny we had to pay 15 baht extra to have the immigration office open up on a Sunday. That is nothing compared to what I will have to pay other border officials in bribe money tho. The officer who stamped my passport, figured out I was Chinese and asked me Ni How Ma? Hung How!

Now in Laos, we took another truck that brought us over to the boat docks where the slow boats were. The slow boat was much longer and bigger than I thought. I had imagined a bunch of us cramped in some dingy boat, sitting on the floor, but instead about 60 of us boarded a long boat with a roof containing rows of wooden bench seats, sorta like church pews. There was two to a seat, but I got a bench to myself which was nice to be able to stretch out.

It only took about ten minutes for us to start seeing some amazing scenery. On both sides of the river, there were cliffs and foliage reminiscent of the rainforest I saw in Costa Rica, happy cows grazing and swinging their tails (happy cows come from Laos, I think, not the factory farms of California(!) - like that cheese commercial proclaims), and small villages every now and again. Often the children would be playing near the shores and would laugh and wave to us as our boat passed by. Our cameras were snapping away, as the kids were extremely cute and seemed very happy to see us. At one point, we even passed a man riding on an elephant, which was quite a bizarre sight. The only thing that was a bit of a downer was how hazy the air was. Laotians still practice slash and burn farming, so there were fires burning in the mountains everywhere.

Time on the slow boat was going by really slowly and as nice as the scenery was, everyone was glad when we finally docked at Pak Beng just as the sun was setting.
Pak Beng merely serves as pitstop and nothing more to most people. People only stay there for one night en route to Luang Prabang. There is nothing to see there and the town actually has a seedy feel to it. I also did not get a good feeling as I walked to one guesthouse and asked how much, passing on since it did not have a bathroom inside. When I went back, he said it was full. Okay. Second guesthouse, same thing. I passed it over to see a third, and when I went back to take the room, this owner also said it was full. How can it fill up in 30 seconds? Seems like they don't like it when people say no and come back. But, really you would think they would want my money instead of an empty room. And plus, I thought Laotians were extremely nice, even nicer than Thais. But the ones here, were giving me a bad taste in my mouth.

Luckily, the third guesthouse took me in and for 100 baht I got a wooden shack of a room with a shared toilet. I left and ate dinner by myself. My first Lao meal was pretty good. Fried yellow noodles with veggies, but as soon as I went back to my room, I knew it was chock full of MSG-which makes me feel woozy. I later was told that Lao food usually is cooked with MSG and they even have it as a condiment on tables in restaurants. Great.

That night there was no electricity in half the town, including my guesthouse. Welcome to Laos. So I took a shower by candlelight and went to my room. Hearing a bunch of girls talking next door, I decided to go over and introduce myself. I figure it would be more fun to sit and chat with them rather than trying to entertain myself with the glow of one candle. The four girls were really nice and we chatted for about three hours. Three of them were Danish and 21 doing the whole SE Asia circuit, the other 22 yr Israeli was traveling on her own for a year. All of them were curious to what I thought of my Governor, the Terminator. That was the last thing I wanted to think about in my first night in Laos! I fell asleep easily that night despite the loud blaring karaoke music that was coming from the street below. The residents decided to throw a big party that night. And it's not a party without that good ol karaoke. Haha, maybe that's why half the town was without electricity, as it was all getting directed to the sound system.

slow boat along the mekong

slow boat along the mekong

almost at luang prabang

almost at luang prabang

laotian girls

laotian girls

© Jenny Chu, 2004
You are here : Overview Asia Laos Border Crossing / Slow Boat
The trip
Follow my travels through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and China..........
Start of journey: Feb 02, 2004
Duration: 4 months
End of journey: Jun 02, 2004
Travelled countries: Asia
The Author
Jenny Chu is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 20 years.
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