Pai–> Chiang Mai –> Chiang Rai –> Chang Kong –> LAOS –> Luang Prabang
We arrived in Chiang Rai late evening, and after a quick explore of the markets we located our hostel and hit the hay. Never have I ever experienced a shower as unwantedly cold as this one – my blood almost froze. Aside from that, the hostel was so unmemorable its name escapes me, but it was located conveniently close to the both the market and the bus stop. The next morning we hit up The Pizza Company (?!) for breakfast, had an extremely painful massage (due to our sore post-hiking muscles from Chiang Mai) and then met our friend James who had just arrived from Europe. We went temple hunting with no real luck (somehow we missed this), and then treated ourselves at Swensens (apparently a day of Western food) before climbing aboard a rickety old local bus for yet another journey, this time to Chang Kong.
On arrival, we waved down a tuk-tuk (that only JUST managed to hold all five of us) to transport us to our hotel. We had been under the impression that there was nowhere to stay in Chang Kong – how wrong we were. Accommodation options were in no shortage. After dropping off our gear we borrowed bicycles and went into town for dinner and drinks – we all got rather merry over “around the world” shots (decorated with flame, and drunken through a straw)) some quality music (we were allowed to DJ) and a fair few games of pool.
The next morning we ate breakfast with an Australian couple (Hannah and Josh, whom we’d come to see a bit more of) who jokingly commented on what a rowdy group there had been the night before (yes, that was us). We obtained visas for USD $30, and now in Laos (Hiang Xai*), we climbed aboard the longtail boat that would be our ‘home’ for the next two days. We had been warned that transport to and through Laos would be difficult, and unanimously decided that the opportunity to take a boat over yet another bus (approximately 8 hours) was definitely the better option, even if we did lose a day. We all slightly over-reacted at the thought of spending two whole days on a boat, and went entirely overboard stocking up on snacks – which, to our disbelief, we completely demolished on the first day. As we climbed aboard the boat (and took our shoes off) I’d forgotten how slippery socks could be – and as we went down the stairs my feet slipped out from under me, causing me to completely bail in front of everyone on the entire boat – it was mortifying! With no exaggeration, I can say that it silenced the entire boat (either with concern or shock – probably both). Of course, the first sounds to follow were those of my friends – laughing uncontrollably.
That night we stayed at Bak Beng. Summer, Kels and I shared a room – probably one of the fanciest places we stayed in, and I got to try both buffalo curry and Laos whisky (equally delicious). The next morning we replenished our snack supplies and climbed aboard a slightly smaller (and a lot less comfortable) boat than the day before. We arrived on the outskirts of Luang Prabang at about 2pm – the two day boat trip had barely been two days at all, more time was spent loading and unloading the boat than actually on the water! It was a great experience, and I wouldn’t hesitate in doing it again.
*Hiang Xai is the home to the Gibbon experience which to me, sounded like a dream come true: 3 days and 2 nights (although shorter expeditions are available) of trekking through rainforest, sleeping in 200 feet high tree huts and wildlife spotting. It is run by ex-poachers who have converted to guides. Unfortunately, disorganization on our behalf meant that we missed out on doing the Gibbon experience, although on the bright side, we had an extra 3 days to play with elsewhere.