In our madness we decided to take the scenic route to Luang Prabang, Laos, as we had plenty of time and thought it would be nice to see Northern Thailand's countryside. What followed was a 5 day epic journey!!
From Chiang Mai we took a public bus to Tha Ton, very close to the Myanmar border. It took about 4 hours winding up and down the mountains, through small villages to reach the 'town'. Really, it is no more than one main road and a river crossing through it! This is where you catch the slow boat to Chiang Rai down the Mae Nam Kok River. The river runs pretty fast at this time of year and there are even some rapids downstream, so it was a pretty good ride!
We spent a few uneventful days in Chiang Rai (actually, we spent a lot of time wishing we could find a swimming pool, as it was sweltering hot!) before taking yet another bus to Chiang Khong. This is where the Mekong River separates Thailand and Laos and you can cross over the border in 5 minutes by a small boat. We left Thailand excited to see what Laos had in store for us.
Unfortunately, the border town on the Laos side is pretty dire! Again a one road town, but with none of the niceties you can usually find in Thailand. Pretty much everyone there (sorry, a huge generalisation here I know) seemed to be there to rip travellers off. And, of course, lie through their teeth in the process. Hence, we ended up on what we thought was an 8 hour VIP bus to Luang Prabang!!
Now, a few days later, it all seems pretty funny and we can look back on it and laugh. This certainly was not the case whilst we bumped and fell about the bus. It turns out our VIP bus, was an extremely old coach with tiny seats and no suspension. Every pot hole (and there are plenty) we hit sent us flying and we basically fell off the seat. The very young driver seemed to do hand brake turns on every bend, whilst overtaking other buses, on the road that had a drop to one side of at least 60m. On several opportunities we looked at each other for what we believed to be the last time!!! 12 hours later we arrived into Luang Prabang, very tired and achy from the journey. Upon meeting other travellers we have all agreed this is possibly the worst bus ride in the whole of Asia!!
So now we have had time to relax, sleep, eat and rest, we have been out and about exploring the town. It is a really pretty and quaint place, with lots of reminders of the French colonial times. Luckily, among other things they left behind was the good old French baguette, the first real bread we have seen since we got to Asia, so we have been scoffing them down at every breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We have visited the old Royal Palace, left pretty much in the state it was in during the last monarchy's reign in 1975, the 1000 Buddha caves and lots and lots of amazing temples. We stopped off in a village that makes Lao whiskey and had a little tipple - not very nice really! And wandered along the banks of the mighty Mekong, just soaking up the atmosphere.
Tomorrow we are going to spend the day at an elephant camp, trying to be mahouts! We have been told the elephants only recognise Lao words (well, fair enough), so we're sure this will be an interesting experience! But as they say, more about that next time!