Sunday 11th November 2012
12.11.2012 30 °C
The alarm goes off at 6.30 am as we have another early start. Breakfast is rather disappointing with Nescafé instead of real coffee and some pancakes. Tony put a large dollop of mayonnaise and syrup on top of his! Yum.
Adisak the man I booked the tour with is waiting for us in reception - always a relief when people show up as promised. He drove us along with another couple who we later find out are Swiss about half a mile to the Thai border where they took our photographs and our exit visa. We then got into some rather rickety long boats for the crossing over to Laos. Once on the other side of the river in Houayxai it was very chaotic as there were hoards of people and we had to give in our passports, photos and completed visa forms. Then once the passport had been stamped we had to queue again to pay for the visa. The price we paid depended on our nationality. For some reason the Canadian's had to pay the most followed by the Brits and the Americans. The Swiss didn't have to pay anything! They didn't even have to queue but were just waved on. We paid 36 American dollars each. Eventually we met our guide and other passengers. There are 10 of us :a Swiss couple from Zurich, ourselves, a German couple and a Thai\German family of four. The boat can hold up to 40 so there will be plenty of room for us to spread out. We get in a minibus and drive through the town to where our boat is moored. We are pleased as it is very nice with comfortable seats and most important a toilet! Also there is a captain, mate, guide, his wife and baby and cook on board. Our guide speaks good English and explains that today we will be travelling 137 kilometres with a stop at a Hmong tribal village before having lunch on board the boat. The scenery is grandiose with green hills tumbling down into the browny red coloured river with occasional sandbars, beaches and rocks.
After a couple of hours we stop at the village. We are met by a dozen or so children holding the little purses and bracelets they all seem to make. We have to climb up a steep hill to get to the village. Tony sadly turns back half way as he is worried about the walk although I think he would have been ok although it is very hot.We see how they make an alcoholic drink a bit like schnapps out of rice and then go to the shop where I buy a great big pack of exercise books and hand them out to the kids. The German family buy huge packs of crisps and give out those as you can imagine I am not impressed! Actually I find the whole experience rather uncomfortable and probably would have preferred not to visit. Back on the boat we have lunch. Three different types of curry, rice, fried fish followed by pineapple. It all tastes really good. Apart from the occasional shack or cluster of houses there are no signs of civilisation. We know however there must be people living in the hills as we occasionally see children playing playing on the beaches, and fishing nets laid out in wait to catch the fish. Sadly the river looks pretty murky.
At about 5pm we arrived at our hotel. We are fortunate as we should have stayed in a simple hotel in the village of Pak Ben instead we stay at the Luang Say Lodge which consists of a collection of wooden grass roofed huts in beautiful gardens and jungle overlooking the Mekong. The hotel employs local people and grows all its own vegetables and has its own farm with chickens and pigs. At 6.30 the local children give a demonstration of local dances and then we have a delicious meal.
When we get back to our room the mosquito nets have been placed over our beds and we can hear very clearly the sounds of the jungle. It all seems so exotic. Although it is only about 9.15 we both fall asleep immediately.