Huay Xai : "This is the new information for you!"
Huay Xai Travel Blog› entry 117 of 268 › view all entries
âThis is the new information for you!â
People are getting a little nervy. Most of us havenât seen our passports since handing them over to the guys running the guest house at Chiang Khong last night. Chiang Khong, sat on the east bank of the Mekong river in the far northeast of Thailand. I travelled there from Chiang Mai yesterday, waving goodbye one final time to the much loved SpicyThai crew (Noom, Saaw, Pong & Yii) and you now find me sat in Huay Xai, having crossed the Mekong to Laos, awaiting the return of my passport along with everybody else.
Itâs pretty chaotic here to say the least. A mountain of our backpacks sits in the dust below.
Mike and I have come from SpicyThai together. Weâve paid for their âSlowboat to Laosâ package (1,800 Baht / ÂŁ36) which got us to Chiang Khong yesterday, meals, accommodation, boat across the Mekong and the 2 day Slow Boat to Luang Prabang ticket.
What follows, all delivered in clear, slow, emphatic English is a very evocatively framed castigation of the impact on the tourist experience of the Slow Boat journey that booming tourism has apparently had. âApparentlyâ is an important word in the context of this tale.
âYes, is very important. Firstly, welcome to Laos. My country. We ar very happy to have you here. Welcome. My country is very lucky. In last couple of years so many more people are coming to Laos. We are happy. But I have the new information for you! For those of you who have ticket for the Slow Boat. 4 years ago, Slow Boat very nice. Very empty. Maybe 30 - 40 people on boat. Now maybe 100 people on boat! Very popular! Many more tourists.
All true enough no doubt. Laos is without doubt an ascendent tourist economy. I hear whisperings during my time in Laos that is being touted in countries âback homeâ as one of the hot travel destinations for 2009. True or not, matters not, its popularity is soaring and potentially many hundreds of people cross into Laos at Huay Xai every day now in high season. Mr.Bus moves on to the topic of Pakbeng, the village that slow boats heading both north and south along the Mekong deposit their âguestsâ at halfway through the trip for a 1 night stop over. He paints a classic and wholly believable picture of a destination ruined in spirit and behaviour by the impact of the âsuccessâ of rampant captive audience tourism.
[* Most things in most towns in northern Laos can be paid for in Thai Baht. Less so in the south. The U.S. Dollar is pretty much universally accepted as of course is the national currency of the Kip.]
Petty crime is now endemic in the village Mr.Bus declares. Bags pilfered when you go to take showers or stolen at disembarkation from the Slow Boat (this latter point friends have told me is to some extent trueâŠ local children under the pretext of âhelpingâ you with your bags will run off with them and not hand them over until you pay up or get bold and give âem beats).
People are getting pretty unnerved now by the fervent, âBoard of Tourismâ style delivery of Mr.Busâs bleak words that must be true. Musnât they? He rounds off his tour de force by stating with dramatic finale flourish:
âYes, Iâm sorry to tell you this, but it is the new information that you must know. This information could save your holiday; could save your health; could save your life!â.
âWhat the f**k?!? Is this guy seriousâ. Surely not? âBut what if he is?â. Doubt seeps in. It creeps in.
Mikeâs straight on the bus without a second thought. He hadnât been looking forward to ass-numbing wooden seat hell-on-the-Mekong anyways, whatever the beauty of the scenery. Eris and I are in two minds, trapped and unable to decideâŠ but gravitational pull of FMFs (Five Minute Friends) plus the thought of saving a day on our mutually pressured itineraries mean that we cave and join Mike on the busses. Itâs not more than about half an hour, sat waiting for our bus to Luang Prabang to depart, that I begin to think for suspiciously of Mr.Busâs intentions. A full 3 hours later, chugging along the torturously bumpy and windy Route 3 (I hope we didnât co-fund this one!) Iâm beginning to curse his ever existing for - I think now - almost undoubtedly scaring me out of one of the most iconic experiences to be had in Laos.
And people, to conclude âTHIS IS THE NEW INFORMATION FOR YOU!â : stick to your guns and donât ever let any cheapskate tout talk you; bully you or scare you out of adventures hoped for, anticipated excitedly (and already paid for!).