Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Thirty days in Thailand- Days 15, 16, 17 & 18
Thirty days in Thailand - Days 15, 16, 17, and 18 Today we were up by 7am had our coffee and headed down stairs to load our things into the back of the truck for the trip to Myanmar. We filled up with gas, and got another coffee at the ESSO Amazon coffee shop. Every gas station in Thailand has an Amazon coffee shop next door and usually a 7 eleven. The coffee is overpriced but always good and reliable. Coffee is very popular here and anywhere there is commerce you will find a coffee shop. The menu is in english and you will find pretty much all the same options you find at Starbucks. To me the coffee is better than Starbucks. So we headed north toward Mae Sai Thailand but decided to take a detour to a village called Mae Salong Tea trading zone...a Chinese Hunan village. It was once a refuge for the Chinese who had helped defend Thailand after the war. They stayed and now Mandarin is widely spoken in this zone. We thought school was in session on a Saturday but oddly enough it turned out to be Mandarin language classes and it was a Christian church school (very rare here). It was so nice to hear them laughing and playing....that is rare here too. They were initially growing poppy for opium but the government (king) stepped in and said this is what you can grow ...so they settled with tea...a lot of tea! Everywhere you look there is tea. So we had lunch, bought tea, and headed up towards a wat our friend wanted to see. However, this turned out to be a wrong turn and a really really really steep winding road. The poor Toyota diesel four cylinder was not happy...even in first gear it started to vibrate. I am pretty sure we were at a 10% grade once or twice. Some people in the vehicle would not look up! Not gonna mention any names. But we did not fall off the mountain, by the grace of God, and made it back to the highway and on to Mae Sai which is the northern most border for Thailand and Myanmar separated by the Salween river. We got out of the truck went through customs, got our passports stamped, paid the 500 baht ($15.00) and headed into Myanmar to shop at the duty free markets. We didn't find much it was all pretty much fake name brand acessories and clothing and we were looking for souvenirs, so we decided to head back into Thailand. There was no fee for the return and we got back into the truck and headed east toward the Golden Triangle. This is where Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos all meet in the middle of the river and is very popular for tourists. We are only a few hours away from China so there are mostly Chinese tourists. We hung out for about an hour took photos and left. The one thing to take note of here is that the Chinese have invested a lot of money in the Casinos on the Laos side of the border and you can't miss them when you visit here . It was once said that you could not enter the original casino unless you had a minimum of $35,000 U.S. To wager. This was supposed to keep out the lower classes. They are also building a super highway from China all the way through Laos to the Thai border (China taking over Laos?). So from here we drove two hours to Chiang Khong on the Laos border to prepare for our slow boat trip up the Mehkong to Luang Prabang Laos. We ate dinner at the Bamboo Mexican restaurant which was a fusion of Thai and Mexican food. The food was all homemade and turned out to be great. The best part though was when the owner "Jib" sat down at our table with his guitar and played old music for us for an hour from the Alman brothers band, The Beatles, to 38 Special this guy new them all and he was good...he was in his mid 60's and reminded me of Mr. Miagi from The Karate kid. They have a daughter lives in Berlin with her husband and two kids and they have a son in Sydney. Nice people. From there we headed over to the Day Waterfront hotel to get a room. I met Kai the owner and I Promised him Texas and Montana plates For his collection. While there we booked the trip for the next morning on the slow boat to Luang Prabang. The schedule to meet at 7:45 am downstairs for the soengthao to pick us up and take us to the Laos border across the bridge (they wont let you walk across you have to drive) from there we checked out of Thailand and into Laos and paid the $35.00 U.S. to get our visas ( see photo of Visa costs per country), make that $36.00 on Sunday you pay a $1.00 overtime fee. This is a communist country we are entering...kinda scary. From there we were taken by a Laos guide and soengthao to a house 20 minutes away where they give you a rundown on what to expect, sell you sandwiches and try to sell you a room in Pak Beng (the halfway point...which we declined). So we were taken down to the river and dropped off, given a ticket and told to wait til 11:30 to board. We boarded and headed out. It was rather hot until we took off then it cooled down a bit. Overall it was a nice trip. The boat was overloaded by 8 people (88 total) so early seating was essential and we were there early and got a bus (cushioned) seat by the rail and near the back. This was one of, if not the best seat on the boat. The ride was smooth and scenic all the way. There are bathrooms and they sold drinks and chips. Including alcohol which all the British took full advantage of...actually camped out on top of the beer cooler the whole 7 hours, and got really loud. In Pak Beng we lugged our luggage up a really steep road and checked in to the DP guest house without a problem, as a matter of fact we were the only guests in the hotel...it was too expensive for the backpackers at $19.00 a night, but the AC was great and we had a good nights rest. The dinner we had over looking the Mehkong as the sun was setting was nice too, minced pork lettuce wraps, fried spring rolls, fried rice, and coconut curry fish soup straight out of the river. The next day we set out again this time we had to be on the boat by 9:00 am. So we had plenty of time to walk around with town, have coffee, get breakfast and buy sandwiches to pack for our 8 hour trip the rest of the way on the slow boat to Luang Prabang. This leg of the journey was even more scenic and exciting. The water had a lot more rapids, and got to see water buffalo, elephants with their owners, caves, we watched all the village kids wave as we went buy, we made 6 stops along the way to pick up and drop off supplies and people at the riverside villages. Each time we would slam into the boat next to us and the roof would sway a little. Once we broke off a fender pole that was tied to the boat and I don't think they even realized it. The boat was about 80-100 feet long and 12 feet wide and powered by an 8 cylinder diesel engine. So we made it to Luang Prabang and got a nice room for $20 a night at a hotel near the Dara Market called the Nocknoy hotel, got settled in and ate street food at a buffet. I like it here. Not nearly as structured as I thought it would be being a communist country. Food is great. Can't wait to try the water buffalo, I hear its great. Tomorrow the waterfalls, more elephants, and reservations at Tamarind restaurant on the Mehkong. The Caves in Luang Prabang, Then flying to Hanoi, Viet Nam!