My backpacking trip through Asia lasted 6 months: Turkey, Greece (I know not Asia), Israel, Jordan, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos & Vietnam. Crossing the borders were all relatively easy and I had no issues, as most of them involved flights. When it came to crossing from Laos to Vietnam, making it my last border in Asia, things went a bit mad.
Whilst most people crossing the border into Vietnam would get the bus that takes around 24 hours, (Luang Prabang – Hanoi) I opted to do it differently and get a boat to a small village called Muang Khua near the border, to the east of Laos and then it would only take 3 hours on a bus from there to Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam.
I got a bus from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw, a small village more north of Laos. Beautiful little place, surrounded by mountains and the river. From this village a normal route people take is Nong Khiaw – Muang Ngoy – Muang Khua. I missed out on Muang Ngoy and just went straight to the end, although if you have time, people I met highly recommended the place.
Between Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoy is only about an hour, but then from Muang Ngoy to Muang Khua is supposedly 5 hours.
So, my journey is meant to take 6 hours. I head off to the river thinking, ok, this is going to be nice and relaxing, might be able to read, just enjoy the surroundings. Little did I know what I was heading into.
I thought this was going to be a decent boat, like the slow boat I got from Thailand to Laos. Wrong. It was a canoe. A canoe was going to take me and quite a few others on a journey down the river for 6 hours, no stops, no toilet, no leg room. Joys.
But the story gets better, wait.
The boat left at 9:30am, we didn’t actually make it until around 6pm, this is all with no food and barley any water. Instead of it taking 6 hours, it took me nearly 9.
We set off and at first everything was fine until we got to some shallow areas in the river and the driver told us to get out and walk whilst they push the boat along. We got out and walked along the river for around half an hour and got back in the boat. This happened again after getting stuck in some rapids, the boat tipped and I genuinely thought we were going to fall into the river, all our bags and everything.
After finally making our way through the rapids we encountered another problem, the boat began to leak.
The boat started to flood and the driver’s assistant took up the wood from the floor and found the hole. What did he do you may ask? Well, as we are in Asia, he got some cloth and started to hammer, with a piece of wood, the cloth into the gap where the water was coming from.
Eventually we make it to the village, I walk up this hill with my heavy backpack, tired, thirsty and hungry and find a nice guesthouse with a double bed. On my way to find food, which by the way there is nothing in this village, it is literally a 1-night stop to cross the border, I came across this German girl from my boat. We had briefly spoken throughout the day and she asks me if I found somewhere to stay, I say yes, and then she asks me if I would share. I was thinking, ok, share a double bed with a stranger… but hey, it cut the price in half.
Next morning, we got the bus at 7am and went to Vietnam never to see her again.
Luang Prabang - Nong Khiaw by bus, arrange at the hostel.
Nong Khiaw - Muang Ngoy - Muang Khua, by boat. Buy tickets the day before from the “pier”.
Muang Khua – Dien Bien Phu (Vietnam), by bus. The bus leaves at 7/7:30am from the top of Muang Khua. Buy the tickets that same morning. There is no bus stop, it is just a dirt space, if they don’t think there are enough people, they will not take the bus that day and you will have to wait for the following day.