Tuesday, November 01, 2005


I had asked the guesthouse in Chiang Mai if there were many buses to the border, they said they left every hour, so I headed over to the bus station at 10:00am to find out the only one leaves at 13:00. Oh well, I had wander around getting used to the backpack again. Found a mall nearby and sat in that for a couple of hours waiting for the time to pass. Then the bus took a lot longer than I expected and the upshot was that by the time I got to the border it was shut.
The next day I had to pay 200baht for overstaying my Thai visa for a day, fair enough. Unlike the people in front of me, who had been told that their visa was for 2month when it was only for 1. Ooops!

After a couple of minutes on a longtail boat, it was across the Mekong and into Laos. With the paperwork done, I went for a walk. One travel agent with a huge queue seem to be selling all the tickets, but if you walked another couple of minutes you got up to the main road. I decided to try and just get to the boat pier. So after talking to a driver, I agreed a price to go to the speedboat pier. On the way, we stopped to pick up a couple of locals and a new bicycle crammed into the back of the truck. Transport is a truck with the back roof taken off and a couple of benches placed inside. After a detour we dropped off the locals and then on the wait to the pier. Didn't look like I had saved any money by going direct to the pier, same travel agent ticket sellers there. After a lot of hanging about, I was told I could go now. I went down to the riverside and then there was some more hanging about. Basically you quickly learn that transports doesn't leave to schedule but when full. So we needed eight people to be crammed onto the speedboat. And I do mean crammed, I had my knees stuck under my chin for 3 hours, while an engine roared in my ears, the wind blasted my eyes and then later the rain smacked off my head. I was glad to get off, everybody else was continuing for 3hours down to Luang Prabang. I got off at Pak Beng, roughly half way.
I seemed to be the only foreigner here. I quickly found a cheap guesthouse nearby, and had a nosy about. A quiet little village, a few guesthouses and restaurants with English-written menus, and then it seemed like residential area with small huts. I walked past a pool hall, where some teenagers invited me for a game. They only played with four balls set in a diamond, potted by number. The table was in the worst condition I have ever seen! Still, they seemed to enjoy playing it. Later went for some food, a nice creamy chicken dish, quite mild, no chillies.

The next morning I went down to the pier to see what time the slow boat to Luang Prabang leaves, turns out a lot earlier than me getting out of bed. So another day in Pak Beng. Turned out to be good though. I tried to hire a bike from across the road, but as I wasn't staying in their hotel they wouldn't let me hire the bike. Hmm, interesting usually they just take your money!

As there wasn't much else to do I decided to go for a long walk. The road goes from the pier inland, yes there is only one road with no branches, so not much thought needed as to where I would walk! I continually passed small villages separated by a short distance, the further I went the more people stared at me! I continued on for a few hours, I had seen buses occasionally whizz past so I hoped I could take one back rather than retrace my walk. A few boys on their bikes had been talking to me as I walked down. I asked one if I could get the bus back here, he said I could wait here. So I stopped walking and waited. It seemed like half the village had come out to stare at me. I had a group of around twenty people a few safe metres away just standing looking at the strange foreign guy. The kid then suggested I buy some food from him. As I was a bit peckish, and I had noticed the complete lack of shops outside town I agreed. He ended up inviting me into his house, where I sat down on a tiny stool and they brought out the sticky rice (in a bamboo container) a plate of chilies and a plate of something else. It was dark inside, not helped by the fact that the twenty onlookers had crowd round the door to watch me eat! I dipped the rice into the chilies and found out they were very hot!! Then I turned my attention to the other dish, as they encouraged me to eat. Oooh, some French cuisine, escargot. Oh well, I didn't feel I could refuse, so I picked one up and pulled it out the shell and chewed. Actually not too bad infused with herbs, something similar to mint. But the idea doesn't agree with my stomach so I just had the one, then stuck to plain rice!
After I paid the old woman who had served the dishes 5000kip (25p??). She seemed happy enough, repeatedly thanking me, then back outside into the bright light. The kids then said I could take one of their bikes back to town. So I jumped on the bike and we set off, actually it was quite far. One of the kids made the mistake of trying to show off by going no-handys he wobbled left, right, bam straight into the ground. Unfortunately I was right behind and the bike had no brakes, and I crunched right into his bike, but luckily not him. Still, he had a few cuts, which he covered up quickly chewing some nearby plants and placing it on the grazes to act as a plaster and stop the bleeding.
Another kid tried to outrace me, hah, I'll show him, so we both pedalled furiously going neck in neck (he was a lot lighter than me, it was easy for him!!) much to the amazed looks of passerbys, seeing the crazy foreign guy whizz past on a local bike.
The next day I headed down early to make sure I got the boat, and a mere 8 hours later I arrived in Luang Prabang.

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