May 2018, Mekong and Luang Prabang

We went to Laos from Chiang Rai (Thailand), opting for the famous "slow boat" that takes you from Huay Xai just across the border with Thailand downstream the Mekong river to Luang Prabang, the historical capital of Laos.

We didn't have many expectations, but Laos turned out to be more genuine and interesting than touristy Thailand. The slow boat trip was amazing and very enjoyable, despite what some people say. We really enjoyed sitting, drining beers, chatting, singing and playing guitars with local musicians, all along beautiful hilly and rocky scenery along the river. The boat made frequent short stops, so we could see some local people and their living. Both days on the boat weren't overly long either - we arrived to our destination at about 4pm both days, still during daylight.

Getting to the slow boat from Chiang Rai is easy on your own - no packaged tours necessary. We took the first 6am cheap local bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong (reservation not possible, but arrive 15-20 min earlier and you will be fine), paid the driver an extra to get dropped by the border, exited Thailand, then took a mandatory bus to the Laos side over the bridge, received visas on arrival pretty quickly ($35 for most passports). People selling slow boat tickets were already waiting while you were filling visa form. Don't use their services - they will tell you that you need to go with them to be on time, but they brought us to their office to buy overpriced food and drink instead and wasted some time there. The actual boat departs between 11-12am and you have plenty of time to get there with any tuk-tuk for much cheaper, have time to buy food and drinks by the pier and tickets at the official ticket office.

The boat stops several km before Luang Prabang and you are forced to take a rather expensive tuk-tuk to the city again. But locals do that too, unlike it was in the past.

Luang Prabang itself is a charming town, with plenty to see, eat and drink. Highly recommended to spend some time there. We also went to Kuang Si waterfall by a tuk-tuk, it's quite far, but totally worth it. And after, the same tuk-tuk took us to the Pak Ou village across the Pak Ou cave temple. You can actually see the temple some 30 min before final stop from the slow boat. The village itself gives you a nice impression how people actually live in Laos and they offer inexpensive boat service to the cave temple, which is really impressive as well.

Overall, Laos tends to be least visited country in South-East Asia, and that is a good thing. Definitely go there before it gets too spoiled by mass tourism.

Many slow boats at the pier, most not departing today Start of 2-day ride along Mekong! Beerlao, probably the only beer brand in the country The wheel and driver's seat seem to be recycled from an old car Random stops give some glipse on local villages Some villagers can afford a faster boat Driver gets full service from the girls that sell stuff on the boat Our slow boat waiting for passengers in Huay Xai, just over the border with Thailand Agriculture changes to jungle and back There are few bridges over Mekong, so some more are being built Rocks in front of green hills make a pretty sight Chlling in front of the boat Ferry service Disembarking villagers Probably a mini-temple in front of the boat Endless Mekong jungle Mekong fishermen Villagers bathing in Mekong Another boat like ours Center of Pak Beng, a mid-point where slow boat stays overnight Evening in the bustling village of Pak Beng with many hotels and eateries Slow boats parked in Pak Beng after sunset, one more day to go Riverside home? Satellite dish, plenty of fish and everything A very common type of floating pier Morning boats on Mekong Boat drivers need to be experienced to navigate these long boats among the stones You can grab a meal for another day's trip on the boat Mekong is welcoming to continue the trip Slow boats Nobody is in hurry when it comes for slow boats, they are slow The pier of Pak Beng There's a new Elephant park on the other side of the river, but has time for it? Slow boat is waiting Pak Beng has a really nice bar down the river somewhere Luang Prabang is that way This way is to Thailand The boats are quite long We boarded a different boat with different local passengers Great amounts of sticky rice are consumed in Laos, usually with hands Lots of cows relax by Mekong beaches More parked slow boats Danchai is Thai-Laotian fashionable musician Village girls are waiting an opportunity to sell Boys are just relaxing Every day there is only one opportunity to sell to long-distance tourists This guy has a much more marine wheel, some passengers help to push the boat away from shore Danchai is posing with his instrument Boat concert starts River is the source of life for locals Boat operators seem to live inside as well Taxi from Pak Beng hotel to the pier One of Pak Beng hotels. Prices are cheap, AC for extra People bring stuff to their village Ping bulls are common along Mekong What to do on a whole day boat trip? Sleep! And maybe play guitars, but later Mekong weather is very changing The further we go, the more rapids are there Passing by a cave temple Boat petrol station Chinese build new bridges in Laos And finally we have arrived a few km before Luang Prabang Luang Prabang is a pretty French colonial town Mekong in whole it's glory Downstream view towards Vietnam Luan Prabang's historical center is on a peninsula between Mekong and Nam Khan rivers Luang Prabang is a city of many monks and temples, despite communism Amazingly, religion and communism co-exist very peacefully in Laos Main street of Luang Prabang Buddhist temples in Laos somehow feel more authentic than in Thailand Nam Khan river has paid wooden bridges that are rebuilt every year Nice restaurant on the other side of the wooden bridge Touristy, but delicious shakes at the night market Night markets are common in South-East Asia due to untolerable mid-day heat Parents work, children sleep. Better than the opposite Our friends from the boat having fun and selling their CDs Another street musician Night market food court, including the brown fermented eggs Subtle reminders of the regime are everywhere 5am in the morning, town prepares for giving alms to the monks People are preparing rice and other alms for the monks Monks are coming Monks get all their food from the alms, and pray in return There are 33000 monks in Luang Prabang, all need to eat No chatting, no looking into the eyes Many monks are just children from poorer families striving to get free education They close some streets early in the morning to traffic Aerial view to the alms giving gives a perspective of how many monks are there every morning Left-overs are good for normal people as well Older monks leave much of the received food, probably because it was not given correctly or they don't need that much Children also get their share of sticky rice Mango trees are another source of food for monks Food preparation on the street Bear sanctuary near Kuang Si Falls Kuang Si Falls have many levels Water is very refreshing in the heat of the day The main Kuang Si Falls I made some videos for Danchai with the falls in the background Aerial view of upper Kuang Si Falls - they are pretty high Raining season showed itself once again on the way back Road to Pak Ou cave is not quite ready Unexpected road block on the way to Pak Ou Motor and wheels - what else do you need to move? Our choice of transport - quite bumpy on such a road Pak Ou village Villagers have nice mountain views Pak Ou has it's own wat Mangoes are very high in the sky Empty restaurant in Pak Ou with Mekong view Pak Ou temple cave is on the other side of Mekong! Villagers will get us accross Getting to Pak Ou cave involves walking on several rafts Monks leaving Pak Ou temple The inside of Pak Ou temple Monkey king in Pak Ou? Lots of Buddhas all around the cave The walk to the upper cave Pak Ou upper cave Batman and spiderman, and Buddha Mekong fisherman Back to Pak Ou village Children feeding time Local rice Laotian fermented rice drink production Preparing lunch No wonder why transport by river is way more popular than roads Looks like a Laotian biker gang I now have one of these hanging on a wall Durians just growing freely around the town Lots of Buddhists sometimes draw similar holy rings around the head like Orthodox Christians Monks also must deal with construction in their temples Working monks
Close Slideshow - 5 sec +