Next day’s expected hangover was actually not too bad, (for some of us anyway, plastic bags were required for others) mainly because in this climate you tend to just sweat it out. Saying that though, everyone still looked pretty worse for wear as we sat cross legged on the floor of the hallway at immigration, waiting an hour for our visas to be issued. What do you do when you have time to kill and sketchy internet connection? (Aside from swapping your currency and marvelling at the exchange rate) Do much like they did in the sixteenth century and play another round of cards, of course.
No sooner had we crossed the border, been driven a short distance by Tuk Tuk and deposited at the Mekong rivers’ edge, then it seemed as if there was an almost immediate rise in heat. Thailand was hot, Laos was about to get a whole lot hotter. And I’m talking roughly 37 degree wet heat, which, as many people I’m sure would probably agree, is worse than 45 dry. I think I had my hair up in a bun for the entirety of the trip.
Yet I totally fell for Laos – it is hands down one of my favourite countries. Absolutely stunning natural scenery, a laid back vibe, not to mention friendly people with such a grateful outlook on life despite their obvious poverty. I think it was a firm favourite for many others on tour too.
We were due to spend the next two days cruising along the Mekong delta, in a traditional boat. Our route ran from the border at Huay Xai and continued all the way to Luang Prabang. There was something really special about that time that nobody can put their finger on, but we all felt so happy, in that environment.
That day we were introduced to the lovely Douaxong – who was to be something of our local guide for the next few days – a young, very gentle man with a wife, small children and an elaborate butterfly garden that was his pride and joy. But more on him in the next entry.
Onboard and the card games were back out and a game of ‘Higher, lower’ was underway. Tom, Justin and I proceeded to trick Joe when he wasn’t looking by sneakily stacking them in a way that meant whatever he guessed, he always got the wrong answer. Poor kid, sorry about that. Meanwhile the captain at one stage turned our boat around suddenly and darted off in the opposite direction to catch a huge Mekong river fish for lunch. Judging by his excitement, I think they must be considered quite a rarity. It was served up onboard with rice and salad, which some of us were dubious about eating as the Mekong isn’t exactly the cleanest water in the world.
For the first night we moored up in Pakbeng, a small village that sits on the Mekong river, staying in a local guesthouse. Kids from the village waved as our boat pulled in, running down the streets to greet us.
This was the view from our hotel.
Having disembarked, we then had the fun prospect of getting all our luggage off the vessel. Considering that basic movement here is exertion, afterwards we were dying to try the cold coffee in bags that they specialise in. You can buy them from street stalls for something ridiculous like 25p and the recipe is simply a decent sized plastic sandwich bag filled with many small ice cubes, a large cup of strong black coffee and some condensed milk. Pour this over the ice cubes, then throw in the rest of the can of milk, seal and shake the bag. Finally poke a straw in the top.
After dumping the luggage in our rooms we decided to walk around the village a little to get a feel for the place. We found a small temple with many statues of Buddha outside and all the locals grinned and waved at us as we walked past. There were a few bars dotted around where some people went later, while most of us had food at the hotel and Justin and I stayed up late drinking (what a surprise).
An excellent first day in Laos, and tomorrow we would arrive in Luang Prabang.