For the final leg of our journey, we traveled from Laos back into northern Thailand. This journey can be made by bus, through the air, or the slowest and most scenic way, by slow boat up the Mekong.
The first day of the boat trip began early at about 7:30am on a small dock at the outskirts of Luang Prabang. After loading up with about 30 passengers and their gear, we were ready for the nine-hour first day to our overnight stop in Pak Beng, Laos.
The boat was filled with all different kinds of travelers: tourists, local Lao people, Buddhist monks, and even a few brave families traveling with small children.
The leisurely cruise up the river was a great chance to see rural Laos. We saw children playing on the sandy beaches, boats hauling in nets of fish, water buffalo grazing and goats climbing on sheer cliffs. We took the chance to wave at everyone we saw (even the water buffalo), and most of the humans we passed waved back.
Since we were cruising against the current, the trip from Luang Prabang to the Thai border at Ban Houayxay took two full days. We had the option of taking a smaller and faster vessel that would have cut the trip down to one day, but we’d heard some horror stories about the safety of these speed boats. It was also a little bit disconcerting to see the captains of these tiny vessels wearing crash helmets and life vests as they zipped by.
Sunset on the Mekong was one of the major highlights of the journey. While we brought reading materials, we spent most of our time on the boat staring out at the gorgeous scenery all around us. It was also fun to chat with fellow travelers, especially those who spoke French and Italian.
Some of our favorite new friends were a Kuwaiti man named Redha and an Italian woman named Selvaggia. When we stopped for the second night on the Thai boarder, we invited them to join us for dinner, and we all had a great time getting to know one another better over spicy food and cold beer. The last day of our trip back to Thailand was a flurry of activity getting through customs on the Lao side, and arriving on the Thai side of the boarder, followed by a sleepy, four-hour bus ride back to Chiang Mai. So now we’re back where we started, and looking forward to one last week in Thailand before finally making our way home!