79 km, 4h 30 min, max temp 43
We rode to Chiang Saen through the warmest part of the day. As we rode, we really noticed the added pollution caused by burning in the fields and hills – fields are often burned in preparation of planting. There are some hills between Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen, but for the most part the road seems to pleasantly follow the valleys through the hills.
Upon entering Chiang Saen, we wandered back and forth along the waterfront searching for the place to purchase our boat tickets. After a few inquiries, we were directed to a spot south of the old city wall. Scott enquired about the location of the office at customs, and we were directed 200m south of the port office. After riding past the office yet again, the person Scott had spoken too passed us on his motorcycle and motioned for us to follow him to the office. It turned out to be in a building that looked like a warehouse behind a partially opened gate. After further inspection, we could see worn out posters of the boat posted on the gate.
After much miming and some translation by our friendly motorcycle guide, and a payment of 10808 Baht (840 Yuan/ticket + 1040 baht/bike + 100 baht/person for immigration), we had tickets for us and our bikes for the Wednesday boat – the Monday boat was not running this week. We did have some confusion when the translator translated 12 as twenty-two, and 13 as twenty-three, but pointing to a calendar cleared that up the confusion. We were instructed to return to the ticket office before 4 pm on Tuesday and hand over our passports. We had previously read about this, so we were aware that Thai customs and immigration are not open at 5 am when the boat departs, so the agent processes our passports the night before.
Once we had tickets in hand, we went in search of a place to stay for the night. As far as we can tell, the Chiang Saen River Hill Hotel is the only place in town with air conditioning. In our search, we also stopped at Gin’s Guesthouse, which had a nice large fan room on the main floor for 400 Baht. Julie (the proprietress) also said that she could exchange Thai Baht for Chinese Yuan – which would be helpful given our arrival in Jinghong was scheduled for 9 pm. She also said she had Internet. It looked good, but Becky really wanted AC, so we paid the premium (900 Baht) at the Chiang Saen River Hill Hotel. Note that neither place is ideally situated – one to the north of the town center, and the other to the south – both are more than 1 km from the night market, although both do have nearby restaurants. From other travelers we heard that the Chiang Saen guesthouse has degraded since its recommendation in Lonely Planet, but there’s another inexpensive (and nice) guesthouse just north in of the town center intersection.
For dinner, we walked out to the night market, and sat local style on the ground with a low table overlooking the Mekong. We were sucked into a place with an English menu, only to discover some very amusing translations (any idea what a mix a vermiform appendix, or mix a fingernail mrs is?). Unfortunately, shortly after we ordered a large group arrived, then the impending storm began to drop some rain on us, with all the chaos, most of our order got forgotten. After sitting patiently for 30 minutes (they put up some umbrella’s to keep the rain off), we gave up and got the rest of our meal to go. It started off so nice, it was such a shame that it didn’t last.