Lazily down the Mekong in Laos

A few days ago I wrote about the time I had to go to hospital in Thailand.  I was on a hectic work trip at the time and after spending three days rushing round Ho Chi Minh City on very little sleep followed by a bad illness and a night in hospital in Chiang Mai, I was ready to relax.

Luckily, the travel gods were smiling on me, and the rest of the trip was just that.  We spent a night at the Anantara Golden Triangle, overlooking a view of the three countries of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, where elephants roamed the land.

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The hotel is stunning, with an infinity pool with a spectacular view, and enormous rooms boasting king-sized beds and balconies and double-sized marble jacuzzi baths.

From there we travelled to the Laos border in the far North, and took the two-day Luang Say Cruise down the Mekong to the sleepy town of Luang Prabang.  The Luang Say Cruise is the upmarket alternative riverboat to the slow boat that takes backpackers down the river from Thailand into Laos.  It floats slowly down the river as passengers take in the scenery, rest, play cards or relax with a drink and a book.  There’s no mobile phone signal, and it’s the perfect way to truly detach from the world.

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The first night is spent in the wooden bungalows of the Luang Say Lodge, on the edge of the river just outside the village of Pakbeng, and the second in the luxury tents of Kamu Lodge, where guests can learn about the local styles of harvesting the land, fishing, weaving and gold panning.  Sitting on the bank of the river, I felt at peace in this quiet, remote place.

Along the way, stops are made for short walks through village markets and woodland scenery.  The whole journey is leisurely and relaxed, and provided a welcome rest after the hectic time in Ho Chi Minh City and its aftermath.

After the river cruise, most of the little time we spent in the quiet town of Luang Prabang was used up viewing hotels, but we did manage to snatch a couple of hours for a trip to the fabulous Kuang Si Waterfalls, half an hour’s drive outside town, where turquoise water cascades from each level to the one below and where a swim in the rock pools is refreshing and wonderful in the heat.

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Our trip was drawing to a close, and after a short flight from Luang Prabang back to Bangkok to meet our Etihad flight home, we filled our six hour connection with a hurried trip into the centre of Bangkok and a final meal at the Hard Rock Cafe.

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The best word I know to describe Laos is “sleepy”.  Compared to the rest of South East Asia it’s far less touristed and feels totally unspoilt.  The pace of life here is slower than elsewhere, especially when floating calmly down the Mekong for two days.  It feels like an intrusion to enter a busy airport and return to normal life.  We could all do with a little Laos, all of the time.

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