Made my way across the Mekong river that acts as the border between Thailand and Laos and stayed the night in Huay Xai, before catching the boat down to Luang Prabang. There is no road between the two so the option is between slow boat and speed boat. Changing cash is fun as there are 18,000 kip to the pound and the largest note is the 20,000 (it was the 5,000 until 2 years ago). It makes it an easy country to become a millionaire.
Wandering though town I bumped into an Australian father & daughter who I had met on the ferry across the border. They had arranged for a tuk-tuk to take them round some of the local villages and asked me to join them. The girl was facinating having lived in Thailand running a bar with her boyfriend for a couple of years. The bar was bought out to build a 5 star resort so she was taking up a career in the Aussie civil service. Not sure how long she’ll last before the wanderlust gets her again. The villages were basic, wooden buildings with children, pigs and chickens running around. One of them produced paper by pounding bark in a pestle and mortar into a paste that is then spread across canvas-like frames to dry. Unfortunately as I was just pottering through town when I met the Aussies I didn’t have my camera with me. It hadn’t rained in the area for over 4 months so the unsealed roads were very dusty & so were we by the end of it. Time pressures meant my friends had to catch a speedboat the next day whilst I got the slow one.
The Mekong passes through some lovely country that is mostly undisturbed except by the occasional village and the incredible howl emitted by the unsilenced engines of the speedboats. I cannot imagine what it must be like to spend hours next to that noise. The night half way through they journey is spent in a village, Pakbeng, that probably only exists as a staging post for the boat passengers. Near Luang Prabang the boat pulls up at the Pak Ou Caves. These are crammed full of statues of the Buddha, left there by people over the ages. I was expecting the passengers to be a mix of tourists and Laos but we were 95% tourists. Guess I’m not off the beaten track yet…….