4/1 As I arrive at Schiphol with my parents, we find Talitha and her men soon. We drop our backpacks, which appears to be a bit of a problem to have them labeled on to Luang Prabang so we don’t have to pick up our bags in Bangkok and drop them again for our ongoing flight, but in the end it works out. We hope. Together with my Mom and Dad and Talitha’s friends André and Edo we have a cup of coffee and laugh about earlier travel mishaps and fun. After saying goodbye we go through and easy passport check: while everybody else is waiting in a long line with an actual person, we decide to give the automatic scanner a try and we’re through in a zip. I quickly bought the latest Khaled Hosseini book and we got a salad and sandwich to kill the time before boarding the plane. We get on almost last, why rush, the plane won’t leave without us. We have a long flight from Amsterdam to Bangkok and I sleep very little, despite the white wines and travel-sickness tablets, a combi that had proven to work in an earlier trip. Not this time.
5/1 We arrive tired at Bangkok airport. After getting our boarding passes from Bangkok Airways to Luang Prabang, we get to chill out in the lounge of the airline. Not bad: it has comfortable seats, in the sunshine, and there are free hot and cold drinks and tasty snacks. Then we fly for another 2 hours to Luang Prabang. As we get off the plane there everybody is just hanging around next to the plane and nobody is pointing us where to go. Hmm, well I guess we have to go to the building so Talitha and I just start walking and the rest follows us. As we walk past several doors, we finally get pointed on to the right door and we are the first in line to get our visa and through the passport check. We get our backpacks (so it did work out in the end with the labeling) and get picked up by somebody from Dokkham Travel who drops us off at our hotel. We get to Chitdara Hotel, but as this location is full, we drive on to Chitdara 2, next to the Mekong river. We changed some Euro’s into Kip (the Lao currency, but also the Dutch word for chicken. So we’re paying with chickens here. Lots of chickens). After trying to find a pharmacy that has malarone for Talitha (wish I bought it in Laos too, it’s really 1/10 of the price compared to the Netherlands and exactly the same product), we had a nice fruity ice tea and a fruit salad at a very nice restaurant. We get some supplies for our long boat trip the next day and go for a massage. This is not going to be a daily ritual like our last trip together, when we had a massage every day, but just to spoil ourselves after the long, uncomfortable flight. Well, spoil…? The Khamu massage with oil the ladies gave was good, but also very tough. I kept on thinking: ‘This pain will go away, ouchie… This won’t last… Ouchie-ouch! This will stop, this will go away. OUCH!’ Afterwards, after the torture stopped, my muscles were glowing and did indeed feel much better. We relaxed with some coffee and fresh spring rolls at The Terrace restaurant, on the Nam Kane river side. Great food and a nice view. We have a shower and relax a bit in our room before going out for dinner. I had a wonton soup and Talitha went for the Pad Thai. Around 9pm we were tired. I had a bit of an on/off night’s sleep, I had hoped for a better night after the flight.
6/1 Our alarm went off at 5.45am again and we had plenty of time before breakfast to get ready for the day. As we sat in the breakfast room at 7, it still took a while before we could eat, because the bread delivery was late that day. After eating scrambled eggs, a bread roll and some fruit we were ready to go. Our guide picked us up and dropped us off at the pier for the slow boat to Pakbeng. He told us where to buy the tickets and left. I quickly checked our trip description, and it said that the boat trip and lunch was included. Hmm, weird that we have to get our own tickets now. And that we didn’t get lunch. We got our tickets and brought enough snacks, so we were fine for the next few hours. We didn’t know how long the boat trip was going to be, which made it seem even longer. In the end it was about 9 hours on the boat. The trip was okay, but lots of the same jungle and mountain views. I saw a few small waterfalls, some water buffalo’s and goats, though I guess you can call them water goats as they lived next to the Mekong too. There were also a few villages where we dropped off some locals. There were lots of friendly people on the boat, also an older Laotian man who gave us a banana. He also walked past a few times and tried to read in our Dutch (e-)books, but I guess the script was too small for him (or he couldn’t read Dutch, also possible…). Around 6.15pm we arrived in Pakbeng, and everybody on the boat got the plane-polonaise going: waiting in line before you can actually get off. Relax people, the boat won’t leave again, so you have plenty of time. As we got off as the last two, we don’t see anybody with our names on the pier. Strange, since we booked an organized tour and didn’t get any proper information on where to go. Ah well, at least we had a name of a hotel in our description, so we hope that that hotel is still correct. We ask a friendly lady at a market stall where the hotel is, and it’s not too far. At the reception we sort a few things out over the phone with Dokkham Travel and I explain we also had to pay for our boat trip ourselves. We at least get a room and after putting our stuff in there, we go to Doukhoun restaurant for a noodle soup and sticky rice with coconut.
7/1 I wake up next to a grumpy Talitha, since I kept her awake with my talking in my sleep. Sorry! Too many impressions on the boat trip that I couldn’t stop talking I guess? Ah well, after a tasty breakfast, we get a ticket for the boat trip from the reception and a lunch too, courtesy of Dokkham. On the phone Mr King of the travel company tells me we get a free dinner on our last night in Luang Prabang to make up for the mishap of the previous day. Well, that’s very nice of them. We even get dropped off at the boat again by the hotel, even though it was only a 500 meter walk to get there. Ah well, they’re trying to make it up to us, so we thank them for the ride. On the boat we see a lot of the same people again and we get to chat with Lianka and her boyfriend Markos from Greece. They travel with his brother and girlfriend, as they work and live in Singapore for a while. The boat trip that day is again long, but somehow more mesmerizing than the previous day. Maybe because we knew how long the trip was going to be, because we had a lunch this time, because there was a bit more to see along the sides of the Mekong. Jungle, giant trees sticking out so high they make the bamboo and other trees look like grass, then a fishing net wedges in between a few rocks, or a boat with nobody in sight at first. Then a rooftop appearing between the trees and another one, and another one, it’s a small village, in the middle of nowhere, of somewhere; far away from civilization: at least a day on a boat or truck away from any kind of supermarket. Seemingly random the boat zig zags its way around the heavy currents, rocks, sandbanks, and the waves of the speedboats. The breeze is soft warm yet fresh, I’m dreaming away. Then, a little before our final stop that day, Houai Xai, we get some great photo-ops of life on the Mekong: people fishing, washing their clothes-their food-themselves-their kids, painting their boats, loading truckloads onto boats, working on their boats. Just daily life for them, but special to see. We arrive in Houai Xai and get picked up by a guide, just as Dokkham promised us. The sign in his hands said Mr Marcel, and as nobody else needed Dokkham, we assume that sign is meant for us. The guide has to laugh, since he also has no idea how that name came up out of our names. We say goodbye to the 4 Greeks that are not sure whether to leave for Thailand already or stay another night in Laos. We go to our hotel, the Taveesinh and I had already read in my guidebook that the pink rooms there are the best. And yesss, we both get a queen sized bed in our pink room. Very nice. Our guide told us to go to the office of the Gibbon Experience before 8pm to confirm our booking and sign up. It was somewhere across the street he said. We leave the hotel and go and try to find the office of the Gibbon Experience. We walk for about 500 meters left of our hotel, but cannot find it. We walk back and see the office just 10 meter to the right of our hotel. Ehm, yeah, we felt like a little walk… We sign a waiver at the office (signing our life away, haha) and hear we have to be at the office again the following morning at 8am. We chat a bit with Amy, who signs up next to us, and she tells us that her brother told her that the only thing she really had to do in all of south-east Asia, was the Gibbon Experience. Well, that sounds promising! Before we go have dinner, I have a quick shower that would hopefully help me get rid of my ‘sea-legs’ (bit dizzy and spinning head), but it didn’t help much. Ah well, maybe dinner will help get my head straight again. We find a little restaurant close to the hotel, where the waitresses are barely showing up above the table. They do their homework between orders, and their Mom and Dad are happy with their help. I ate a very nice yellow curry and Talitha had a noodle soup. As we order some cocktails (maybe that will make my head spin the other way and help? Haha!) the Greeks walk in. Very funny! We enjoy the cocktails and chat a bit more with the Greek couples, and then say goodbye again. Til next time?