Transit, transit, transit. With the end of our time in Northern Thailand approaching and Laos calling us, the inevitability of long, knee cramping, bum hurting journeys rolled in. It’s not something that Emily and I will ever get excited about! 3 and a half hours from Pai to Chiang Mai. A broken sleep to break up the journey and then up early and back in a different van for an 8 hour drive to Chiang Khong. Exhausting.
The iconic White Temple
Luckily we broke up our 8 hour drive with a visit to Wat Rong Khun – the White Temple. One of the premier tourist destinations in Northern Thailand, this dazzling piece of architecture just south of Chiang Rai is something to behold. White and mirrors glitter in the Thai sunshine, making the place seem hot, clean and otherworldly. Most impressive of all is that this is a new temple. Opened in 1997 it already has such an important cultural resonance to the region. Imagine how important it will be 200 years from now!
Some cool Thai street art in Chiang Khong
Excursions to temples aside, the drive to Chiang Khong did take 8 hours. But after checking into our guesthouse which took (and hopefully will keep) the dubious honour of having the hardest mattress we have come across, we wandered around this small and not very touristy town before finding a spot to peer across the Mekong river. Laos. There in front of us! The promise of 2 days sailing in a long boat down the river to Luang Prabang. It was safe to say the pair of us were very excited for the journey ahead!
Some of the most scenic views you could ask for while sailing the Mekong
And we were right to be excited. 2 days sailing down the Mekong flew by. Following the peaceful flow of the river, with the hustle and bustle of local families hopping on and off the long boat at every village was exactly what we wanted from our visit to Laos. Thailand at times can feel like it is a Westerner’s playground. Somewhere to explore Asia but never really do something that isn’t safe, that isn’t guided and isn’t prepackaged. Our journey was anything but that. Just us, some beers, good food and new friends – travellers and locals alike.
Enjoying a beer and a view – right before my arm got major sunburn!
Stopping for the night at Pakbeng was the only break from the dramatic green mountains and hills of this amazing country. Intermittently watching water buffalo bathe and occasionally passing rapids and mini waterfalls ensured enough variety to keep the whole trip interesting. Arriving at our destination just 9km from Luang Prabang, we were already in love with Laos before setting foot in anything more than a small river town. We cannot recommend the slow boat cruise from Thailand enough!
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Locals fishing in the rain