Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang, Laos

Here’s a pic from the cookery course. Clearly expect some exotic and flavoursome dinner cooking when we get back… or maybe not as we’re struggling to remember our lessons now let alone in 6 months time! We’ll be able to order a mean takeaway though!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving Chiang Mai we took a bus to Chiang Khong before we crossed the border to Laos. On the way we stopped in Chiang Rai and saw The White Temple (below) which is still under construction and is due to be finished in 2070! It is a really unusual temple as you can see from the pictures and inside there are pictures of batman and other superheroes!

So off to our last night in Thailand – Boom House. Oh and boom it should go. Not so much hotel as hovel but when in Chiang Khong…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day we broke for the border and boarded our boat across the Mekong to clear passport control. Having braved one river crossing we started on a 2 day slowboat down the Mekong river which was an experience! It’s starts off with a bit of a low-level scamming: “You can’t use any other currency than US dollars for your Laos visa but don’t worry, we can exchange in Boom House…very good rate (yeah right!)”, “you can’t get food or drink on the boat so buy here….we have all at Boom House”, “No ATM in Pak Beng (where we spend the night)”, “Slowboats very hard seats…..buy cushions at Boom House – very good price….” They’ll even take your passport photo for your Laos visa for a….you guessed it – very good price.

Heading the operation at Boom house is a lovely little old Thai lady. This matriach has the fiendish mind of professor Moriarty, the commercial acumen of Donald Trump and the appearance of an exotic Miss Marple….it’s genius really. She presides over the whole show not speaking any English (don’t you believe it) smiling and laughing and making a bomb….or should I say a Boom!

Visa processing was hectic and hot beyond belief – the mixture of different nationalities frantically trying to be reunited with their passports was fascinating to watch (well once we had ours back that is obviously)

Was all good fun though and finally we get on the boat. A bit cramped but at least we’re on  and moving. Oh, and they do sell food and drink on the boat, and there’s padded seats –  not enough mind and they’ve all been ripped out of cars but we don’t really need the cushions we’ve just bought. Most importantly there’s a seemingly never ending supply of beautiful Beer Laos which is really quite lovely and makes the whole trip pass much more smoothly. Everyone’s dead friendly and we meet some new chums.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything slows down and the scenery along the way is simply breathtaking as the Mekong meanders through the mountains of Northern Laos (which is why incidentally it takes longer by road)

We stay the night in Pak Beng. Oh and there is an ATM at the end of the street, lit up like a holy temple and mounted on steps, it’s the only landmark in town – the irony…

Guest house Vanasa is like the Dorchester compared to Boom House, it has a sort of shower, Air con (which doesn’t work of course, but it looks reassuring), a powerful fan. The sheets look like they’ve been washed fairly recently which the Boom’s definitely had not and there was no mould growing all over the room and no snails in the bathroom – bliss!

Day 2 on the boat was a little more interesting. Something strange happens to all the boats after the first day and there appear to be less on the second morning. We plan well and get down early. There is a bit of a chaos but we get a good seat near the front (important as the engine is exposed in a little room at the back, hot and very, very noisy). All of a sudden lots of locals appear, not to board the boat but to deposit parcels and bags, flasks, baskets – all sorts, for transit, anywhere they can. Western rules don’t apply, if you don’t shove your bag under your rickety car seat then someone else will ram an object in there first. I fear if we sit still for too long something will land on our laps! There’s a bit of a kerfuffle on shore as some people have turned up late and the boat’s already full. Clearly we’re in the only boat going today so if they don’t get on they’re staying another night in Pak Beng and it’s really just a one-horse (dog) town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They realise there’s nothing for it but to get on a find a space on the floor to sit. Meanwhile a small Laotian man is heaving a large motorbike onto the front of the boat. We can hear some noise on top, the driver jumped up to have a look at the roof and discovered there’s 10 people up there! We only learn this worrying statistic because there’s a beautiful young Thai woman opposite who’s being taught English by her slightly less attractive,older German boyfriend. Lots of shouting ensues, bit of bumping and swaying and off we set.

During the journey we pick up more parcels and people but the scenery is awesome:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 hours later we arrive in Luang Prabang at sunset and it’s gorgeous….a UNESCO world heritage site with lantern lit streets, Indochinese architecture and crumbling French villas. A world away from Bangkok and even Chiang Mai…..

 

Bangkok and Chiang Mai

After a long delay and a long flight we finally made it! Within 2 hours of landing we were in the beautiful surroundings of the Lebua Hotel Bangkok, sipping a cool Singha beer in the 35 degree heat (that was a bit of a shock to the system).

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport

Whilst we’re on a budget for most of the trip we wanted to ease ourselves in with a spot of luxury before we get a bit more down and dirty. The hotel is pretty impressive and we dined at the open air Breeze restaurant on the 52nd floor which was pretty spectacular although ridiculously expensive (definitely the last of one of the those for a while)

Breeze, the epitome of luxury and calm (until you see the bill!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve no idea why but we got upgraded to a suite with 2 living areas, a kitchen, 3 bathrooms, two enormous balconies and 2 bedrooms.

…and bathroom number three – bonkers!

Spent our only day in Bangkok on a sight-seeing frenzy after being ripped off on a boat trip  down the river to the Grand Palace. I thought we were pretty savvy travellers, but no- they saw us coming a mile off….anyway, the Grand Palace is really impressive and we bartered a taxi back like pros!

Grand Palace

Wat Pra Kaew

 We were booked on the night train to Chiang Mai at six o’clock Sunday evening for a 14 hour journey. Bit of a scam going on that the agents on your carriage tell you that you can only order food from them and deny that there is a restaurant car at all as they get paid commission on everything they sell. We did find the car however after our chap took one look at us and then delivered a huge bucket full of Singha beer. So he found another way to make his commission after all…..clearly we didn’t complain.

The restaurant car was hilarious – more of a party car with little flashing lights in the roof – beer flowing freely, and the most eclectic bunch of travellers we’ve ever seen in one cramped carriage – ranging from hardcore backpackers going for it, to older groups of travellers getting smashed seemingly unexpectedly. Good fun all round.

Let’s get the party started….the restaurant car pre-Conga dancing.

Best advice of the trip so far: How to avoid falling from a high speed train!

Arriving at Chiang Mai revealed a tranquil (relatively after Bangkok) green, friendly and picturesque city. Beautiful temples, lovely people, good quality and cheap food and drink.

Wat Chedi Luang – Chiang Mai

Had fun doing a Thai cookery class this evening but time to slow down a little with a 3 day journey to Luang Prabang in Laos. Bus, ferry and a slow boat down the Mekong River.