Before leaving for my Hilltribe Trek in Chiang Rai, I booked my slowboat ticket down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang. On Nov 14th, at 6am, I was the first one picked up by minibus to head to the Laos border. We picked up another eight people around town before heading out on the road. Before we got out of town, the driver offered me the front seat and even reclined it for me! It was awesome and I actually slept for about an hour on the drive. When we got to the border, we had to get out of the minibus, go through Thai customs, then get on a coach bus for a ride across the border where we disembarked, filled out the appropriate paperwork to get a Laos Visa (Canadians had to pay $42 USD for a Visa… the highest of any country!), then get in a tuk-tuk (or songthaew… I never know what they’re called in each place) to get to the pier (with a stop at a shop that sold sandwiches and would convert currency for you at a very steep charge of 11%!).
*** The tuk-tuk (or songthaew) that we took to get to the pier.
When we got there, we waited for our guides to get us tickets, then got on the boat. When we got on, one guy, who we found out later didn’t work there, told us it was full while another guy was telling us to get on. It was all very confusing and disorganized. I was thankful that we had gotten there when we did though. There were people who had been on the boat since 10:00 am and it was almost noon by the time we got on! We were lucky to get seats near the front of the boat (since the back was smokey and very loud from the engine). Once we finally got moving at about 12:30 the ride itself was quite nice, but took a while. We arrived at Pak Beng at around 6pm as it was getting dark. This was a bit of a pain, because we had to disembark in the dark. It was also not very well organized yet again. There was one place for everyone from both boats to get off and they didn’t unload any of the bags, so you had to find your own bag.
*** View of river close to sunset.
When I got my bag eventually, I walked to town. The first place I passed offered accommodations for 20,000 LAK (Laotian Kip, or $3 CAD). I was excited and then when I tried to sign in and pay, they said 70,000 ($10 CAD). I was too lazy to have to go out to the street and walk around to try to find something cheaper so just agreed to pay and went for dinner. I found a restaurant that looked decent and had a very good coconut chicken dish with rice and spring rolls. On my way back to my hotel, I bought a little banana bread loaf and, even after all of the junk I’d eaten all day, downed that as well before bed.
At about 2am, all the junk food I had eaten all day (two sleeves of Oreos, three packages of M&Ms, a snickers bar, a sandwich that was mostly just bread, and two containers of cut up fruit) finally caught up with me and I had a splitting headache. It was so bad that for quite a while I thought I was going to be sick to my stomach and got thinking about how I was possibly going to ride the boat for eight hours the next day. Thankfully, after some Aleve, water, and a little more sleep, but 6:30 am I was feeling better – not perfect, but better. I woke up and went out to get some breakfast and something healthier to eat for snacks during the second day so as not to repeat the previous day’s issues. I got papaya, bananas, oranges, a mini loaf of banana bread, and four boiled eggs. I then went back to my room, packed, and headed to the boat for about 8am to get a good seat. The boat started going at 9:30 am. The second day was fairly uneventful. I had 2 seats to myself so I could sort of spread out – I say sort of because then people in front of me and behind me both turned their seats around and eating up a large portion of my leg room. I tried to not care, but found myself getting frustrated and wishing I had a group of people with me so I could have “fought back”.
*** View of the shore on our way from PakBeng to Luang Prabang
We finally “arrived” at Luang Prabang at about 4:30 pm. I say “arrived”, because they actually dropped us off at a “pier” that was 10km out of town so that the local tuktuk drivers can make a little money off the tourists! I was livid. I’m not sure why it made me so mad (perhaps the 2 days on the boat, perhaps I was hangry, perhaps I just hate being taken advantage of), but I was angry enough to decide to walk with a few other people towards town to hopefully get a cheaper ride. It did end up working and instead of paying 20,000 LAK (about $3.50 CAD) for a ride to town, we each paid 10,000 LAK. When we were dropped off, we wandered around for a bit. This was the first time I hadn’t booked my accommodations before showing up, which I think was a bad idea, because I ended up just going to the first place I found with availability. It was 80,000 LAK per night for a double bed and ensuite bath with hot shower though so I thought it was reasonable and just went with it. After getting cleaned up and decided to treat myself for a yummy dinner. I went to Blue Lagoon, which turned out to be an excellent choice! For about $25 CAD I got a glass of wine, a soup appetizer, as much bread and herbed butter as I could ever have eaten, a shrimp ravioli in lemongrass parmesan sauce, and a chocolate mousse dessert. It was unreal and aside from the slightly over attentive wait staff, one of the best meals I had had in since I left (or even before)!
*** My wine at dinner.
The following day, I woke up fairly early to go exploring. I first found breakfast, a delicious little cafe where I got a huge spread for no more than $5 CAD that included eggs, toast, fresh fruit, and a coffee. I then explored the Royal Palace Museum (the former house of the King of Laos and his family) which had some incredible artwork and very old Buddha statues etc. One of my favourite things, which I took a picture of even though you weren’t to take photos in any of the buildings, was a 14′ “Sea Horse” boat that was made in Canada that the King apparently used to use. I continued my explorations to see Pha Bang, an 83cm-tall gold-alloy Buddha for which the whole city is named. Its arrival here in 1512 spiritually legitimised the Lan Xang royal dynasty as Buddhist rulers.” (Lonely Planet) It was housed in Wat Ho Pha Bang.
*** Wat Ho Pha Bang
I then climbed to the top of Mount Phousi to get a view of the whole city. It was quite beautiful despite being overcast. I climbed back down and went to Ock Pop Tok to book my dying and weaving class for the next day. I was so grateful that they had space. I rented a bike, and toured around the city for a while stopping to get a 1 hour shoulder and back massage and to get some lunch before heading over to a place called Utopia to do some yoga. I wasn’t sure how hard it would be to find, so I went about an hour early to make sure I didn’t have a repeat of trying to find the yoga place in Ubud. When I got there, I was pleasantly surprised – the place was very chill and had a fantastic view of the river. It was actually a restaurant that they used one of the platforms for yoga a few times a week. Below is a pic of where I sat for a while chilling. It was this platform that was then used for yoga. While I was waiting for yoga, a few people started up a beach volleyball game, so I played for about 15 minutes. It definitely made me miss it!
*** View from the yoga platform
After yoga, I dropped off my bike (which was actually harder than I thought because I couldn’t remember exactly where I had gotten it from!), then went for dinner. I was considering going to the night market, but instead chose to have another delicious dinner since I reasoned I wouldn’t be able to get half as good of a meal for twice the price when I went to NZ. Again, it was delicious, but maybe overpriced this time (at a restaurant called Tangor). The following morning, I was picked up to go to the Ock Pop Tok Dying and Weaving Class! It really interesting, had great food, and I would definitely put down as one of my trip highlights.
*** With our finished projects!
When we got back to town, I wandered around for a while before deciding I wanted to see the sunset from the top of Mount Phousi to see sunset. I ended up being just a little too slow to decide this and had to basically sprint up the steps to just barely catch the tail end of the sunset. It was definitely beautiful though.
*** Sunset from the top of Mount Phousi.
I then walked down, got a quick bite to eat, did a little last minute shopping (mostly at Ock Pop Tok), then headed to the market and found the 10,000 LAK buffet, which surprisingly was very good. I then called it a night so I could wake up early the next morning for Tak Bat. I woke up around 5am to be out there before 6am. When I got to the main street, this pushy woman offered to sell me some biscuits and rice for 100,000 LAK. I declined because it was way too much for what she was offering me and because I really didn’t have that much money to spend on it. She finally negotiated herself basically down to 20,000 for a tray so I agreed, she put out a mat for me, and I got to participate in Tak Bat by giving to the monks.
*** Giving to the monks.
The woman kept filling up my basket with stuff. I actually didn’t want anymore and started getting bored, but she just kept coming with more. When they were gone, true to form, the woman wanted more money and then got upset when I only gave her 20,000 LAK more (which I shouldn’t have even given her but I felt a little guilty). Flustered, I walked down the street to get a fruit shake, then walked around the morning market looking at all the crazy things that you could buy from the curb vendors. I then got breakfast, headed back to the hostel to shower and pack, and finally picked up a tuk tuk to Luang Prabang International Airport to start my voyage to New Zealand!