We had a free morning so we visited another of the temples in Chiang Mai before having a delicious brunch in a nice cafe.
At midday we departed on a 5 hour drive to Chiang Khong travelling in a very comfortable mini bus. We stopped off at a cashew nut factory/shop where they sell all different flavours of cashews. We bought caramel coated ones, which were delicious.
Our second stop on route was another temple but this one was quite a bit different. Wat Rong Khun is completely painted pearl white, it was unlike any of the temples we had seen up until now. It was bizarre and very beautiful at the same time. It was built by Thai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, who wants to take traditional Buddhist art into the contemporary world.
A mural inside (which we didn’t get to see) is quite interesting, combining traditional buddhist motifs with modern themes complete with monsters and images like the burning twin towers of September 11, Keanu Reeves from The Matrix, figures from Star Wars and spaceships. Amongst the chaos on the walls, the buddha sits serenely in the middle of the hall.
We arrived at Chiang Khong in the evening. Our guest house was located right next to the Mekong River. After a walk around the small town and a nice meal together, our guide Mark explained what would be happening the next day and beyond.
In the morning we got picked up by a Tuk Tuk before being taken down to the pier along the river. From here we exited Thailand firstly going through passport control then crossing the river on a long boat. When we reached the other side we reached our next country…Laos!
After getting our visas sorted we were taken by Tuk Tuk to another pier where we boarded our slow boat. This was our transport we would be using over the next couple of days to enter into the heart of Laos along the Mekong River.
The first part of the journey was 6 hours long to Pakbeng. It was a stunning boat ride, chugging along at a good pace with the cool breeze blowing through the boat. The scenery was beautiful with lush palm tree lined hills and sandy beach river banks. Small villages appeared every so often and you could often see locals fishing in the river or panning for gold on the river’s edge. At one point there were two men trying to catch a young deer swimming across the river. One man went for it and missed it before their boat came crashing into ours. They had a bit of a bump but our boat was like a juggernaut that just kept chugging through.
The boat was very big and because we were on a private tour, it was only us 5 on it unlike the boats used by other travellers that would get quite full up. It was very nice sitting or laying reading in the cool breeze with the incredible scenery going past. Apparantly these boats are built really long so that they don’t sink in the whirlpools that often appear in the river!
During the journey Si, our local guide on this section of the trip, stopped us off at a small Hmong village. The Hmong are an Asian ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand living mainly off farmland. It was a nice stop off however it was a bit crazy. The local children make handicrafts and when tourists come of the village they all crowd round you trying to sell you their bracelets and purses. It was sad because they obviously live in quite poor conditions. We bought a few things and took some photos. They are all such beautiful little children.
A few more miles down the river and we came to our journey’s half way point, Pakbeng. It literally is only a street of guesthouses and restaurants made for tourists staying overnight on their journey into this country. It was a very nice little village and we stayed in a really nice hotel. The food we had was very nice too. We tried a traditional Laos dish called Lap, which was basically meat or seafood mixed with herbs and spices. It was delicious.
In the morning we left early on the boat once more. The journey was just as nice as the day before and this time we were heading downstream for about 8 hours to the former capital of Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang.
On the way we stopped of at the Pac Ou caves. The caves are in a huge mountain/rock on the side of the river and easily accessible to boats passing by. There are two caves you can visit, none of which are particular deep. You can walk about 54 metres in to the longest one. Both have been turned into Buddhist sites and the lower cave has over 1000 Buddha statues in it.
After the visit of the caves it was only another hours journey until we reached Luang Prabang. We were picked up by Tuk TUk and taken to our friendly hotel where we would be spending the next 3 nights.