About the only places open this morningare the bakeries lining the main road of Pakbeng. Each counter is attended by small groups of tourists stocking up on breakfast and snacks for the next part of their journey down the Mekong. The smell of breads and pastries mixes with the smell of meat roasting along the roadside. Aside from the bakeries though, most of the activity is down at the dock where goods are being loaded onto long boats and baby chicks peck around in the dirt.
The morning is misty and cool. I stand down at the dock, eating my breakfast, watching the going ons and noticing a couple of elephants on the opposite side of the river, swaying their trunks to and fro.
Our group all assembled and our bags re-loaded onto the boat, we board for day two on the Mekong. It’s a subdued start to the day, watching the mist rise out of the valleys and over the mountains, little sprinkles of rain peppering the water.
Most of us are sitting writing in our diaries when a Mekong tidal wave interrupts us with a spray of water across the table and everything on it. Thankfully the rain covers had been pulled down just moments earlier, but it didn’t stop everything from getting wet.
A journey such as this could be called boring by some. But it really is a chance to unwind and enjoy the simple things in life. On both sides of the river, is pristine forest, mostly untouched by tourism or big business. People just going about their daily lives – washing, fishing, playing – no technology in sight and I can’t help but think their lives are the happier for it.
Gentle rain remains with us for the rest of the journey.
After a few hours we stop for a visit at the Pak Ou Caves where we glimpse what can only be described as a resting home for Buddhas of all descriptions. Big, small, resin, wooden, gold-leafed – all of them reside here in the caves of Pak Ou. There are two caves at Pak Ou. One with around 4,000 buddhas, and the other – a mere few hundred steep stairs up from the lower cave – which is home to a less spectacular 2,000 buddhas. You need a torch to make the best of the second cave, which I didn’t pack, but the stairs are a bit slippery because of the drizzle, so I stay stay and admire the lower cave – judging from the comments of the returning visitors, it’s the better of the two. I stand at one of the terraces just up from the lower cave and admire the view of the village of Pak Ou across the Mekong, before re-boarding the boat to soak up our remaining time on the Mekong.
A further 40 minutes or so down the river, we say goodbye to our day home for the last couple of days and mount a bunch of steep (but dry) stairs for a 20 minute drive into the town of Luang Prabang. Our hotel is a 20 minute walk from the centre of town, so we begin our time here with a short orientation walk where we discover the local night market is in full swing.