Slow Boat to Indo-China

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Abandoning the number headings ’cause it’s too hard to remember what day it is. Deb last wrote about our final day in Chiang Mai, next we spent 9 hours on a bus heading to the north until we hit the Mekong river which at this location forms a border with Laos.

We went through the usual customs & immigration and caught a ferry (small leaky dinghy) across in the rain. On the Laos side was a small border town with a few small hostels & cafes and many backpackers. That night we found a cafe on the river and had a steamboat BBQ (delicious) and made some new friends, a frenchman named (naturally) Jean-Luc and his chinese wife of 6 months, Pauline. I was next informed by my intrepid leader that we would be spending the next 2 days on a boat going down (up?) the Mekong into central Laos to visit the old capital of Luang Prabang.

The 1st day was pretty uneventful and a little uncomfortable as it rained most of the day. The boat wasn’t too bad (’cause I was expecting worse) but after 8 hours and sharing with 40 odd backpackers (mainly french) we had enough. We pulled in to a small village Pak Beng for the evening and had a very nice evening with jean-Luc & Pauline. Next day was a more comfortable boat with a kiosk and this held about 140 people. No rain so we were able to enjoy the scenery along the way. 8 hours later we arrived in Luang Prabang which I have to say is nice little town with a very french provincial feel to it. The hostels & restaurants vary from basic backpacker level to some quite upmarket boutiques.

Our hostel is a good 10 minute walk down the main street & away from the main tourist area. I think Deb’s thinking was it would be quieter there……wrong. Across the road from us is a large (of the many) temple and monastery whose inhabitants daily life start at 4:00am with the ringing of bells/banging of drums….oh well. They have a parade down the main drag every morning called ‘the giving of alms’ where basically the locals ( some tourists) bow, prey and donate rice & whatever as they march past with their baskets, hoping to shoot this tomorrow before we leave town.

First day here we hired a boat (after 2 days on a river we wanted more?) who took us to a couple of villages where they manufacture handicrafts like textiles and paper products and then ended up at a temple atop one of the highest points in the area. Back in town in the arvo I think we were both a little dehydrated as it was an extremely hot day, so after a cool drink in a cafe we headed back to our room for cold showers & sleep. Next day we joined a group (mainly french) going on a tuk tuk to Kouangxi Waterfall which is easily the most breathtaking waterfall I have been to. Not because of its height or power like Niagra, but because it is spread out through a large area and flows over many levels some of which form swimming pools. As you walk along the track or swim in the pools you don’t feels so much as you are looking but more immersed in the waterfall. It is all around you, in fact i had a slight feel of being in a water theme park but it is entirely natural.

One habit I had neglected to tell you Deb & I have acquired is the almost daily ritual of having a massage. We have tried all the different ones available on the menu like Thai, oil, pressure point, relaxing. Today I think we’ll go for the scrub….and guys before you ask, no there has been no ‘happy ending’ massages. Today is our last day here and it is raining so we are taking the opportunity to blog, email, do washing etc. before heading out tomorrow morning for Phonsovan.

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