After watching and participating in the monks receiving alms, we returned to our guesthouse to pack and say goodbye to Luang Prabang.
Our slow boat for the next 2 days on the Mekong (pronounced May-kong) River was one of these long wooden affairs. I would highly recommend a slow boat trip if you have 2 days to spare getting from Laos to Thailand. The boat had comfortable seating as well as tables and chairs, a toilet, beer and snacks. The open air also made the smokers happy. The smooth trip meant that I never felt sick (unlike windy bus trips).
Run by the captain, his wife and 3 kids, it was a family affair and The Koala quickly impressed the kids with his drawing talents. We both did a lot of drawing while on the Mekong River. 20 hours of down time makes for good drawing time.
Locals panning for gold at the edge of the Mekong River. The return isn’t very good, but during dry season, there isn’t a lot to do and panning for gold is a cheap, low tech way to make money.
During dry season, the water level drops significantly and the now exposed banks are transformed into temporary edible gardens.
Plenty of seating for our 14 passengers.
The Koala draws.
A Laos inspired drawing which he gifts to the boy. The boy is super chuffed and spends hours staring at the drawing. Later, he tapes the drawings up on a wall for all to see.
Many games of Asshole were played.
Pak Ou Caves (Buddha Caves)
We stopped by the Pak Ou Caves, a couple of hours from of Luang Prabang. Many, many years ago, locals discovered these caves high above the Mekong River. Since then, the number of Buddha relics inside has grown to over 4,000. It’s like a retirement home for Buddha relics that that have done their dash in temples that have upgraded or been destroyed.
We entered the lower, more accessible cave, Tham Ting, which has been a place for kings and pilgrims to worship for many centuries. There were no other tourists when we visited so it was nice to have the place to ourselves.
Looking back down at our boat.
Pakbeng overnight stop
We arrived at Pakbeng at dusk where local boys carry our packs up to our guesthouse for a fee. We’d been briefed about this by our tour leader. See it as child labour, or see it as giving back to the local community, it’s your choice. Well, we didn’t have the choice as my bag was marching up the hill on the back of a tiny boy by the time I got off the boat. The Koala tried to help my boy but the boy brushed him away with, “No! Very strong!” Seriously, the boy wasn’t much taller than my pack. It was quite fun to walk up the hill in with a convoy of local boys.
The same boys were all back at 6am the following morning to carry our bags back to our boat.
Our guesthouse, Santisook, was very nice and quite new and we had the most comfortable bed in Laos. It was almost a shame that it was only ours for one night.
Our last dinner in Laos was a lovely dinner of beef and fish laap, sticky rice, spring rolls to share and the Beer Lao that we had grown to love.
Mekong River Slow Boat Tips:
- Bring stuff to do. While the sights are pretty, 10 hours of sightseeing might be a bit much. Pen and paper to draw with, a book, a pack of cards are all valid options.
- Bring a jumper. There are no windows to close and can it can be chilly in the early morning, but afternoons are sunny and warm. We travelled in late January which is the dry/cooler season.
- There are snacks like chips and instant noodles on board as well as soft drinks and beer. Bring your own if you want other kinds of snacks.
- An optional cooked lunch can be booked.
Mekong River Slow Boat Highlights:
- The Laos style lunch on board (see tomorrow’s post).
- Seeing the tiny settlements along the Mekong River. Many of these settlements do not have roads leading to them. The river is the only way.
- 10 hours a day of mandatory chill out time.