Saturday, July 14, 2012

Up the mountains, down the Mekong

(I wrote this a few days ago, Wednesday the 11th- wifi has been a bit scarce!)

We’ve had some great luck the last couple of days. Managed to see everything we wanted to when we thought we wouldn’t make it, met some amazing people who steered us away from tourist-traps, not been ripped off at border security, and now arrived in a nice, cheap guesthouse after what we were told would be a 9 hour boat ride got us here in 6!

Chiang Rai was a blur of a night market and busy streets, and not a lot else going on. However the city made a good starting point to access some cool sights that we were shown by Em, our hilarious guide and driver for the day.  He took us to first to the White Temple, which was like the Disney castle of Buddhist temples, all sparkling spires.

At the night market in Chiang Rai, Tim realised after eating three in one bite that these little suckers were not, indeed, tiny beans.

The White Temple

Next was the Monkey Caves, which involved a hike up a million stairs to this eerie cave in the rain with monkeys running around and catching bananas we threw for them! I’ve never seen so many monkeys up close so that was really fun.

 At the entrance to the Monkey Cave with a Buddhist shrine buried into the mountain side.

He then took us to Mae Sai, the Thai-Burma/Myanmar border and the Golden triangle, the point where the rivers intersect to create the borders of Thailand, Laos and Burma. It was pretty cool to learn about and get a glimpse into this country which for so long has been completely inaccessible. We could have crossed into Burma for a tourist fee to get our visa stamped and some gratuitous photos of the border town, but I think if you really want to get an idea for the country it’s best to go to the capital- on the to-do list for next time.

 The Burma border Immigration point

The border cross-section of Thailand, Laos and Burma.

Last stop was Chaen Saen, where we saw some of the oldest temple ruins so far. After taking us around for the day Em drove us 1 ½ hours to the next place we needed to get to in order to cross in to Laos, Chiang Kong. He was a wonderful guide and gave us so many great tips, and it was great that he could drop us to our next destination or else we would have had to bus it, cutting our day short. The car ride along the way was also great as we went through beautiful mountainous countryside and cute little villages.

Once we got to Chiang Kong we managed to cross the border that afternoon into the Lao town of Huy Xai, meeting a funny American (Dan) along the way who was super prepared having done so much research into where to stay and what to avoid, so he really helped us out the next couple of days. We managed to pay less at the border control by paying in US $ which was handy and then stayed in a nice place that Dan found, conveniently close to the port where our slowboat to Luang Prabang was due to depart at 8.30. Of course the boat was 3 ½ hours later than we’d been told, but we found a nice riverside place to have a long breakfast and relax before our long boat ride.

Having now arrived in Pakbeng, the mid-way stop on our two day boat trip to Luang Prabang (and found another really nice and cheap place thanks to Dan our savior), all seems to have gone smoothly, with some beautiful country side and (mostly- there’s always the compulsory obnoxious group) good company along the way.
Looking forward to Luang Prabang and exploring more of Laos tomorrow!

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