We arrived at the pier at 8 am after an early pick up from our guesthouse. The pier has moved from being in the town area to about 7 km out of town and this is a fair distance in a tuk tuk. There were about 12 travelling foreigners and the balance (about 40) were locals for whom this is their only means of transport up and down the river.
There were bags and boxes of groceries as well as a couple of motorbikes and bicycles. The seating is car seats on frames – not bolted down so movable to accommodate their needs. There was a small bar counter where soft drinks, chips, noodles etc but it is wise to being your own food and drinks as not all boats are equally equipped. The boats work on a rotational basis (as the buses from Vientiane) so there is no knowing which boat you will get.
Ivan has been doing a lot of reading on the Mekong (pun intended) and I am sure that in the not too distant future these kind of trips will become less accessible or in fact possible.
There are 31 dams either under construction or completed along the Mekong River and its tributaries. These are being built for hydroelectric power. 20 of these are in China (Upper Mekong) which obviously affects the flow further down river in Laos where 9 will be built and the last 2 will be in Cambodia. The residents rely on the river as mentioned for transport but also for food and I can only imagine the impact these dams will have on their livelihood. As well as the dams, there is also a high speed train being built between China and Thailand and this traverses Laos and we saw evidence of this construction as well.
We were impressed with our accommodation – Sanctuary Pak Beng – it is on the banks of the river with a serene setting and a welcome touch of luxury in this remote area. They sponsor an elephant sanctuary and over breakfast we were treated to watching the elephants being brought down to the opposite riverbank for a swim.
Another long, relaxing day on the river ended in Huay Xia on the Thai border.
When we got off at the pier there were a number of tuk tuks touting for business. We asked about getting to the office where we had prearranged our transfer to Chiang Mai the next day as we had to pay them and get our tickets – the driver simply said he would take us to “town” – together with a number of the foreigners that had been on our boat – we paid our exorbitant fee and set off – we stopped 3 minutes later and we all sat in anticipation of getting going again – this was it! We were in town! We could have walked in the same time!
We initially couldn’t find our the agent and asked at another company who told us the agent was closed but they could arrange the transfer at double to cost! Fortunately Ivan went walkabout and did find our agent who sorted everything out for the next day and arranged a tuk tuk for us to our hotel as well.
We had opted to stay in Huay Xia rather than cross the border that evening and stay in Chiang Khong (Thailand). We once again had a fantastic room overlooking the Mekong and watched our last Laos sunset over the river from the balcony of our room.
Spoiled for choice at dinner!
We were collected in the morning and headed to the border and our trip across to Thailand. Our driver dropped us at the Laos border and after we cleared passport control we boarded a shuttle bus across the Friendship Bridge – literally “no mans land” bridge across the Mekong. We then entered Thailand and were met by our driver and headed for Chiang Mai.
The friendship bridge seen from the River.