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Chiang Khong to Luang Prabang

A River Journey Deep into Mysterious Laos

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The Mekong heading through Laos.
The Mekong heading through Laos.

The Mekong is one of Asia’s last remaining undeveloped great river thanks to the difficult terrain it passes through. The twelfth longest river in the world and the tenth largest in terms of water volume, in places the Mekong almost dries up in the winter months but during the summer monsoons dark, almost blood-red, silt-heavy waters swirl treacherously over hidden rocks and carry a dangerous load of half-submerged bamboo and uprooted trees swirling in its deceptively placid current.


Trees up to the water’s edge.
Thick jungle lines the water’s edge.

The river forms the border between Laos and Thailand in the north, cuts into Laos via Luang Prabang before sweeping down to resume its role as the border again just before Vientiane. Boats to Luang Prabang leave from Huay Xai opposite the Thai town of Chiang Khong in Chiang Rai province. The passenger ferries linking Chiang Khong with Huay Xai are are small, flat bottomed pirogues with massive outboard motors. The sides of the boat are only inches above the water and we sat rigid with fear, grasping both sides of the boat as we rocketed across dodging the oncoming debris. Everytime a the wake of another approached, the boatman would swing us round to meet it head on otherwise we would be swamped. This resulted in a very choppy ride and we were having serious second thoughts about spending two entire days on this river.

Both Chiang Khong and Huay Xai are geared towards budget travellers and there is a big choice of accomodation on both sides of the Mekong so where you stay really will depend on which direction you are travelling. Boats downstream leave early in the morning so it is best to spend the night on the Laos side even though there is nothing much to do. You can book tickets in Huay Xai for the next day or buy them in advance in Thailand but there’s no price advantage and the Baht is freely accepted in Laos.



 

 
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