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Last bit through Laos, and arrival in Thailand

We're now in Chang Mai, Thailand, but let's start with the journey to get here!

overcast 30 °C

Written on May 22...

Oh my... don't even know where to begin! We just finished a 3 day journey from Luang Prabang to Chang Mai.
Our last day in Luang Prabang was pretty much a lost cause, as we didn't feel like doing much and therefore didn't visit either the museum or any of the many many Wats (including the 500yrs old one, saw both from the outside - just didn't want to pay the $5 total to get in+ have to change clothes to cover our shoudlers = too much effort).

We then headed on the 2 day-trip on a boat, on the Mekong river, to the town of Huay Xai, which is a border crossing with Thailand.
The first day started so so, as there are 2 types of seats on these boats (as we found out on arrival), the "comfy" ones (aka car seats) and the wooden ones (aka wooden seats).
This is a pic fo the boat and of its inside....
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All the comfy ones were already taken, so we ended up on the wooden ones, which is essentially a small bench with a very straight back, no lumbar support and a tiny, hard coussin. hmmmm... We were mentally prepared (from Lonely Planet), so it wasn't soo bad until, about halfway on the first day (so 4-5 hours in), the motor of the boat broke down so we were transferred to another, slightly more luxurious boat, with more comfy seats. We ended up on one, and my butt went "hmmmm", but more importantly, my back (which I didn't really know was unhappy), went "'ahhhhhaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!"
So we spent the rest of that day on comfy seats (which also get old after a short while, but remain better than the wooden ones anytime!).
To be fair, those motors were working very very hard, as we were going up river, and the current is quite strong. Being low season, we repeatedly had to get through rapids (sometimes - but rarely- touching rocks on the bottom) and there was a great number of whirlpools, which makes me think that this river is not exactly one you want to swim in (that is, if you can get past the thick yuky pollution brown foam and some dead animals that float by!)

The view is quite nice throughout the trip, with high mountains, many many small villages (many of which can only be reached via boat), lots of jungle and the water, which ranges from somewhat gross to downright nasty, yet locals wash their clothes & themselves in it, use it for farming, fishing and I don't want to know what else, but it's clearly one of their main source of water... I really wish I had seen this aspect of the Mekong before I decided to have a "fish from the Mekong" dish the nigth before (it was ok, simply white fish with lots of bones...) Anyway, here is some of the scenery along the way...

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These are people farming on the banks of the river, it was quite a common sight.

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The fishing with these square nets supported by a bamboo structure was also quite a common sight and seems to be one of the main way to fish around here. People simply dip the net in the water and lift it from time to time (when they see a fish in it maybe?) some do it from the river side, some do it on boats.

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The concrete structure with the red end is a water marker and shows how hight the river swells during wet season!

We stopped in a small town called Pak Beng, which is midway between Luang Prabang and Huay Xai, for the night. This town has been existing for a very very long time, with the main purpose to be a pit stop on the road. It therefore doesn't have much else than guesthouses and restaurants, and very few people stay longer than 1 night there. All electricity is provided by generators and doesn't run very long in the evening. Anyway, the population in Thailand (a little less here but still), Cambodia and Laos lives very much with the sun. People start very early, take a break from 11-2:30, then work again until sundown. They have dinner shortly after (around 7) and many town are almost completely shut down 9pm. Aliya actually noticed in Luang Prabang: a restaurant was full of people at 9:30pm, and she was like...that's weird! The reply: it's foreigners! Different schedule! yes, right! I must admit that I'm enjoying the "going with the sun" schedule a lot, it feels soo right (except for the getting early part, I leave that to locals! hehehe)

We headed on the second day on the comfy seats and slowly but surely made our way to Huay Xai. The town is quite nice, but also mainly a passage between Thailand and Laos/the rest of Asia - it has been used for centuries, as the Mekong is no wider than 1km at that height. The difference between Thailand and Laos is quite stricking in those last few kms, as one side is quite well developped with proper housing and infrastructure, while the other side is still shacks and agriculture and barely anything!

We spent the night in Huay Xai, and Aliya crashed really early (not feeling too well) but I went to have a few beers with some of the guys we'd met on the boat. There were 2 British, 1 French, and a Canadian! It's always soo entertaining to see the difference in lifestyle and personalities (between the people specifically, but also as nationalities).
A local man came to chat with us and invited us to karaoke (he goes regularly of course!) so the Canadian and I went. We were expecting a packed house, but nooo, it was pretty dead, with only two tables (one of them being our man and his friend) and a bunch of younger kids. They all take it very seriously, and they even put some American music for us (Eric Clapton and Frank Sinatra! hehehe) to sing along! It was very funny and I'll probably never agree to go to a karaoke again! hehehe Anyway, good times!

The next day I dragged my ass out of bed to get across the border. The custom agent in Thailand had a great time trying to say our names (they are normally in a very serious mood, but this one was a jolly one! hehehe) and we headed on yet another 9 hour journey, on bus this time, to the town of Chang Mai. I love Thailand! It's a lot better than Cambodia or Laos. Thailand apparently means "Land of the Free' as they were never conquered, and it actually felt like that. It felt free and happy, that is, until the bus stopped at a road block and a police office came on board to check everyone's ID...hehehe. I felt giddy for the first time in weeks and was excited to go through a market and gorge on deep friend food (it IS the land of the deep fried as well - chicken, bananad, potatoes, etc). Today I just feel fat from, all this deep fried, so no more for a while! hehehe

We finally made it to Chang Mai, and it's an ok town, but not really what I was expecting - a lot bigger! It has approx 1.5M people, and the central area is surrounded by a wall that was erected over 700yrs ago to protect the (then smaller) city from Burmese invasion.
I don't have much good to say about here, other than it's in Thailand, and most of the prettiness is found in the small alleys, not the big streets... Most of the attractions here include trekking trips for 2-3 days to hilltribe villages, etc. I was going to get on one of those trips until I read a note at a restaurant that said "I hate leeches". It strongly reminded me of my Khao Sok experience of being repeatdly attacked, and made me promptly forget the idea... Instead I bought a ticket for a smaller town called Pai and I leave tomorrow.
This is where my journey with Aliya ends, as she will stay here. She might end up doing Muay Thai boxing for 1 month, but I only have 2 weeks left in the country before leaving for India, so I want to see a few more places before going... It was a good time and all good things come to an end! Farewelll Aliya!

To conclude this, here are a few funny spelling mistakes found in Laos (there's a bit less here in Thailand, but I will keep my eyes open - should be fairly easy!)
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"Spingrool" and "Water-crass soup" hehehe

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"Scream bledeggs" hahahah! I had to read it fast and out loud to get what they meant!

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Now, my problem with this one is that I have quickly learned to not have expectations of anything good when I travel, this way I'm always ok, or better yet, impresed! hehehe!
Cheers!

Posted by Mistrale 07:03 Archived in Laos

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