Thailand to Laos: Boats, buses, tuk tuks and opium dealers.

The mini bus from Pai to Chaing Long was severe. The roads wind up, down and in between the gorgeous lush Thai mountains. I was shattered and could have done with a sleep. No chance. We arrived at Chaing Long at 2.30am and were crammed into a guest house for a short and brief 4 hour sleep. I felt like a caged animal.

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Waking up early, I cold showered and ate a cold scrambled egg on toast overlooking the river I was about to cross to get into Laos.
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I was with a large group of tourists. All shapes and sizes. Most of them were adamant on getting completely twated on the boat journey. A bottle of whiskey or rice wine cost just over a pound, and that’s a full size 70cl bottle. Getting drunk was not what my body needed but inevitable.
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We had a pick up truck take us to the pier, a quick check in and a short boat trip over to Huay Xai, Laos. Here was where the process took a bit of time. We waited while our visas were being sorted out and once we were all ready, we moved on into Laos. Not much had changed. There were still Red Bull and Chang’s on sale. Nothing seemed cheaper either. Most of the people I’d met who’d been to Laos said it was much cheaper than Thailand. Not yet its not. Fact.
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However, spirits were a lot cheaper. You could buy more expensive ones with snakes, scorpions, spiders and lizards squeezed inside the bottle. According to Laos legend, drinking spirits from one of these bottles helps your immune system fight bites from the animals inside. Debatable.
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I bought my first Laos baguette and a fresh little Beerlao. Everything seemed very expensive. We waited.
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The rules plastered up by the visa office proved to be excellent reading material. The laws of Laos clearly, or not so clearly, state that any funny business will be punishable with extreme fines or imprisonment. I read these beautiful written masterpieces while a duck was savaging his wife. Welcome to Laos.
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Finally a tuk tuk arrived and took us to where our slow boat was waiting. We waited more. The day seemed to include lots of waiting.
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Approximately 40 people squeezed onto each of the two slow boats. We set sail, alcohol and food heavy we all started to consume our goods as we floated down the Mekong River. The start of a two day journey. My research told me about the legendary Mekong catfish. They are huge, up to 3m long and are unique to the river. I didn’t see one. The Irrawaddy dolphin also lurks around in the Mekong, although there are no more than 76 of the little fellas left. I didn’t see one of them either.
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Our boat was the party boat. Drinking soon descended into binge drinking buckets. The young ones of the group got the drinking going and everybody it seemed, young and old, joined in. The beauty of Laos, the river, mountains, jungle, distinctive rock formations and village life passed us by as we drank the day away.
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The boat had comfy seats and cushions for the wooden chairs. No dramas. No sore arse. Don’t believe The Planet or the hostel signs. The engine however, was extremely noisy. But then again, so were we.
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The young ones on board started pouring their alcohol into a massive bucket. The consumption was starting to get out of hand. A particularly boisterous Canadian, despite warnings from the staff, whipped off his shirt and climbed on to the roof. The roof wasn’t strong enough. The boat came to a halt and staff had to get him down. Oh dear. Boozed up tourists getting out of hand at only 2pm. We were only half way there.
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After drinking our supplies and the boats supplies dry, we had a pit stop to get more Beerlao. It was the other boat who supplied us. A loud cheer from the party boat erupted as the crates were passed over from the sober boat.
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Then it rained.
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Real hard.
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The rain poured into our boat as we struggled to get the rain blinds down in time. The sky was black with it. A small fishing boat pulled up to us, our staff gave him a bucket and helped him scoop the water out of his vessel. The rain continued for at least half an hour.
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The dark skies remained for the rest of our journey. We pulled in to Pak Beng in the early evening. There was a dark and eerie feel to the town. This wasn’t what I’d expected Laos to be like. Our tuk tuk which we’d prepaid for, didn’t show. The other tuk tuk drivers wouldn’t tell us where our guest house was. We were then confronted by an array of drug dealers. Weed, ganja and opium was on offer.
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It was wet and cold. Our hotel was easy to find and we all put our bags down, tired from the days drinking activities. I wasn’t feeling good at all. The lady who grumpily greeted us then stated if we didn’t order breakfast now, we’d not be allowed to get the morning tuk tuk to take us back to the pier. What a charmer. She ignored us when we asked her about the non existent tuk tuk we prepaid for earlier. We all refused her breakfast and decided to walk, out of principle. Some people have no idea how to treat their customers.
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After we’d got rid of the in-house drug dealer we found our room, which was surprisingly quite nice and ventured out for some food. It was expensive but good. A cute Dutch girl commented on how beautiful my eyes were, and a dude said I had the whole Jude Law thing going on. Both were clearly pissed and disorientated but my ego was massaged all the same. Thanks guys. But my head was spinning, I didn’t know it yet but I had a virus kicking in. Maybe a daily dose of alcohol isn’t good for my 30 year old body. Maybe a mix of Bangkok, Pai and day time drinking sprinkled with a lack of sleep had lowered my usually strong immune system.
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That night, I was hot and cold. All night long I sweated. Hard sweating. I felt dog rough.
Boon, the nice dude at reception, taught me some basic Lao phrases before I forced down my overpriced breakfast of fruit and hot lime. I was dying. A little late, I dragged my feet down to the boat and clambered aboard. I’d managed to get on the wrong boat. The destination was the same, the boat looked the same but the people were different, the older type of tourist who consume less alcohol. It was a blessing in disguise. I felt rough. I got a comfy seat next to a Chinese man and an Indian English couple.
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I popped paracetamols on the hour. My head was pounding, my body temperature clock was running riot and every muscle I owned, ached. Siting down was painful.
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The river ride was a pleasant one, a lot quieter than the day before. Half way through our ride a huge wave, created by a larger boat, splashed over half of the boat, soaking me but luckily not my electronics. It woke me up. I wanted the boat to be in Luang Prabang right there and then. But I had a few more hours to go.
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I felt trapped but I had the beautiful Laos jungle, rock formations, villages and river life to visually consume. I put on some soulful drum and bass tunes, courteously provided by Hospital Records and attempted to relax.
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Luang Prabang finally arrived and I was ready for bed. Laos hadn’t blown me away yet. In fact it was nothing like people had told me. I was surprised. I’d only met one nice local person, the rest had been rude or tried to sell me drugs. It was beautiful but the grey skies had tainted my views. Let’s hope Loang Prabang can make my day. First of all, I got to sweat this fever out. I’m going to upgrade and get a private room. Wish me luck.
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