At 6:30 one morning in Chiang Rai (that's Rai not Mai), a minibus picked us up and drove us to a border town where we boarded a narrow skiff that took us across the Mekong to Laos--or rather the Laotian border post.
We did rather lose confidence when the border guards started reading our carefully filled-in forms upside down and then sorted passports into colour-coded piles. Eventually we were through with an impressive hologram visa attached, on to another bus and down to the river bank where we slithered down a sandy slope, crossed a bouncy narrow plank and climbed on to the longboat that would transport us to Luang Prabang.
Tasseled curtains swinging in a gentle breeze, we headed east past breathtaking rock formations. Stops at tiny communities of bamboo huts brought kids aboard with plastic crates of soft drinks and crisps. Chickens in bamboo cages were loaded on to the boat's roof. In the stern, a group of ladies cooked themselves a meal over a little gas-ring and hung their laundry out to dry in the river breeze.
We stopped overnight at Pak Beng, a village whose prime purpose is to feed and house boat travellers, and equip them with more soft drinks and crisps for the day ahead. At its end, we motored into Luang Prabang where us, and everyone else set off in little buses and tuk-tuks to find their guesthouses.