We are traveling toward Laos. Near the border, around Chiang Rai, Thailand, we stop at the “White Temple”of Buddha, aka “Wat Rong Kuhn”. This is an unexpected treat. This complex is gorgeous with all buildings and ornate temples in bright white, with splashes of silver, and then monuments of gold. This complex was the brain child of a very famous and religiously devote painter/architect named “Chalermchai Kositpipat”. He used his own money to seed the project, and continued to build even after an earthquake destroyed part of it. The theme of the complex might be best described as a Buddhist version of “Dante’s Inferno with its seven levels of purgatory. The lesson: Rebirth and delusion--Be spiritual in your life and be devoted to Buddhist teachings and avoid damnation. Some modern figures are integrated into the paintings, such as Matrix, Twin Towers burning, Elvis, and Superman, among others. We were also treated to a museum of art painted by this artist, all Buddhist themes but still beautiful and vibrant. No photos allowed however we got a few below, inside and out.
We are suppose to get back to the van in one hour; one of out troop is missing and the driver wants to go. We empty our luggage to allow him to ID the tardy guys stuff. As we do that, a soft hearted American (Frank) walks back toward the exhibit to grab the guy; he was quiet and only the American was sure he could recognize him. Tic-toc, the guide was really agitated and said he would have find a hotel for the night. Finally, the guy comes into sight and Frank yells and waves his arm so the guy starts running. When he arrives, he hears it from the guide. We think he is shell shocked. Later at dinner, after talking to a calmer guide, he comes over and thanks us. Nice German kid named Carson. We think the whole van is feeling better about waiting for a fellow traveler. This is borne out by the camaraderie that developed among us.
That night we stop in a small river town called “Chiang Kong” next to the Mekong River. Our lodging is in a hostel, but we pay extra for an AirCon private room and the food is passable. The balcony dining area overlooks this wide, fast flowing river. Our guide excitedly points across the river and shouts “Laos, Laos”. Tomorrow we pass through the immigration of at “ Huey Xai”, Laos and get a visa into Laos.
Immigration is easy, filling out 2 forms, cost $35 US each, walk through to the Van that takes us to the local dock on the muddy Mekong River.
Slow Boat in Laos
We thought this mode of transportation would be another interesting part of the trip. The Laos boats have long, shallow, wooden hulls with seating for 60-70 passengers. It has a canopy over the seating area; sides are open to the air; think of it as a bus on water. Our boat had two seat car benches, probably salvaged, running port and starboard with a center aisle. The pilot house is in the front, the engine sits high in the rear with long swiveling power shaft for easier maneuverability on this wide river. The head is a squat draining direct to the river. It is crowded not with other boats but floating debris.
This is fun and relaxing. The jungle scenery along the shore, and misty mountains in the background are really beautiful. The peacefulness is only occasionally broken by the whining of the high RPM engine of the “fast Boats”. Actually, we would call these “suicide boats”. We could have booked this passage; 8 hours not 2 days---but after watching these small skiff boats with oversized engines plane through the debris ridden river we knew we made the right decision. The fast boats have flat shallow hulls and the passengers sit high. You hit something at high speed—you be a goner, plus the vibration and constant bouncing on the river for 8 hours would drive most people crazy.
On the other hand, we enjoyed the slow boat. Our young buddies from the van broke out bottles of “Black Whiskey from Laos” ($5/ bottle) and Coca Cola, and then activated a portable speaker. To our surprise, first song “Jimi Hendrix’s Watch Tower”. The Group: “Carson” from Germany, “Phet” from Syracuse, NY, USA, “Kevin” from Switzerland, Dutch I from the Netherlands, “Spurs” from the Netherlands, and two ladies with non-pronounceable first names that we know as “Nice Irish girl” from Northern Ireland, and “Smiley Girl” from Japan. This group is U 25; nice young people. They joke around and laugh while we are listening to our audiobooks and own music.
Later, “Phet”, a Penn State Grad, gets dragged into a inquiry about American politics, and then he drags us into the conversation. We are not going to go into the weeds, but the young Europeans where interested in the 2nd Amendment, worldwide immigration, border issues, and the Trump Election. By the way, we face those questions all the time.
We stop one night in tiny, one street “Pak Beng”, a docking stop, then we take off on the boat again to our final boating destination, the city of “Luang Prabang”. Too much debris to travel the river at night.