2.2.5: The Mekong to Vientiane

Day 94: Luang Prabang to Sainyabuli

We were up at 7:00 and got a tuk-tuk to the bus station. We got our bus tickets and went and had a baguette and a coffee for breakfast. The bus left at about 9:00 but an hour or so into the journey it broke down in the middle of nowhere. We waited around for another bus to arrive and it was there in about an hour which seemed to me remarkably quick considering our location. During the wait we chatted with a Swiss couple called Derek and Delphine and a Finnish woman called Eva.

94.1. Bus breakdown on the way to Sainyabuli.

When the new bus arrived we boarded and it continued on without problems until we arrived at the Mekong. The bus was then transported across the river to Tha Daea on the other side and 45 minutes or so later we arrived in Sainyabuli. David and I decided to walk into town rather than take a tuk-tuk and we were later joined by Derek and Delphine. It took us a little while to get our bearings but we eventually got into town and found a guesthouse. After we had checked in we went for noodles at a restaurant by the river. After lunch we walked to the other end of town and visited the stupa. By the time we reached it the sun was setting and it was dark by the time we got back to the guesthouse. Later I went out for dinner but David stayed in and read his book as he wasn’t hungry. The restaurant was nearby but the menu board was all in Lao. Luckily a girl brought me an English menu. I had khao niaw and a beef laap which was very spicy and I couldn’t finish it even though I tried.

94.2. Sainyabuli and the stupa at sunset.

Day 95: Sainyabuli to Paklai

David and I were up at 6:00 and we met with Eva outside our guesthouse. We got a tuk-tuk to the south bus station and there was almost a fight between the drivers for our custom. The tuk-tuk drivers don’t seem to get much work here. Derek and Delphine later arrived at the bus station and they joined us for coffee. At 7:30 we got a sawngthaew which drove back into town and stopped outside a hospital. The driver went into the hospital and didn’t come out for another hour.

95.1. Sainyabuli on a misty morning.

When he eventually came back we headed off south straight past the bus station we had come from earlier. We drove mostly along dirt roads and there was a lot of dust coming in through the sides of the vehicle. The sawngthaew soon became very packed and at one point I counted about 21-22 passengers on board (the capacity is about 12). The journey was about five and a half hours in total so I was very glad when we finally arrived in Paklai. It was an interesting experience but one I am keen to repeat too soon. We got a guesthouse and the others went out for lunch but I stayed in as I was feeling a bit ill. I think partly because of the sawngthaew ride and partly because of the spicy laap I had last night. At around 16:00 I went for a walk and met the others heading back from the market as they were going for a beer. I continued walking for a bit and joined them later but didn’t drink as I was still feeling a bit sick. In the evening we went to a restaurant nearby and I had a Pad Thai which I couldn’t finish. I went back early and watched a bit of Thai TV before going to bed.

Day 96: Paklai

We had to stay in Paklai one more day as there were no passenger boats to Vientiane today. David went early in the morning to see if he could get on a cargo boat today but had no luck. I stayed in bed until about 9:00 and then went out. I found David sat with some Lao guys at the boat landing. He hadn’t seen the others yet. We went for breakfast and on the way back we watched some other Lao playing Patang. Patang is the French game that is a bit like Bowls. After they had finished playing we had a few games between ourselves. Afterwards we headed back to the guesthouse and went to the balcony to sit in the sun. I went for a walk in town and visited the market where all kinds of food animals are sold, including snakes, rats and something that looked a bit like a civet cat. Paklai seems a very friendly town and everyone you pass says ‘Sabai dee’ to you. The people don’t seem to be used to tourists here so the place feels very unspoilt. In the evening the five of us met up and we went to a restaurant and had fish and Tom Yam. I didn’t eat any of the Tom Yam as it was apparently very spicy and I was still recovering from the sickness of yesterday. I was feeling well enough for a beerlao though. We passed a stall selling lao-lao in beerlao bottles run by a guy who had clearly been dipping into his own stash. He let us try lao-lao with snake blood in it, an acquired taste, and Derek bought a couple of bottles of lao-lao for the boat ride tomorrow. After dinner Derek, Eva, David and I sat on the balcony and drank some of the lao-lao. Eva and I didn’t drink much but Derek and David managed to finish one bottle and David was very drunk by the end.

96.1. Around Paklai: The drum tower at the temple and the ornate bamboo gate to the playing field.

Day 97: Paklai to Vientiane

We got up early to buy our tickets at the boat landing, which cost 120,000 kip. At the boat landing we met a Japanese girl called Kazuya who is studying for a PhD at Vientiane University. She said she is the only PhD student in Laos. David and I went to the market and bought some sticky rice in bamboo and some biscuits for the journey. The 9:00 boat eventually left at 10:00. The morning was quite foggy so David and I sat below listening to our MP3 players while Derek and Delphine went and sat up on the roof. After an hour or so we stopped and a bamboo raft carrying many people approached. There were women selling food and drinks and things and some of the people came aboard. One group came on with a load of furniture and even a brought on a Panasonic washing machine. It looked like they were moving house.

97.1. A floating shop and removal service (left); Moving house by boat (right).

After we pulled away the sun came out so David and I went up onto the roof of the boat and joined Derek and Delphine. I lay on the roof of the boat with a bag of rice as a pillow and listened to Shpongle and watched the clouds as we drifted down the Mekong. It was very relaxing way to travel.

97.2. Afternoon spent relaxing on the boat.

After another hour or so Derek brought out his bottle of lao-lao and we drank shots with some of the Lao guys we were sat with using the cut off bottom of a water bottle as a glass. Not to be outdone by the Falang, one guy brought out a bottle of red label whiskey and when our lao-lao bottle was finished another guy refilled it from a 10 litre jerry can. We sat around drinking, chatting and taking photos until we arrived in Vientiane under a wonderful sunset.

97.3. Lao-lao on the boat, drunk from a cutoff water bottle; That is the captain, as inebriated as the passengers, pissing off of the stern.

The five of us and Kazuya got a tuk-tuk into town and we started to look for a guesthouse but many places were full and it took us a while to find one. The one we eventually found wasn’t very nice and was very noisy because of some pumps or something so I decided to go elsewhere tomorrow. After we had checked in we went to one of the riverside bars for a beer. I left after a bit and went to find an internet café so that I could phone La and let her know that I had arrived. She said that she was busy with her studies for the next few days but would have some free time at the weekend. She also asked me to call Thing. When I came back to the riverside I found that the others had gone. I walked up and down the riverfront trying to find them but was unsuccessful so I went back to the bar that we had started at and got some food. Afterwards I went to another internet café and got an email from home to say that my parcel from Chiang Mai had arrived and I’d also received a letter from Bhoj in the Khumbu. I went back to the guesthouse and found that David was already there and had had to get in using a knife since I’d had the key.