Slow Boat To Laos

After Caryl’s meditation retreat, we set off on our Vegan Food Quest again, on a mission to find eat and write about the best vegan food in the world.

We met up with friends and family and set off to Laos, making a brief stop in Chiang Rai and the nearby White Temple. The White Temple was nothing short of bizarre; the mission of an outspoken Thai artist and his followers who are constructing the temple which is planned to be finished in 2070.

Posing for pics at the White Temple.

Posing for pics at the White Temple

Some very strange sculptures...

Some very strange sculptures…

Separated at birth.

Separated at birth

We didn’t really spend much time in Chiang Rai and although we managed to find vegan food, it was nothing to write home about, so we won’t. Shame considering how fabulous Thailand is for vegans generally. But with adventure in our hearts, and plenty of useful instructions from fellow bloggers Nomadasaurus, we left Thailand, the Land of Smiles, for Laos, The Land of Elephants.

Our first 2 days were spent on a slow boat travelling up the Mekong. This once regular transport route for local Laotians is now mainly a tourist vessel with the locals opting to get the bus; the old wooden bench seats which produced many a traveller’s tale of discomfort, have been mostly replaced by old car seats in various stages of disrepair, and discomfort.

Saying goodbye to Thailand from the mighty Mekong River.

Saying goodbye to Thailand from the mighty Mekong River

Seats are allocated by scraps of paper with a number scrawled on them. It’s perfectly acceptable to take your seat number and move it to another seat that is more comfortable and so before long there is chaos as people look for their seats which are no longer in any numerical order. The trick is definitely to board early (at least an hour before they tell you), sit as near to the driver as possible in the most comfortable seats you can find.

However, boarding early doesn’t allow you to see who will be sat in your vicinity, which when you are about to embark on an 8 hour journey, might be an important consideration. We’re not sure what it is about Laos but we’ve never seen such a scruffy, inconsiderate bunch of travellers. Some of our fellow passengers clearly had an aversion to soap and laundry and were emitting some unsavoury smells from this lack of washing.

We’re a bit long in the tooth now and so we’re well practiced in the habits of having a daily shower and washing our clothes and would urge all backpackers to try to learn these simple habits before embarking on journeys in boats, buses or minivans where other may have to share the same space.

Just a suggestion, you know, to make it bearable for other people.

And then there were the smokers (some of whom were also the showerphobics). Coming from a country where smoking is banned in indoor (and some outdoor) spaces, we’re not used to smokers lighting up wherever they please. And as we like our lungs a lot and rely on them to keep us alive, we quite like this, so there we were, surrounded by stinking, smoking backpackers, with nothing but the thought that at least it could only last for 8 hours to comfort us.

Luckily we had the fearsomely assertive duo of Pam and Eileen travelling with us, who swiftly sent our offensive neighbours off to the back of the boat as soon as they reached for their lighters leaving all to breathe a sweet sigh of relief.

You'd be wise not to mess with this fearsome duo.

You’d be wise not to mess with this fearsome duo

Day 1’s boat ride consisted of awesome scenery and eating (go prepared with vegan food because there’s nothing of any substance that’s vegan friendly on board (other than tea, coffee, Beer Lao and Pringles).

We were eventually dropped off at Pak Beng on some spiky, uneven rocks where there was a chaotic scramble of pissed backpackers in flip flops desperate to get their bags before anyone else, mixed in with small barefoot children begging for crisps and ‘porters’ trying to carry our bags for money.

It was mental and bordered on dangerous at times but a bit of patience and some steady climbing had us all safely at the top of the slope which leads to the road into town.

Amazing sunset...

Amazing sunset…

Our boats moored for the night in Pak Beng.

Our boats moored for the night in Pak Beng

The town itself consisted of a street lined with shacks and guest houses, all catering for the mass of tourists that arrive in the early evening and then depart the following morning. The air is filled with barbecued meat smoke, the shops are stocked with crisps, cakes and baguettes; everything a slow boat traveller might need to stock up for the following day.

Unless you are vegan of course.

Vegan travellers are best getting fruit and visiting one of the restaurants who will cook a vegetable fried rice, no egg. It won’t be your most inspiring meal in Laos but it will fill you up. It’s worth noting that the shacks all sell soya milk, but it’s the Thai ‘Lactosoy’ brand which has whole milk powder added to it. Why oh why anyone would put cow milk into bean milk is beyond us, but obviously not beyond Lactosoy.

Day 2’s boat ride began much earlier in the morning (although there was still the obligatory 2 hour delay for unknown reasons). We boarded a different boat, no seat numbers this time and a different set of old battered car seats to try out for comfortableness. This boat hadn’t quite finished the job of replacing the wooden benches and people sat towards the back of the boat not only had to endure the deafening engine noise but also had to sit on a hard wooden seat. There was much feeling sorry for those passengers as we set off for another 8 hours down the river.

The odour emitting passengers opted for the other boat thankfully for us, although probably not for the other boat.

Our journey along the Mekong continues on day 2 deep into Laos.

Our journey along the Mekong continues on day 2 deep into Laos

The scenery continued to be awesome; one of the most impressive things about this trip up the Mekong is the sheer scale of what seemed to be untouched nature. We’d see the occasional person fishing, maybe a village every now and then, some water buffalo or pigs but there was very little human impact to be seen, just miles upon miles of trees, jungle and rock formations.

Life on the Mekong.

Life on the Mekong

However, the big difference to day 1 was the temperature; setting off a good 3 hours earlier than the day before, the sun hadn’t quite had a chance to warm everything up and when the boat got going, we all got cold. We though we should mention this to explain why a lot of our Day 2 pictures involve us being dressed in slightly odd ways, just to keep warm.

Slow Boat_6094

It was also Caryl’s birthday (we’ll let you guess how old) and although there was a distinct lack of vegan birthday cake, it was a pretty special way to celebrate and certainly a birthday to remember.

Check out a selection of other vegan travel blog posts…


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  1. Eileen March 13, 2015 at 6:18 pm - Reply

    I love the commentary from Chiang Mai to Laos. Great pictures and video, brought back happy memories of sharing part of your adventure. The boat down the Mekong was memorable, even taking into account some of the travellers. I would recommend this mode of travel to anyone making the journey from Thailand to Laos.

    • Caryl March 18, 2015 at 11:09 am - Reply

      Good times eh? It certainly was an amazing adventure!

  2. Pam March 16, 2015 at 7:48 pm - Reply

    I think I like being part of a fearsome duo! I enjoyed the blog a lot and it brought back some lovely memories. Thank you for allowing me to be part of the “quest”. xx

    • Caryl March 18, 2015 at 11:14 am - Reply

      Pam we miss you every day on our Vegan Food Quest, not only because you are indeed fearsome and so very handy to have around but also because you are friend to all dogs and you come with a constant supply of crisps. We’re so glad we got to travel with you again… you’ve gotta plan another adventure with us soon xx

  3. Jean Perkins March 24, 2015 at 9:33 pm - Reply

    Hi Caryl and Paul,

    Just sitting reading about your adventures, whilst we are sitting at Kuala Lumpur Airport waiting for our flight to Istanbul and then Birmingham. We have seen K.L. And don’t really think that we will rush back there although we had a good hotel, but nothing to compare with the East Indies Mansion we stayed at in Georgetown. Travel in KL is extremely difficult on foot due to the non-existence of accurate maps and the signage which can only be deliberately misleading. The way to get anywhere is by monorail which is cheap and reliable.

    Take care, keep enjoying your travels.
    Jean and Mike xxx

    • Caryl March 25, 2015 at 8:50 am - Reply

      Hi Jean & Mike!
      Thanks for reading about our adventures, it’s been a full couple of months since we saw you last! We’re off to KL again soon, you’re right about the MRT being the best form of transport, cheap and a good way to keep out of the heat too. Sounds like you loved your hotel in Georgetown, will have to check them out.

      Save travels home, I’m sure there will be a nice glass of wine waiting for you to make it worth it xxx

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