Border crossing, Huay Xai and the Mekong River

The 16th was our 30th day in Thailand which meant we had to get out pronto! We booked a minibus to take us through immigration to the port town of Huay Xai in Laos. A short lunch break was followed by a 20 minute stop at the White Temple, which was truly breathtaking. It was indeed completely brilliant white and had silver mosaic inlaid to make it shine and glisten in the sun. Absolutely worth the visit, despite being a tourist trap. 

Border crossing and immigration/visa control was relatively easy, if a little logistically complex, and we arrived at Little Hostel in time to spend a few hours of the evening wandering Huay Xai.

The next morning we were picked up by Nagi, a slow boat company, that was to take us down the Mekong river to the Laos capital Luang Prabang. There were lots of slow boats options, and ours was pretty expensive compared to the popular tourist ones. However, they cram 80 people onboard for 2 days, 8 hours both days, whilst our boat took at most 25 people, so everyone had plenty of space to move around and socialise. We made friends with some very interesting people! The tour also included free tea, coffee, fruit and buffet lunch on both days plus three sightseeing stops, for which we had a tour guide. If we had done these tours separately, it would have cost us more than the popular tourist slow boat so we definitely made the right choice.

On each day we stopped at a riverside Laos village, with the guide giving us insight into the Laos culture and lifestyle, and on the second day we climbed up to the riverside Pak Ou caves, full of Buddha statues and inscriptions. 

We weren’t sure how to feel about the village visits as we were ambushed by locals trying to sell us things for the whole visit and didn’t get a chance to actually talk to them or quietly observe a normal way of life. On the other hand, they were profiting from tourism, rather than just being interrupted by it… I still don’t think we’ve made up our minds. 

We saw silk and cotton scarves being made on a loom (1 week to make a scarf sold for $25) and whiskey being distilled from rice and water (a 40 day process for 40% proof). 

There was an overnight stop at Pak Bang, where we had the best Indian(?!) of the trip so far, overlooking the Mekong at sunset, went to a local bar to savour some delicious local banana whisky (for free!) and BeerLao and exchanged stories with some fellow travellers, and then slept in a bamboo hut on the waterfront. 

The next morning we were woken up by the trumpeting of elephants as they bathed on the opposite bank and monkeys chattering in the trees overhead. 

On the 18th we sailed into Luang Prabang.

Views of the Mekong from the boat:

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