Boat Trip from Huay Xai to Pak Beng
09.01.2013 - 09.01.2013
We woke up early to watch sunrise for our roof and then set off to the border post. We had been warned that the border would be a bit of a nightmare so we were happy when we found a tour company that we could buy our boat tickets from and would help us through the border post. After clearing Thai immigration we got on a little wooden boat and were ferried across the river to the Laos side. We stood in a chaotic queue and finally managed to get our visa a which we had to pay for in US dollars.
The moment we stepped into Laos we noticed the French influence - the architecture has a French feel to it and the street stalls all solved baguettes and coffee. The houses were all very colourful and loads of blue painted wooden buildings. After a lot of waiting around we finally boarded the 'slow boat' to Luang Prubang. The trip takes two full days and we stop off in a little village called Pak Beng to stay over. The slow bat is the most common way to get to Luang Prabang and the only other option is a 16 hour bus trip on terrible roads or a speed boat which basically takes 6 hours to ride 350km. The guide books all advise not to do this as its very dangerous and seeing the boats speed past - we see what they mean!
The scenery along the Mekong river is breathtaking. It literally is exactly what you would expect to see on a post card with traditional fisherman along the river banks in little dug out boats and beautiful jungle either side. Every now and again we passed a group of locals panning for gold and there were herds of water buffalo drinking at the waters edge
There are about 80 people on the bat and we travel for 8 hours. It's so relaxing we just read books sleep and watch the world go by!
We stopped over in Pak Beng which was a bit of a culture shock! It's he only 'formal village' on the trip and its by rural! Accommodation was very basic and electricity goes off at 22:00 besides a few generators.
Before we had set off on the boat trip I had done quite a bit of research on the trip as well as accommodation on offer. Trip advisor warns of a hotel that is riddled with bedbugs and that if anyone tells you to prebook it (to avoid not having a room on the other side) you should decline. I had forgotten the name of the hotel but in the back of my mind I knew that it started with an S so thought I'd just void any S hotels.
Before boarding the boat another friendly chap stood up to give us 'travel advice' about Pak Beng and warned us about the bad people who would try and rip you off when you get there. He warned us that they would steal from us and that we should be very careful not to leave anything in the guest house and keep our passports with us at all times. He then went on to explain that he wanted people to return to Laos and that he understood that if we had a horrible experience it would be detrimental to Laos tourism. After the long speech he whipped out a board with a lovely hotel ( different to the one that I had read about - it also started with a R) and said that this was a good hotel and he would pre book a room if we wanted. A little voice inside said 'don't do it' but we were tired and decided to just go ahead to avoid mission ing or accommodation at the end of the long day. When we got to our seat on the boat, we both said 'well at least the hotel doesn't start with and S - we should be ok'. Greg pulled out the reservation slip and sure enough the hotel written on the receipt was not the one we were shown and . . . it started with an S!!
When we arrived at the hotel I asked to use the wifi so that I could check the reviews and the man behind the counter said 'No! Check in first and then you can use the wifi'. Alarm bells raised in my head!
Luckily we had our wits about us and we refused to go to our rooms and insisted that we use the wi fi first and they finally gave in - probably to stop us from making a scene (by this time a small crowd had gathered)! We checked trip advisor and sure enough we had been scammed and sold the dodgy hotel room! We were furious and warned everyone in the hotel after they would not refund us and we left to find a new room in the village. With that about 6 other people started checking out as well.
An American couple we had left stood quietly as this all went on but didn't follow suite. We thought to ourselves that they probably thought we were overreacting and a bit paranoid. Later once we had checked in and thoroughly checked our new room we went to a curry in the village. We saw the American couple walk past back to the dodgy hotel so we knew that they had decided to stay there despite the mass exit. A few moments later there were standing at our table with wide eyes and said that when they had got back to the hotel they had pulled back the beets to find at least 20 bed bugs crawling in the bed - needless to say they hightailed it out of there as quickly as they could!
The next day on the boat, people stopped us to thank is for warning them about the bedbugs and they all had horrific stories of blood stained mattresses and infestations!
Luckily we managed to dodge the dodgy hotel!