South East Asia is a magnet for backpackers and for good reason. It’s very cost effective; your budget doesn’t need to be royal to be treated like royalty. It’s full of fascinating places that can keep you occupied for months. It’s easy to get around with a strong network of buses. And lastly, it’s surprisingly approachable as there is a strongly developed tourism industry that caters to English speakers.
Laos was our favourite country while we were travelling through South East Asia but we only spent 13 days there. That’s a shame and something we would change when we go back to Asia. We took the “bus from hell” from Hanoi overnight to Vientiane. We enjoyed the food there, especially the fish on the main streets in Vientiane.
Moving onwards, we visited Vang Vieng, floated down the river and loved the scenery. Our last stop was easily the best one; Luang Prabang where we took hikes out and about as well as enjoyed the night markets and general atmosphere of the town. We then moved on to Thailand with a much more vicious bus trip that I would recommend against and instead suggest a slow boat down the river.
The sun sat high in the sky and reflected off the river below with intensity. At the foot of the steps and along the shore, women and men boarded thin river boats. One at a time they balanced across a thick log, stepping across the near boats to get to the outermost one. They carried baskets full of clothes and vegetables. One had a big tank of fuel that you could smell a hundred feet away.
Along the river, boats crossed slowly, puttering, their long thin propellers sticking out the backside like straws from thin coke bottles. On the far side, a dusty clay landing beach was full of commotion as men and women carried their belongs up the hill and beyond.
There are four ways to get from Luang Prabang, Laos to Chiang Rai, Thailand. First, you can fly to Chiang Mai and double back. But it’s expensive and generally we avoid flights if not over water. Second, you can take the slow boat up the Mekong. It takes two days to the border and you need to pack your own food but it gets you there. Eventually. Third you can strap yourself in with crash helmet firmly on to a speed boat and hope you don’t hit anything. It’s loud and tiresome but it will get you to the border faster than the slow boat can. Lastly, you can take a VIP bus overnight to the border and bus it into town from there. We opted for the last option and took the 7pm VIP bus.
He was desperate. His eyes said as much before his frantic waving arms confirmed it. In the water, floating down river, tube around his waist, the tuber was frantic to escape the rapids for shore. He calls out for a line to be thrown. “Hurry!” he yells.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a traveller undertaking a tortuously long bus journey must be in want of a few marbles and in possession of a good deal of patience and humour.
“Patience and humour. Patience and humour.” I repeat to myself as we steel ourselves for the oncoming 24 hour endurance feat to Laos.
As promised, we are picked up at 5pm at our guesthouse. Although picked up is perhaps not the right phrase as we’re led away on foot along with a troop of Korean tourists like a brood of chicks through the narrow lanes of Hanoi and deposited on the side of a street.
Luang Prabang in northern Laos is really a special place. It’s main strip is lined with beautiful wats and temples along with some authentic houses and store fronts. Beyond the town however, you can take a few day trips out hiking in the nearby hills. We did just such a hike on one day and loved every minute of it. Here are some of the shots we captured while on the hike.