Pakse & Don Det

Pakse

Day 1

I arrived in Pakse with a pretty good idea of the type of town I was going to be spending a few days in, so thankfully I wasn’t disappointed by the lack of things to do. Outside of the large number of temples in the city, there really isn’t a lot to Pakse, so I’ll keep this post short to lengthen your lives and keep your interest in my blog.

Most people end up in Pakse on their way to Don Det – an island in the Mekong – or Cambodia. I ended up there for both reasons. It took me 4 tries before I found a place to stay in Pakse, and after hearing a string of stupid excuses like we only have rooms available for 2 people, I could have care less what I had to pay as long as I didn’t have to sleep on the street. By this time it was late afternoon, so I decided to wander through town in the hopes of finding something cool. I didn’t. The town really is as boring as I mentioned in my first sentence, so I headed back to the hotel and ordered some dinner.

By chance I ended up staying in the same hotel as the couple I met in Chiang Khong, and ran into again a few days before in Vientiane. I briefly mentioned them in my last post, but it wasn’t until we shared a drink this evening that I finally learned their names: Ana and Jo. We literally sat around talking and sharing storied until the staff began to stack tables and chairs around us and we decided it was probably time to say goodnight.

Day 2

Out of sheer boredom I went on a long walk in the hopes of at least seeing some cool temples. I didn’t. It was incredibly hot outside and I much preferred spending the day indoors to wandering around a boring town, so I headed back to my hotel room and caught up on some TV shows from back home. I’m not proud of how boring this section of my trip is, but if you’ve ever been to Pakse you wouldn’t blame me.

I stayed in my room until dinner time, when I felt compelled to find someplace great to eat. The trouble was, nothing sounded good and I ended up back at the hotel ordering spring rolls and french fries. While I was eating Ana and Jo appeared and headed out to dinner, only to reappear a few minutes later after learning the restaurant they wanted to eat at had closed early. They joined me and we all sat around eating, drinking, and chatting until once again the staff began to stack tables and chairs around us. They were leaving in the morning for Don Det, and since I hadn’t book my bus ticket yet I promised to see them the following day provided I could get a ticket. Ana and I exchanged email addresses so we could communicate and we all said goodnight.

Day 3

It was Mother’s Day back home, so I had an early morning Skype date with my family planned. It’s hard to organize schedules when your 12 hours ahead of all the people you want to talk to back home, so I woke up early in order to accommodate their Mother’s Day plans with the family. After an hour-long conversation we said the appropriate goodbye’s and I love you’s, and I headed out to book a bus ticket for the following day. The task literally took me 20 minutes to do, so I went back to my room and slept until noon.

When I woke up I headed out for some lunch and then off to get my very first massage. I had to wait half an hour for my masseuse to show up, but since I had nothing better to do I grabbed a seat and sipped on the tea I was given. when the girl finally arrived, I was taken to another room where my feet were washed and led up a stairwell to a large room where 4 other people were getting massaged. The massage itself only lasted an hour, but boy was it worth both the wait and the small amount of money I paid for it. I had asked for the  shoulders, neck and head massage which apparently only lasts 30 minutes, so I was also given a full body massage to last the rest of the hour. My petite and all around tiny masseuse is not someone I would want to make angry. To this day I swear she could have killed me without even trying. She stretched, massaged, and popped every inch of my body. It might sound unpleasant, but I had actually never felt more relaxed in my life. When the massage was over I headed back to my hotel and spent the remainder of my day in bed watching movies. I couldn’t wait to leave in the morning.

Day 1 Total: 364,000 Kip or $47.52 for transportation to Pakse, food, drinks, and accommodation

Day 2 Total: 266,000 Kip or $34.72 for food, drinks and accommodation

Day 3 Total: 309,000 Kip or $40.34 bus to Don Det, massage, food, drinks, and accommodation

Don Det

Day 1

I woke up early and checked out of my hotel. I had a bus to catch to Don Det, and was excited about the prospect of seeing a new place and being one step closer to Cambodia. The bus ride was pretty uneventful, and I my have slept through the majority of it. When the bus finally stopped, we were all told to get out and grab our packs. There wasn’t another instruction given. I think they all thought we would instinctively know what to do. We didn’t. We all stood there as if waiting for another bus to come pick us up. It took a good 20 minutes before anyone told us we had to walk to the dock and catch a boat to Don Det, so we all donned our packs and started walking. Man was I happy I chose my 46 liter pack during this little stretch of road. I couldn’t imagine having to carry anything larger or heavier on my back.

At the dock we had our tickets checked and were ushered into one of two waiting boats that finally delivered us to Don Det. I stood in the sand with my pack and went off in search of some place to stay. Since I had spent quite a bit of money on my room in Pakse, I decided to keep my expenses down and find an affordable bungalow to spend a few days in. With my sleeping arrangements taken care of it was time for the most important part of the day: food. I headed out and ate some lunch before spending the rest of the afternoon reading a book in my hammock. I had been emailing Ana off and on throughout the day, and made plans to meet them later for dinner and drinks.

By the time 7 rolled around I was completely lost trying to find Ana and Jo’s hotel… I didn’t think it was possible on a small island like Don Det, but it is if you’re me. Eventually I gave up looking and headed back to my room to send an S.O.S. message. Ana came and found me and we all had a good laugh at my ability to get lost. After an enjoyable dinner we headed out in search of somewhere to get some drinks and ended up in a small and over-packed bar with almost every other backpacker on the island. It was a fun night.

Day 2

I woke up to the sunrise and almost immediately felt sick. This is what happens when you have too much fun the night before. I stayed in bed the entire day and finally braved an outing for some food around dinner time.

Day 3

Since I was feeling better I actually got out of bed at a decent time and ate more than one meal. Now that Ana and Jo were on their way to Siem Reap, the island wasn’t nearly as fun so I went in search of a good place to book a ticket. The only problem with this plan was the fact that I didn’t have enough money with me to purchase anything more than dinner. There are no ATM’s on Don Det, so I had missed my opportunity to get money before arriving. Luckily for me there is a hotel on the island that does cash advances on your credit card for a fee, so I made my way there and got out just enough money to cover the ticket and my bungalow.

I didn’t do anything overly exciting for the rest of the day besides grab some dinner, so we’ll skip ahead to the best part of my stay on Don Det. I had booked the room from hell. Not only were there 2 cockroaches freely running around my room, but just before bed I went to take a shower and turned around to find a giant red iguana/lizard/dragon hanging out of my ceiling staring my directly in the eye. Naturally I did what most people would: I panicked, locked the door, and refused to go inside my bathroom until morning.

unnamedNow the picture above isn’t exactly what the thing on my wall looked like, as it was a deep red, but the size seems about right. Either way if you imagine this thing staring at you in a small enclosed space you’d probably react the same way I did. I didn’t fall asleep until well into the early part of the morning. I could hear it moving around, so I hid under the mosquito net on my bed and prayed it didn’t like the taste of human flesh.

Day 1 Total: 152,000 Kip or $19.84 for food drinks and accommodation

Day 2 Total: 80,000 Kip or $10.44 for food, drinks and accommodation

Day 3 Total: 426,000 Kip or $55.61 for bus ticket, food, drinks, and accommodation

Vientiane

Day 1

The city of Vientiane felt out of place in Laos with its large buildings and urban sprawl. Both Luang Prabang and Phonsavan were not only smaller in size, but also felt quaint with their architecture and walkable streets. After finding a guesthouse, my first order of business was to see the Arc de Triomphe replica named Patuxai, so I hailed a tuk tuk and that’s exactly what I did. I happily paid the entrance fee and climbed all the way to the top through multiple levels of souvenir shops and enjoyed my first real view of the city. It was everything I was expecting it to be, and so much more funny in person.

Now, to explain why I find this particular replica so funny, I must give you a useless history lesson. Patuxai was built in 1969 with donated concrete. The concrete, among other things, was given to Laos by the United States, and was meant to be used to rebuild the airport that had been destroyed. As an American I like to think of Patuxai as a very large and unoriginal middle finger, telling the U.S. what they can do with their donation. There was never a better use of donated concrete in the history of the world… I mean what kind of city ACTUALLY needs an airport anyway?

Day 2

Since I had already seen the number one thing on my list in Vientiane on day one, I decided to wander through the city and eventually find my way to Wat Si Saket and Haw Pha Kaew, which are two very famous temples in Vientiane. To keep day two from dragging on let me just cut to the chase and tell you that I started out in the wrong direction, and continued getting farther and farther away from both temples with each step I took. I did however see almost every other temple in Vientiane that day, and got a really good feel for where everything was in the city so my day wasn’t a complete waste. I headed back to my room to freshen up and enjoyed an early dinner at some restaurant I don’t remember. This is what happens when you wait too long to post things.

Day 3

My failure on day two made it much easier to find Wat Si Saket and Haw Pha Kaew when I headed out in search of them for the second time. I paid my entrance fee to Wat Si Saket first and spent a decent amount of time taking in the thousands of Buddha images lining the walls. There were only about 5 people in the entire temple by the time I got there, so I not only had the time and space to wander where I wanted to, but also the peaceful quite that occasionally comes along with a visit to a temple. I love being a tourist in Southeast Asia, but sometimes I just want to be away from other tourists and enjoy a place without the crowds and that’s exactly what I was given this day. There was even this small fenced off section with piles of broken Buddha images that had been damaged during the secret war that I might not have seen if it had been a busy day.

Next I headed across the street to Haw Pha Kaew which is a temple turned museum. To be completely honest with all of you, this museum really isn’t worth the entry fee if you’re not interested in small museums with little to offer. I didn’t know much about what type of museum it was before I paid the entry fee, and while I was let down by the use of the word museum to describe a small room full of random Laos artifacts, I don’t regret going.

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Day 4

After grabbing a bite to eat, and running into a couple I met during my stay in Chiang Khong, I headed off to negotiate the price of a tuk tuk to Buddha park. If you ever plan on visiting Vientiane, you should know up front that the tuk tuk drivers hate to haggle on pricing. They have laminated price guides that they’re definitely not afraid to shove into your face and for some odd reason don’t undercut one another to get a sale. I was feeling a little discouraged after getting no where with my otherwise effective bargaining skills, and just happen to overhear two people having the same argument as me over the price to get to Buddha park. After a few minutes of more confusion, thanks to the tuk tuk drivers, we all agreed to share a ride to cut costs and we were off.

As the tuk tuk swerved to avoid the potholes in the dirt road, we all began to chat and introduced ourselves. They were Eve and Fernando who had previously met and fell in love while traveling… and they were adorable. They didn’t actually admit to me that they were an item until much later that day, but there was no mistaking the obvious so I’m skipping ahead to save time on useless dialogue.

When we finally arrived at the park, we made our way inside and admired the combination of Buddhism, Hinduism, mythology and iconography on display all around us. It is by far one of the coolest, yet confusing sculpture parks ever created, but don’t take my word for it… Admire some photos.

After another pothole filled ride back to the city, we made a plan to meet up for the movie fest happening by the river. Unfortunately the festival was moved to a new location and we missed whatever movie was playing, so instead we headed off in search of somewhere to eat and enjoyed a few hours snacking on noodles and drinking beer.

Day 5

This would be my last day in Vientiane, and I spent it doing something backpackers often forget is an option… doing nothing. I hadn’t planned on spending five days in Vientiane, but since I had another one to kill, I made a point of going to the only mall in Laos to watch everyone stare at the escalators with fascination and ended up buying a few DVD’s to fill the remainder of my day. Life is tough on the road folks… incredibly tough.

Day 1 Total: 266,000 Kip or $34.72 for transportation, tuk tuk, entrance fee, food, drinks, and accommodation

Day 2 Total: 249,000 Kip of $32.50 for laundry, food, drinks, and accommodation

Day 3 Total: 233,000 Kip or $$30.48 for entrance fees, food, drinks, and accommodation

Day 4 Total: 238,000 Kip or $$31.10 for tuk tuk, entrance fee, food, drinks, and accommodation

Day 5 Total: 395,000 Kip or $51.56 for new shirt, DVD’s, food, drinks, and accommodation

Where There’s a Pine Tree, There’s a Crater

It was a hard lesson to learn as I stared at the thousands of pine tress in front of me, but it’s definitely one I needed to be taught. No one talks about the things that were done to Laos during the secret war, especially not in the United States, but that doesn’t make it any less real. As an American, I felt ashamed to be standing beside the crater left by a 1,200 lb. bomb while staring out at the mess my country had left behind. I had expected this section of my trip to appear while I was in Vietnam, but here I was in Phonsavan, Laos being shown the reality of war. It was all around me. Hanging on walls, used as planters, and even marking the entrances to cafe’s. The remnants of war were just as much a part of life in this part of Laos as Buddhism.

It’s been about 45 years since the war ended, and not only is the country still riddled with craters, it’s also full of active bombs. Millions of cluster bombs, referred to locally as bombies, didn’t explode on impact and are still buried beneath the ground, just as active as the day they were dropped. I asked my guide why the trees have been left to continue to take over the land, and his simple reply was fear. The locals are too afraid to enter the woods out of fear of death or severe injury by the bombs they know are buried beneath. Still, despite this fear, some of the pine trees have been used for building material. The locals will only cut the trees a few feet above the roots, making sure them and their materials don’t touch the ground, and they always make sure the tree falls away from the forest to avoid any incidents.

With the smell of pine in the air, and a heavy heart, my tour around Phonsavan continued. Our next destination was a Hmong village nearby which is famous for their use of bombs as building materials. Before the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) began cleaning up small villages and farm land in Northern Laos and educating the locals about the dangers of the unexploded ordinances (UXO) known as bombies, this village was also widely known in tourist circles for the piles of bombs lying around waiting to be sold for scrap. This is no longer the case, but it was incredibly interesting to see the mixture of old and new, war and peace as I was shown around a small section of the village.

During the 20 or so minutes we spent there, I encountered an interesting mix of things. First there was the poor monkey tied to the leg of some structure, waiting to be eaten or traded for some good or another. Don’t be fooled by his cute face. He was vicious and attempted to attack me at one point. Just next door to where the monkey was tied up, there was a home being constructed of pine and metal, so the smell from earlier that morning was haunting me once again. It wasn’t a traditional house, but a newer version modified to fit the changing way of life in the village, and wasn’t nearly as simple or beautiful as the homes with thatched roofs and bamboo walls scattered about. There were many small gardens full of crops, pigs, chickens, and occasionally pigeon coops constructed with bombs as their supports. Apparently pigeon is a delicacy to them, so all the coops we passed were packed with birds not smart enough to realize their fates.

From here, we headed back into town for some lunch before beginning the afternoon section of my tour. Our first stop was Plain of Jars site 1, where I was told the long-held theory about the mysterious stone jars having been used for burial purposes. The truth is, no one actually knows why the jars were created or why there are multiple sites scattered around Laos. Site 1 is the largest and easiest location to access. Some places still have yet to be cleared by MAG for tourism, as like most places in Laos, they too were bombed during the secret war.

Even here I couldn’t escape the war from years past as craters, trench lines, and MAG plaques dotted the area. Despite all of this, the Plain of Jars was an incredibly cool place to visit, and outside of a handful of locals I had the place all to myself. Sometimes there’s a silver lining to traveling during low tourist season. The downfall this time of year in SE Asia is the fact that its rainy season, and no sooner than I had finished walking around it began to pour. I spent a good 30 minutes waiting out the rain with my guide and a nice lady who offered me some sour mango to eat. When the rain finally died down we were off again towards our next destination, only to be thwarted along the way a mere 5 minutes later by another long stretch of torrential downpour.

Eventually we were able to leave, and began our journey to the old city. Along the way I saw a rice field with 2 sections marked off with red tape and leaned forward on the bike to ask my guide what it was. He told me that the area was most likely marked off by MAG after bombs had been found while someone was plowing their field, and that the red tape was there to remind the farmers to stay away until a crew could come back to detonate the bombs safely. For me, the sight and explanation were as foreign as… well I was in Laos… but for him the sight was as normal as the rice field itself. It seemed like I was never going to escape war in this section of the country, and arriving at the old city just brought with it a larger view of that reality.

I was first shown the only surviving Buddha image that had been partially damaged during the war while most everything around it was decimated. It wore its scars proudly sitting amongst the wreckage of an old temple while monks worked the surrounding land. It was both beautiful and eerie at the same time as dark clouds began to fill the sky casting shadows across the land. Across the street stood the remains of an old French hospital which I was allowed to wander around in for a few minutes before heading on to the famous Stupa which has survived multiple wars and somehow wasn’t damaged during the secret war despite sitting a feet away from an area that was flattened.

I spent a little while here waiting for my guide in a small hut with 2 women, one of whom handed me a banana to eat while I watched the second weave a scarf on a loom. It had been such an interesting mix of a day, and as we began our drive back towards Phonsavan I was experiencing a mixture of emotions. No sooner than we left, we were once again caught in a downpour. This one left us stranded at a gas station and lasted quite a bit longer than the previous ones had. As the gas station began to flood, a group of ducklings appeared and began splashing and bathing in the water. It was such a refreshing and adorable sight that I couldn’t help but feel light-hearted and forget about the semi-depressing day I was having.

When the rain subsided the world seemed clear and fresh, and the most perfect rainbow appeared in the sky. As we drove through the country side, I felt like nothing could ruin the beauty of the scenery around me. You can imagine how startled I was when the sound of an explosion echoed through the still air and chilled me to the core. I quickly asked my guide about the noise, to which he replied: it was a bomb. I couldn’t help but feel both disturbed and fulfilled as we continued to speed along as though nothing had happened. On the one hand experiencing my first bomb explosion is a moment I will never forget and hoped to never experience, and on the other, the true reality of life in Laos had come full circle as I understood one final time how my country had destroyed all the beauty surrounding me.

Total: 550,000 Kip or $71.80 for my private tour, entry fees, food, drinks, and accommodation

Giving Laos a Second Chance

Day 1

I will openly admit that after the slow-boat incident, Luang Prabang was a little tainted for me. As I woke up the morning of my first full day in the city, I felt hopeful that things could only get better after such a disappointing entry. I was willing to give the city and the country another chance at impressing me, and set out in search of something to do for the day. My first stop was a coffee stall on the corner of one of the main roads in town. I like sipping iced coffee as I wander the streets of a new city, as it gives my hands something to do and tastes mighty delicious on a warm morning.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t going to be one of those mornings. Almost as soon as I was handed the flimsy paper cup, a large amount of coffee ended up down the front of my outfit. As I stood there drenched in coffee, the pregnant woman who had made my drink, and everyone else nearby for that matter, began to point and laugh at me. Now normally I have a fairly good sense of humor, and an appreciation for my odd luck, but since I suddenly found myself on the wrong end of a school-aged child’s nightmare, I quickly bowed my head and tried to be invisible as I walked back towards my guesthouse. During the next half hour or so, I washed my clothes in the bathroom sink, and changed into another outfit before heading out yet again.

I spent the day touring the royal palace museum and royal car collection, at the arts museum where I learned about tribes in Laos, and even went to a small temple where I chatted with a monk for a while. At some point in the afternoon I found my way into an artisan shop where I was invited into the back room to watch the woman weaving all the wonderful scarves, pillows, and blankets for sale in the store. All the wonderful things I had seen created a vast improvement on my day, and after a little dinner I headed out to experience the night market, and do a little shopping. And boy did I do some shopping! I hadn’t purchased any presents during my trek through Thailand, so after surveying my options I bought some presents for my family and headed back to my room. I wish I could tell you what I got, and how much I paid for everything, but since some of my family actually read my blog, this post would ruin the surprise of Christmas for them.

Day 2

I started my day with some banana and jam crepes, and made the decision to tackle Phou Si – or the giant hill in the middle of town with a small temple on top of it. I went to the entrance near the Palace Museum, and made my way up the 300+ stairs ahead of me. About halfway up there is a rest area and a ticket booth. I took a seat to cool down from the first 100 or so stairs, and ended up chatting with an older gentleman, who was also from the United States, for quite a while. Eventually we both purchased our tickets and conquered the remaining stairs. The temple at the top is rather small, and not really worth mentioning, but there are some great views of Luang Prabang to make the climb worthwhile.

Now one thing to keep in mind about Phou Si is that there are two stairwells going to the top. My American friend and I wanted to go down the opposite set of stairs, and boy am I happy we made the effort to search a little for the entrance. This side of the hill is jam-packed with all sorts of cool things like an imprint of Buddha’s foot, a bunch of statues, a monks quarters, and even an old heavy artillery gun left over from the war.

After our climb down, we grabbed a light lunch and chatted before parting ways. I headed back to my room until dinner and decided to check out Utopia. I stayed there most of the night, as it seems to be the place to be in Luang Prabang, and somehow ended up at the bowling alley at 2 am with some people I had met. I’m not much of a bowler, and I was drunk by this point, so eventually I slipped away and got a tuk tuk back to my guesthouse.

Day 3

I spent most of the day in bed thanks to all the fun I had the night before and a thunderstorm early in the morning. I really shouldn’t have switched to whiskey.

Day 4

Since day 3 was spent in bed, I made it my mission to explore Luang Prabang a little more on day 4. I mostly wandered around town taking in the sights before doing a large temple circuit followed by another night at the market stocking up on some much-needed clothing.

Day 5

After finding the post office and shipping a box of stuff back to the states, I ran into a guy named Marcus who I had met in Thailand. He invited me along to the Kuang Si waterfall just outside of the city, and since it was blazing hot outside and I had no other plans I decided to go. He had rented a motorbike, so I agreed to help cover some of the cost for riding on the back. It was amazing how quickly the city of Luang Prabang changed from the one tourists see, to the one the locals mostly live in as we drove out-of-town. The waterfall is about 35km away, so we followed the winding road through rice fields and small villages and eventually arrived at our destination. Kuang Si is located in a small park, and thanks to all the tourism it gets, a little tourist trap full of food and souvenirs has popped up just outside the entrance. Also is the park is a bear rescue center, which you pass on your way to the falls. It was a nice surprise, but not a very interesting addition to my day.

The waterfall on the other hand is a must see. It was absolutely beautiful with aqua green water and loads of tourists lounging about or jumping off any surface available. There are multiple levels, each just as beautiful as the one before. In the ponds there are small fish swimming about who eat the dead skin off your feet, adding a free spa trip to your day. Overall this was definitely worth the awkward trip and motorbike ride I took to get there. I didn’t know Marcus all that well, but by the end of the day I had a nagging feeling in my stomach that there was something overly creepy about him. Once we were back in town and went our separate ways, I made a point to avoid the place he told me to meet him later that evening. It might sound rude, but when you’re a female traveling alone it’s always best to listen to your gut.

Day 6

I found myself both realizing and wondering about the length of my time in Luang Prabang, and set off to book a ticket out-of-town for the following day. Once I was done with that, I grabbed some food and made my way towards Wat Pa Phon Phao, which is the large golden temple on a hill outside of town. When I suddenly found myself a little lost, I flagged down a tuk tuk and got a ride there instead. Ultimately I’m happy I ended up flagging down a ride as the temple is on top of a rather large hill. The temple is impressive looking, but not really all that interesting in my opinion. There are, however, some rather interesting paintings on the walls worth checking out and a great view of the city from the temple. Luckily for me entrance was free, so I didn’t feel like I wasted too much money on nothing.

That evening I grabbed some dinner, packed my bag, and felt happy about the turn of events in Luang Prabang. While Laos still wasn’t my favorite country, it had grown on me a little. It was beginning to feel like my wake up call after Thailand, but since things had been going better after all the upsetting things that had welcomed me into its borders, I upgraded it to okay… for now.

Day 1 Total: 394,000 Kip or $51.52 for that cup of coffee, presents, museum entrances, food, drink, and accommodation

Day 2 Total: 300,000 Kip or $39.16 for phou si, food, drinks, and accommodation

Day 3 Total: 158,000 Kip or $20.62 food , drinks, and accommodation

Day 4 Total: 301,000 Kip or $39.29 for shopping, food, drinks, and accommodation

Day 5 Total: 530,000 Kip or $69.19 for shipping a package home, my half of the trip to the waterfall, food, drinks, and accommodation

Day 6 Total: 345,000 Kip or $45 for bus ticket, tuk tuk, food, drinks, and accommodation

Slow-boating to Luang Prabang

April 24

Once I had been granted my Laos visa at the border crossing in Huay Xai, I made my way up the large hill leading to the main part of town in search of transportation to Luang Prabang.

I was still trying to decide how I wanted to travel, as I’d heard equally good and bad things about both the slow boat and the bus. There were advantages to both forms of travel, but what I was more concerned with were the disadvantages. My choices consisted of 2 days on a slow-moving boat or anywhere from 8-11 hours on a bus… I never did get the same answer for that one which was a little disconcerting to be honest, and might have had something to do with my overall choice.

Shockingly, in the end I booked a seat on the next slow-boat, which leaves around 11 every day, and grabbed some food for the 5 hour trip to our first nights stop in Pak Beng. At the pier there are lines of boats tied up, and they look deceptively narrow for the amount of people they’re able to hold, but boy do they pack the people and luggage in. My boat was so full they were tying bags, bikes, and sacks of produce onto the roof.

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My view from the boat

I’d love to tell you that this boat trip consisted of the most amazing 5 hours of my life, but I can’t. While there is no lack of scenery on board with beautiful mountains, fields, and small villages along both sides of the river, 5 hours on a boat with little to no entertainment gets boring as soon as the views around you become normal. This takes up about an hour of your journey… maybe two if you’re easily fascinated by the same sights over and over again. After that not even quality conversation can keep you from realizing how bored you are, as it will keep coming up in the conversations with the people around you.

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The mighty Mekong

I was happy to reach Pak Beng, but this happiness was quickly squashed as I was soon packed onto the tiny floating dock, and again into a small truck as the 160 or so of us all searched for somewhere to stay for the night, and the guesthouse representatives greedily snatched up as many willing takers as they could find. Now Pak Beng isn’t a horrible place to spend the night, it’s just small. In fact I’d go so far to say that if you took it off the slow-boat route and placed it somewhere else in Laos, it might be an intriguing place to visit. Unfortunately the constant influx of tourists, who never stay more than a night, has made it feel less inviting as there doesn’t seem to be as much hospitality or warmth in the people living here. By no means was anyone outright rude to me during my stay, but they also weren’t very friendly.

April 25

We had all been told to be at the boat around 9:00 to secure a good seat on the boat, so I woke up with plenty of time to spare and checked out of my guesthouse. On my way to the dock I stopped to buy some food for the journey and proceeded along towards the boat. It was already packed full of people, as everyone had gotten up early in fear of being left if they had slept in. It was going to be a 6 hour journey to Luang Prabang, and this leg of the trip was even more boring than the first day. I had eaten all of my food by about halfway through the trip and mentally gave myself a hard time about it for the remainder of the journey as I was hungry due to sheer boredom.

When I could, I slept, but I was always disappointed when the length of my nap was shorter than I had hoped it was. The end of this journey couldn’t come soon enough, so when we were told we had reached Luang Prabang, I might have actually cheered out-loud due to the excitement I was experiencing. From the boat I could see a long, steep bamboo staircase, and wondered why there wasn’t a building in sight. Since my bag had been piled in the back, I waited for everyone else to get off before I retrieved it and climbed the bamboo stairwell to the top.

Apparently we weren’t actually in Luang Prabang, but 20km outside of town. It was the most blatant tourism scam I had ever seen, with a newly constructed building housing 2 men at a desk selling non-negotiable 20,000 kip per person tickets for one of the dozens of tuk tuks waiting just across the street.

I had been looking forward to the view of Luang Prabang welcoming me at the end of the journey, and was incredibly disappointed with what greed had done to the tourism industry. They were more interested in making money than offering tourists the best their city had to offer. We could all see them smiling from their seats, knowing that they had scammed us, and poor us, stranded 20km outside of town knew we had been scammed, as it was too far for us to walk with our heavy packs. It was a brilliant business move, as I’m smart enough to recognize that from the 2 boats full of people who had arrived, they made a cool 6,400,000 kip from the roughly 320 of us that were forced to pay them for additional transportation.

As I rode on the back of the tuk tuk with the 9 other people they had crammed in, I felt so upset about the entire experience that I remember thinking how in Thailand they at least had the decency to con you in more clever and less obvious ways. I missed those sorts of cons now, as this one had actually managed to make me angry. It was an emotion I hadn’t felt once since I had started traveling, and here it was surfacing when what I should have been feeling was excitement. Laos was not impressing me thus far, and the these two days only reinforced the fears I had before leaving Thailand.

April 24 Total: 85,000 kip, $35 & 1,140 Baht or $85 for my Laos visa, ferry, 2 day slow-boat, food, drinks, and accommodation

April 25 Total: 146,000 kip & 160 baht or $24.52 for food, drinks, tuk tuk scam and accommodation