The route to Luang Prabang

After Chiang Mai we made our way to the border with Laos, our time in Thailand was already coming to an end. We had a few days to see other places in the north of the country, many people were suggesting a visit to Pai. Pai seemed a bit out of our way and I have a book at home – 500 cities to visit – that recommended Lampang. I listened to my wise book… unfortunately. I’m just going to miss out Lampang, apart from a nice little bike ride we did nothing there, there’s not even a picture worth showing for it. Next stop!

Chiang Rai came next on the path to Laos, this place offered more than its predecessor. In Chiang  Rai we visited the golden clock tower, yet again Thailand is keeping it very bling. We also visited the weirdest temple of the entire trip. I mentioned in the last post that if you’re backpacking in southeast Asia you’ll probably grow tired of temples, it sounds ignorant to admit but you’d have to be a real enthusiast to keep finding them interesting. The white temple near Chiang Rai was definitely interesting! It had completely random characters where you’d expect Buddha to be e.g. a predator pulling himself out of the ground near the entrance…

This craziness continued when you walked up to the temple, a sea of hands reach up to you as you cross the bridge to enter – it’s kinda creepy. Inside you see artwork that surely has no relation to Buddhism, I remember seeing minions, an image of 9/11 and spiderman. I’m not sure if the temple is meant to be taken seriously, I can’t imagine monks turning up in their orange robes to pay respects with the random drawings on the walls behind. Sadly no pictures were allowed inside, you’ll have to take my word on this.

So after Chiang Rai came Chiang Khong, we like visiting places beginning with ‘Chiang’ apparently. Chiang Khong is a small town that literally sits on the border with Laos, the Mekong river being the border. Our guesthouse had a view overlooking the river, anything beyond it was another country. I thought that was pretty cool, if you jumped in one of the boats you could row between the two countries in a matter of minutes. We stayed in Chiang Khong for one night before starting the long journey to Luang Prabang, this was our goodbye to Thailand.

We crossed the bridge on a bus and had to go through the visa process on the other side, this didn’t take so long but we waited for what seemed like hours for a tuk-tuk to come and collect us. We were all taking the 2-day boat journey along the Mekong that takes you to Luang Prabang. On day one we were quite unlucky, the dodgy guy who was running things had promised nobody would be sat near the very loud engine – we were. He also said he’d be on the boat with us to make sure everything went well – he wasn’t. We floated along the river for about 8 hours until we reached Pak Beng. Pak Beng is a tiny place that must just survive from backpackers stopping there, everything is geared towards it. The only street in the village is just restaurants and guesthouses, apparently 24 hour electricity is a recent thing there! I’ve never been to a place that felt so remote. Sadly while we were here the awful Paris attacks happened, it dawned on me how information can reach anywhere instantly now. Here we were in this tiny place in the middle of nowhere, in this very poor country, finding out news on our iPhones. Even here we were still in touch with the rest of the world, doing this trip even 15-20 years ago would’ve been so much different.

The second day on the boat was better, we were sat away from the engine and had a nice conversation with a couple from New Zealand and I began reading a book. This is a big thing for me, I’m not a reader but I actually managed to finish this book – at times I couldn’t put it down! Eventually we turned up in wonderful Luang Prabang, I’d recommend the boat trip. Two days on the Mekong was a great experience, we saw tiny villages on the banks of the river and fisherman out in their boats, some waved as we went past. This being our first trip to somewhere that wasn’t ‘western’, I’d never really seen people live very different lives to my own before. Not to this extent anyway. I kept thinking to myself just how different it must be for these people, one local man got on the boat with an injury and got off a while later – I guess he had to use the boat to get to his nearest doctor. Cliche alert: it made me realise how privileged I am to come from the UK. Overall, I’m glad we decided to travel over land and not fly in to Laos, where’s the fun in flying all the time?

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