A couple of fellow travellers had recommended this two-day boat trip along the Mekong over the border from Luang Prabang, Laos to northern Thailand. After our fabulous border crossing on the Mekong from Cambodia to Vietnam, I was totally psyched for it. Fran did quite a bit of research on line, as reviews ranged from bad to fantastic, and again it seemed to depend on water levels. Remember that horrible boat trip from Siem Reap (Cambodia) to Battambang??? I did NOT want two days of that! As Fran put it, "I knew it would be a wonderful boat trip, and I didn't want to screw it up." So instead of the ferry, which tends to be overcrowded and got many bad reviews, we spent some money to take the Shompoo cruise and were delighted with the results. The service and food was fantastic, the views gorgeous, and our guide was wonderful. He himself was of the Karen minority group, and he gave us all kinds of great information about his culture. Therefore I'm sure its no surprise that our stop at a local village along the river was a real highlight for me. Particularly cautious about negatively impacting the locals after witnessing the alms circus in Luang Prabang, I was reassured by our guide that the villagers would welcome us. The company pays their annual land tax in exchange for allowing us to stop there. That way, we contribute to their livelihood without them needing to beg or hard-sell us on something. True to our guide's word, the Karen villagers were quite curious and friendly. I had a great time photographing and interacting with the kids and teachers at the school. I found it sad that so many of the girls insisted on wearing white make-up on their faces, as white skin is prized above a more natural darker color. How could I tell them how beautiful they were?
We arranged and pre-paid for the trip all the way to Chiang Rai, Thailand, through Shompoo. Once at the border, we realized that we could have taken a bus direct to Chiang Rai just as easily there. However, for a few extra dollars, we had some extra peace of mind and absolutely LOVED our second water border crossing. It really is the best way to go!