Two days on the Mekong: taking the slow boat from Thailand to Laos

Taking the ‘slow boat to Laos’ is a Southeast Asia backpacker classic, and also a misnomer. The boat actually starts on the Laos side of Laos/Thailand border, so technically you’re not taking it to Laos.

However, it’s still a must-do when you’re in the area and heading to Luang Prabang.

You can book a trip from anywhere in the northern region of Thailand, with many starting off in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai and booking a package that takes them all the way onto the boat. We decided to make our own way across the border and spend the night before the boat journey in the tiny Laos border town of Houayxay. We took a bus from Chiang Rai across the border, and then teamed up with some other travellers for a tuk-tuk to Houayxay.

A note: I know it’s been almost a year at this point since I was in Southeast Asia, but time has been mostly meaningless for the last 10 months and I still have stories to share. Hopefully this will be helpful to people who are planning their travels for when the world is open again, and entertaining to everyone else in the meantime.

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Overnight at Elephant Nature Park: experiences, ethics, and, of course, elephants!

As you travel around Thailand on your scooter, one thing that is for certain is that you will see elephants along the roadside. On the edge of town, halfway up a mountain, just outside a temple, elephants, sometimes even baby elephants. But after your brain’s initial excitement (ELEPHANTS!!) the logical side of your mind will catch up to your childlike wonder and you’ll notice a sign advertising elephant rides, how thin and malnourished the animals look, chains or ropes around their ankles, scars indicating phajaan, or breaking the spirit. It’s hard to see and worse to notice the throngs of tourists eager to sit atop these majestic creatures without a care for their well-being. Equally as bad are the number of elephant parks that advertise themselves as “sanctuaries” to capitalise on another type of tourist’s desire for a more ethical experience, when their parks’ methods are no different than the abusive ones in the roadside attractions.

Still, I was hopeful that I could have a genuinely ethical trip to a real elephant sanctuary in Thailand, and so we went to the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai. As we went on the weekend of my birthday, Steve treated me to the overnight trip, two days and one night staying at the park, visiting the elephants, walking some of the hundreds of rescue dogs they also care for, and learning about Thailand’s animal tourism industry.

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