Our Mekong river trip started in Chiang Mai with a 5.5 hour journey by minibus to Chiang Khong - the scenery en route was amazing and different to what we've seen elsewhere in Thailand - much greener and more mountainous. We stopped in Chiang Rai at a local market to stretch our legs which was quite amusing as an old man came over laughing hysterically and babbling on to us in Thai - David's face was a picture as he kept grabbing his arm - he was eventually called off by one of the stall holders!
Following a most spectacular sunset we arrived at our accommodation in Chiang Khong, wow it was fabulous - it had a door that just didn't quite fit, an outside toilet, freezing weather and a chorus of dogs which woke us all up at 4 in the morning - lovely!! However all this pain paled into insignificance as we got to know our travelling companions for the next week. In fact we were all having such a lovely time that we hardly noticed when the owner put the lights out and started to lock the metal gate, well it was ...... 9pm!!! Blimey they go to bed early here!
Moving from Thailand to Laos was a much more painless experience than we had anticipated. In Thailand we went to a window in a building erected by the side of the Mekong river and had our Thai visa stamped to say we had left the country, we then jumped into a boat which took us across the Mekong to Huay Xai in Laos, where we walked to another building by the side of the river and bought our Laos visa for $35 - all done and dusted in 30 minutes and no bribery in sight - hurray!
We were shipped by tuk tuk to our boat when, at the 11th hour, the tourist guy came and gave us the most scary talk - we had to be warned that the boat would take hours, that it would be uncomfortable, that Pak Beng our overnight stop had no electric and that they would try and steal our luggage - so for x kip more we could upgrade to a minibus blah blah blah!!!! Clearly this was a money making scam but he managed to get a couple of minibuses out of his scare tactics! We all ignored him and jumped on the boat - in total we were on it 6 hours on the first day and 9 hours on the second and yes there were wooden benches and yes they could be uncomfortable but you could get up and walk around, and you could talk to your friends and there were fab sandwiches and beer and pop and the scenery was amazing.
The slow boat is a bit like a bus for the locals villagers they stand on the side of the river and flag it down. All sorts come on with them - please see the pig picture! We even picked one woman up who was being rushed (mmm this is a slow boat!!) to hospital - 2 doctors from Chile who were travelling on the boat offered to give assistance but it was declined! The village life that you pass by is amazing but it is so difficult to capture on film for you. At one beach there were a load of children playing - they were rolling up wet sand balls and throwing them at each other - boy I bet they stung when they hit!
To break up our 2 day journey we had an overnight stop in a Laos village called Pak Beng - there was a bit of a hysteria on arrival as everyone panicked about their luggage thanks to Mr Tour Guide! Naturally nothing went missing and everyone felt a little silly afterwards. Pak Beng does not have mains electric but it does have generated electric so again we were being fibbed to. Our gang all found accommodation together and I have to say it was really good - it even had a hot shower (well that is when the electric is on as David discovered the next morning). The Guest House owners were very hospitable and after we had eaten were desperate for us all to try the local rice whiskey Lao Lao - well it would be rude not to! We went on to have a really great evening (wonder why!) and got a bit of a shock when the lights went out on us at about 10.15pm...the village generator gets turned on at 6pm and off at 10pm. Fortunately being on the ball I'd got our torch - they'd all laughed at how rubbish it was earlier on but now see who's laughing!