“Welcome to Laos”
That’s what the sign said, in big gold lettering.
I had woken up at 5 am Sunday morning, scurrying to check and see if my laundry from the night before was dry. It was not. What did I expect in monsoon season?
Returning to my room, I groggily dressed, and enjoyed the refreshing cold of my spray deodorant. I needed all the help I could get waking up as my schedule has changed quite a bit from My Thai Life.
Microwaving some of my clothes dry, I shove them hastily in my bag hoping to still have time for breakfast and to call my parents. I could do neither as the mini van diver arrived promptly at 5:45, corralling us into the van for a sharp departure at 6.
Picking up a few more travelers from other hostels in the Chiang Rai area, spirits were high among the passengers for the first hour – until the realization of how little sleep we all got caught up with us. Some sleeping and some listening to music, I opted to look out the window and push through the exhaustion since this would be my last day in Thailand.
After about three hours we stopped at a coffee shop that appeared seemingly out of no where. We were given paperwork to complete for the border crossing and a chance to use a Thai squat toilet one last time.
We arrived at the small border town of Chiang Kong, one of the most popular border crossings for backpackers and locals. It was small and unimpressive, yet held a sense of glee and anticipation as the gateway into the next world.
Grabbing our gear, we moved as a pack into the station and began the process of applying for visas, exchanging currency, and purchasing shuttle fare that would take us to the other side of the border. The whole process was very easy to figure out. I simply did what everyone else was doing.
Chatting with my clump mates, I found myself with a German couple, a gamer from Austria who would later be my roommate for our first night in Laos, a Canadian, and a girl from the Netherlands. I struggle with all their names – I suck at names.
Getting off the shuttle, now officially in Laos, we get poached by a Tuk Tuk driver who takes us to the harbor of the famous Laos slow boat. This is after a quick stop off for sandwiches and a hard pitch to stay at their hostel once we arrive.
The harbor is plentiful with long, colorful boats. We compare the boat numbers to that of our tickets and carefully board ours, using a completely shifty little home made bamboo ramp. Making it safely on, we surrender our gear to be stowed below deck.
The slow boat offers mixed seating – both wooden pew style benches that threw me back to my church going days, and sets of seats that seemed like they would have been stolen from an American scrap yard. Luckily, my assigned seat is a captain chair style but it doesn’t matter much since all the travelers began milling around and socializing once we were underway.
The engine roars as it pushes us and our gear down the Makong river to our destination of the day – a small town along the river on the way to Louangphabang. Smoke sometimes makes an escape from the engine to mingle with the cigarette smoke being puffed from the travelers and workers enjoying the cheapest cigarettes I’ve ever seen ($1.25/pack).
The ship is abound with laughter, discussion, jolly drinking games and good conversation about country traditions and politics. I managed to build enough rapport with the Germans to ask them about the holocaust. They spoke openly about it, how they educate children now, give money to Jews, and how some of the oldest of the old still don’t want to talk about it.
I spent the remaining several hours chatting with the Austrian about health care, various video games, and the best of both. Naturally, fallout won over when combined with pizza – or in his case, sausages. (Case….sausages… Lolz).
We arrived at a small town I don’t even know the name of after 6 hours on the slow boat and 12 hours of traveling total. We managed to find a hostel we could all stay at, and the Austrian and I shared a room since we’d covered talking about our nudist tendencies at festivals while on the boat.
Then a magical thing happened. The hostel owner offered us some weed. The German gentleman and I said “shut up and take our money”, but not until after I haggled the price down to 1/4 of what he originally asked. $6 bought us 3 joints of the seediest, crappiest weed I’ve seen in a long time – but man, was it the best purchase I’ve made on this trip.
We found an Indian place for dinner – I stuck with Naan – and met up with another group of travelers. With about 12 of us total, many nations were represented and the conversation was very engaging. The more I talk to foreigners, the more I think I never want to go back to living in America – but how practical is that really unless I become a successful travel blogger!
Returning to hostel, the German couple and I hang out on the patio. He and I smoke our joints while she contributes to the conversation. Two burned down and a few hours later, the conversation is flowing like the Makong, and at sometimes is just as dirty!
I find that her and I share the same birthday, albeit 8 years apart. She tells me the valiant story of him killing the spider they found in their room.
We are eventually joined by the Austrian who continues to keep me laughing long after the Germans went to bed. With us both a little buzzed, we return to our room and stay up until who-knows-when continuing to talk like children at a sleepover. Topics vary from food and how much we both love it to cartoons and famous book series. He hits me with a pillow when I say Dumbledore is dead.
When sleep does roll over me, I begin to have nightmares that the bugs I found in the room, and the cockroach I spotted in the hallway, are crawling all over me. The bug spray I used as night perfume managed to do its job and I woke up unscathed.
Only getting up at 7:30 on Monday morning, it may as well have been 5 am based on how tired I feel. We pack our bags and everyone rendezvous in the common area where the best wifi reception is. I still don’t have an email from my mother.
After being told the hotel owner would not be driving us to the port, we set out on foot. I’m glad to be walking so that I can stop and buy some water and chocolate muffins I’d seen the night before – the munchies were still with me.
We board the boat knowing that we’ll be on it for 10 hours. The party atmosphere is gone now, and a quieter, more tired air surrounds us.
In the silence I take the time to admire the beautiful scenery around us. So very mountainous and green, Laos is quickly taking the cake from Thailand regarding beauty. Mmmm….I shouldn’t have talked about cake, that was a mistake.
Beaches line the river, decorated with large rocks, being enjoyed sparingly by locals with their cows and goats. We make several stops, much like a bus, for passengers to board and depart. The day is spent drifting in and out of pitiful attempts at sleep, trying to stretch my legs without waking my seat partner, and listening to the entirety of Harry Potter and the order of the Phoenix on audiobook while enjoying the cool breeze from the river.
When we finally arrive at Louangphabang, I’m not sure my legs will be able to carry me up the flights of stairs to the main road of the city. I’m hungry for something other than chocolate muffins and am looking forward to a shower.
Once the unloading of the pigs from the roof of the boat is complete, our bags get handed to us, we saddle up and begin ascending the staircase to the city.