Day 81: Along the Mekong, Into ThailandSeptember 4, 2016 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 34 °C
Another early start as we had a lot of ground to cover today. Hotel breakfast was 3 courses and all delicious again - we didn't expect much from the food being such a remote area, but very impressed! Breakfast was at 6:15 and we were on the boat and moving just after 7am.
The weather was a lot nicer than the previous day which had been quite gloomy and overcast; today the cloud layer was much higher and broken up, leading to long sunny breaks as the weather folk call them. On up the river we went, struggling against the current. Sometimes it was wider, sometimes it was narrower. This area was definitely more populated though - despite the steep hillsides there were a lot more farms and cleared areas rather than just the constant jungle we'd seen yesterday. Quite a few local fishermen working their nets near the banks, and we'd occasionally see groups of children playing in the mud at the water's edge. Lots of animals though - cows, goats, buffalo, dogs, and the occasional pig. No elephants though.
Lunch on board again at about 11:30, which was a similar buffet to yesterday but with red curry chicken and stir fry vegetables which were both quite good (prepared on board too!). After lunch we arrived at another village, this time an uplander village so the houses were quite low to the ground. These were an animist tribe, not Buddhists, so there were no temples or shrines to look at. They worship the animals and animal spirits, and when they have an ailment they go to a shaman rather than a doctor.
This was a larger village than yesterday's, and seemed a bit wealthier too. There was a school, a meeting hall, electricity and plenty of satellite dishes pointing skywards too. Also several water wells that had been dug by the Lao Red Cross, but the water apparently wasn't great quality and often made the locals sick.
Back to the boat, and we set off on the final stage of our journey. It was about 3 hours worth of cruising, though it was steadily becoming less and less wilderness and more developed (farms, not suburbs). Eventually went past a Thai military outpost where the Thai-Laos border begins to follow the river course, and it was interesting to note that most of the fancier houses were on the Thai side (if a little unsurprising). We also travelled under the Thai-Laos Friendship IV Bridge, which is the final one of four bridges across the Mekong connecting Thailand and Laos. All were built by Chinese companies with Thai money, ironically enough.
Finally at around 4pm we docked in Huay Xai - we'd made it. As part of our tour package, they had organised us a minivan back to the border checkpoint at the Friendship Bridge, approx 10km south. Here we said our goodbyes, went through the emigration control (paying a $1 USD "after hours fee" which felt suspiciously like a bribe since the border is officially closed after 4:30pm), then waited for the shuttle bus across the bridge to Thai immigration (you're not allowed to walk).
After about 20 minutes the bus left, we crossed the bridge and went through the usual immigration rigmarole. More waiting for a tuk-tuk to our hotel which arrived and we set off the 10km back up the road. Finally by 6pm we arrived at our hotel, probably no more than 300m across the river from where we'd hopped off the boat in Laos!
Headed straight out for a drink, but to our dismay the most recommended bar in "town" was closed for renovations! But the owner, a Belgian expat, happened to be there and sold us a beer from the fridge anyway. Wandered back to the main road and picked a decent looking restaurant attached to a hostel - food was quite decent. Laos has been an interesting, surprising and relaxing place, but I think we're both happy to be back in Thailand.Read more