Like much of the other travel advice I’d been offered, the description of the Mekong boat trip as ‘not worth the bother’ turned out to be completely untrue. The three cities had been great, but much of the time something hadn’t exactly clicked for some reason. That 8am though, as I stepped on the boat something changed. There’s a pressure when you’re in a place for a couple of days – there are things you have to see, you have to negotiate prices, not spend too much money, and on top of this I’ve given myself a few projects to organise on the way. On the boat, though, there’s nobody to meet, nothing to buy, nothing to worry about. There’s nothing to do but watch the scenery go by, eat, drink and doze. It was a tiny little boat with about 30 seats powered by a tractor engine in the back, but it had everything we needed.
The views on the first day were worth it alone – not that they were dramatic, more just right.
Just after sunset the boat stopped at the small town of Pakbeng for the night. Even the word ‘town’ might be a bit much – the place wasn’t any more than a strip of buildings perched between the jungle with a small jetty. A few steps onto dry land we’d all been press-ganged into taking rooms in a fairly nice guesthouse two minutes walk up the road on the other side of town, then there was just a couple of hours to get some dinner before the power generator was turned off at 11.
Outside my room there was a preying mantis.
Inside my trousers was a large hissing clinging beetle.
…and next to my bed was a large gecko. If you’re not an insect then geckos are harmless, but I couldn’t have slept with the noise they make, so I got the man to capture it with a special tool.
Don’t worry, it’s not hurt. Just really, really pissed off.
The second day the views were if anything better. We were deep into the infamous ‘Golden Triangle’ by this point, and I’d got to know the other passengers the previous night, so it was a little more social. At lunchtime a storm passed over and we had to take shelter for a little while. The delay meant we were able to see the sunset over one ofthe widest point of this part of the Mekong.
The delay also meant that we were too late to get the ferry across the river to Thailand, and had to wait another night in larger but still small town of Huexai, which had a little less in the way of character and a lot more stray dogs.
The next morning everyone hurried to get to Thailand, but I lounged around waiting for the daily rainstorm to finish and had my last Lao meal. At 12 I finally took a tuk-tuk to the boat station, which was made up of a canoe and the smallest, least serious passport control office I’ve ever seen. On the other side I was suddenly in Thailand, without any sort of fanfare, and took a motorbike taxi through the unremarkable town of Chiang Khong to the tiny bus station. From there, with a great deal of help, I found my way to a small village outside Chaing Rai, which is where I’ll leave this for today.