It felt weird leaving Thailand after spending 6 weeks there but it was time for a new adventure – Laos.

The Beginning

Laos is an interesting country with tons of history behind where it is today and being a ‘democratic’ republic it’s a little different to Thailand. The government essentially has a lot more control over the country, in terms of infrastructure, spending and even what shops are allowed to open.

Chiang Rai

We took the bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai (mainly because it was on our route) to explore the magnificent white temple, also known as Wat Rong Khun. The white temple is one we’d never seen before – and trust me, we’ve seen a lot already! With its astounding pure white surrounding walls embedded with delicate glistening silver details, for only 50baht (£1.15), it was a majestic masterpiece.

Walking towards the temple was considered a spiritual journey through the stages of life, crossing from death to reincarnation. Starting at hell as you see marble hands reaching up from the ground, all the way to enlightenment at the other side of the temple to represent the leaving behind of all worldly possessions into the brighting future.

Border control

After grabbing some lunch opposite the temple we made our way to the boarder. It took roughly around 2 1/2 hours to get to there from Chiang Rai for a surprisingly easy process. Firstly, you reach one immigration booth to exit Thailand then you get on a extremely short bus ride to the other side of the water to another immigration booth to enter Laos. You hand over your entry card (which you can get and fill out there), a passport photo and $35 USD (for UK residents) and next minute you know your done!

Huay Xai

After everyone was through we jumped onto some taxi’s to town and got there within 15 minutes. We were staying one night here in order to get the slow boat the following morning.

Huay Xai is a border town and the perfect introduction into the contrast of Thailand and Laos, with its home made houses and small convenience stores it feels like a step back through time. With there being only 1 real ‘main street’ there’s little to do here other than see the Mekong river float by from the temple atop the small mountain that casts a shadow over this small town.

We grabbed some dinner in the restaurant next door to us before retiring to bed due to being up at 7 to catch the slow boat. It took 5 minutes by tuk-tuk to get to the Mekong River. From here, you can see why Laos worship this river. This is where they live, trade, work and eat, their world revolves around the Mekong.

Adventuring the Slow-boat

The quickest way from the boarder to Luang Prabang (apart from flying) is vía the slow-boat – believe it or not. We boarded the boat for what was a long 8 hour journey ahead of us. Our lunch and dinner were provided on the boat from the local family who live here, so luckily that managed to spilt our long day up. The scenery that swam alongside the river was honestly breathtaking. With the slopping valleys, high top mountains that caressed the mist and traditional village life poking through the greenery. It easily past the time gasping at what we was surrounded by.

Home stay

After our tiring journey, we needed a place to sleep before continuing back on the boat. This is when we opted for a traditional homestay in comparison to an average stop-off hotel on the hills.

The home stay as you would imagine, is a night over at a typical Lao village home. Bear in mind these people rarely venture out of the their village for more than a few days to sell crops and produce that they grow at home. Some never leave the village at all.

The culture here is such upon arriving there is a welcoming ceremony where you go to the village hall and they sing Buddhist hymns and chants welcoming you to their village, signified with you drinking their (extremely strong) homemade whiskey. Upon which they also attach bracelets all over your wrists to signify good luck and good life. This is well respected in Laos and if you keep them on, people will continuously come up to you with smiles upon their faces and ask where you got them from. We also brought some books and pens to give to the village for the children as a thank you for welcoming us into their homes and lives – They were entirely grateful.

To say this was a culture shock is an understatement, it was nothing like our previous home stays in India. Some weird rules such as not touching children on the head otherwise their spirit will disappear, not having mixed genders in buildings – even if they are married, staying low when greeting or walking past people who are older than you and the fact that declining food or drink in these places is considered taboo.

Led by the village chief and shaman – the two highest ranking individuals in the village, we were taken to our rooms which were essentially living rooms with bedding and a mosquito net. We slept only to be awoken around 5:30AM, as this is the time the villagers begin work (to avoid the midday heat), and left after a stroll around the village to get a real insight on how they live. We saw the local school, monk house, food storage and farm.

We then left and said our goodbyes to continue our journey back on the boat.

Tips

  • Ensure you have 2 stamps in your passport before leaving immigration – if you don’t you could be looking at a fine when you go to exit the country.
  • Don’t be fooled by Huay Xai’s desolate feel, you’ll appreciate one night here before you bark on your long journey by slow-boat

About The Author

Wanderlust Lab is a collaboration between Abbie and Luke for the sharing of travelling knowledge to help backpackers and travellers all across the globe. Live Wanderlust.

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