Mekong Mafia, Destiny Number Nine and a Mystery Pair of Pants

Today we crossed the border into Laos to begin our river cruise on the Mekong! Once only accessible by boat, the border crossing now takes you over the Thai-Lao friendship bridge from Chiang Khong to Huay Xai which was built in 2013. After being stamped out of Thailand, it was a short bus ride to the Laos border. I’m always fascinated by areas of ‘No Man’s Land’ and always speculate as to all the things you could potentially do which would be OK if you weren’t officially within a country’s borders. Not that I’d be brave enough to try. Ha. I heard recently about a man who dropped his passport from the bridge over the Niagra Falls and spent the next 4 hours going backwards and forwards between the US and Canadian borders as each country said he was ‘officially’ in the other country.

A River Cruise on the Mekong

Getting into Laos was fairly straightforward, although, as with all of Asia, it seemed somewhat convoluted. There were two windows next door to each other, one of which was where you paid your visa entry fee, the other where you collected your passport (and change) after it had been stamped. As far as I could see, the stamping was done virtually simultaneously so we could have waited another minute at the first window to get it back. But no, we had to queue for another 20 minutes at the second window. Perhaps we were doing it wrong and being too polite queueing properly – maybe we should have followed the Lao system of ‘first seen, first served’ and just pushed en masse to the front. Ah well, the good news was, it didn’t take more than half an hour for each of us and we all got into the country with no problem.

A short drive later and we were on our boat, ready for our 2-day river cruise on the Mekong. The river is the lifeblood of Laos and although half of the Mekong’s length runs through China, more of it’s volume runs through Laos than through any other Southeast Asian country. There was certainly something special about cruising down the river, adjusting to the relaxed pace of life – it already feels so different to Thailand in that sense. The river mist added to this air of calm and made the riverside villages, tropical jungle and the mountains beyond seem even more intriguing and mysterious.

A River Cruise on the Mekong

We were introduced to our tour guide for our time in Laos who’s name was Bai. In fact, every time he spoke to us as a group he would begin with “My Name is Bai”. I can only presume previous groups had terrible trouble remembering his name, he has trouble remembering his own name, or he’s incredibly proud of his name and it means something terribly grand in Laotian. Even now thinking about him, I think of him as ‘My Name is Bai’ and not simply “Bai”. Anyway. At least we didn’t forget or call him something else.

Mekong Mafia

After a delicious buffet lunch on the boat, I decided to introduce the group to the game of mafia. It seemed fitting to introduce a bit of evil in such a beautifully peaceful, calm place. After a few false starts everyone got really into it and all sorts of alibis were being invented – having a massage, buying catfish and frogs from the market and having quiet time with a toy platypuss. All very plausible. I always love being the narrator and seeing how each game unfolds…..and especially fascinating with a group of people who don’t know each other very well.

A River Cruise on the Mekong

After a few hours had passed playing the game, we docked in Pak Beng which was a really chilled out, slow-paced small town with a definite backpacker feel. The banks of the jungle seem to rise almost vertically and are dotted with giant boulders. We grabbed our overnight bags, had an orientation walk and learnt a little more about the town – ‘My Name is Bai’ was telling us how the richest people live on the ground on the main thoroughfares, the poorer ones build their own shacks up the hillside and the ‘tribesmen’ who are not really integrated into the life of the town, live way up in the dense jungle on top of the hills. It seems there’s a definite hierarchy here.

Happy Bar and a Happy Massage

After a tasty dinner of fish with lemon and sticky rice and a few drinks in ‘Happy Bar’ (there were definitely a few people in there who were very ‘happy’) with a few familiar faces from earlier in our trip, Austin, Johannes and I decided to go for a massage. We walked to the other end of the village trying to find somewhere, only to discover there was a place virtually opposite our hotel. It was a restaurant but they assured us they did massages.

After waiting for 20 minutes or so, trying to figure out what was going on and whether we were actually going to get a massage, 3 girls came out to meet us. We were taken into a room with 4 mattresses on the floor. It made me wonder whether massages was all it was used for…..but tried not to think about that too much. After realising I was wearing a thong and being slightly reluctant to strip down to it in front of the boys, to my relief they pulled a curtain across!

After many bouts of uncontrollable laughter from the girls (we never did find out what was so funny – slightly disconcerting when you’re half-naked in front of someone you don’t know, haha) and then us getting the giggles as a lot of it was just too tickly, we came out feeling revived and, even without the happy ending, happy. We should have gone back to Happy Bar feeling as we did but decided to call it a night and go back to our (very cosy) hotel.

A River Cruise on the Mekong

Discovering our Destinies in the Pak Ou Caves

‘Kamma’ (karma) is believed to determine one’s lot in life in Laotian culture – although outsiders often see this as a lack of ambition and an excuse to be lazy. We all received our destiny in the Pak Ou Caves by shaking a bamboo pot of about 25 sticks and waiting for one to work it’s way out and fall onto the floor. The caves go deep into the limestone cliffs, are only accessible by boat and provided shelter for around 2000 people during the Vietnam war. They were filled with buddha images and statues and were simply stunning. 

We all eagerly awaited our destinies to be translated by ‘My Name is Bai’. Mine was number 9 and told me that I will always feel free in my life – and that quite soon I’m going to meet my husband and have a baby girl. A contradiction perhaps? And I also need to be very careful not to be led astray…..hmm.

A River Cruise on the Mekong

The Pants Conundrum

After another few hours travelling, we arrived in Luang Prabang which is a wonderful city (more about this in my next post). When unpacking that night, I noticed that one of my packing cubes was slightly unzipped (I’m a stickler for everything being shut/closed/neat/facing the right way etc) so I instantly knew someone had been in my bag. I stupidly hadn’t locked it as I usually do when I left it on the boat, thinking it would be safe as the crew were all there. I then noticed a mysterious pair of lime green lace knickers that weren’t mine were in place of my blue bikini bottoms. Needless to say, this made me feel slightly disgusted and disturbed at first, which later turned to disbelief and curiosity, and then the realisation that I had a hilarious (if creepy) story to tell and that it would forever be an unsolved conundrum.

There are so many questions thrown up by it that it actually gets more mysterious the more you think about it. Any suggestions as to who and why, please let me know! 😉 And yes, I threw the knickers straight in the bin.

If you are interested in my trip, I travelled with G Adventures for 2 weeks on their Thailand and Laos Adventure Tour which you can read more about here.

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A River Cruise on the Mekong


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34 Replies to “Mekong Mafia, Destiny Number Nine and a Mystery Pair of Pants”

  1. Hi there,
    I have never been to Asia and reading your article makes me really want to go visit and have a cruise on the Mekong River. It is certainly a great place to visit and did bookmark your page and make it my next destination.
    Do you know what are travel requirements from an administrative point of view?
    Thank you for this wonderful teasing article

    1. Hi!

      I can definitely recommend a trip there! You can get a visa on arrival as a UK citizen and I think it is the same for the US? You have to pay around $50 to get a visa at the border. Also make sure you have all the required injections. If you need to know anything more specific, please let me know!


      1. Hi Louise,
        Actually, it is for a Canadian citizen. I will ask about the injections at the travel clinic next to my house.
        Thank you for help

  2. Hi Louise, this sounds like a fascinating trip.

    I love how you tell your story and adventures on the Mekong River. I am a Canadian currently living in Cambodia and have also experienced the grandeur of the Mekong river. However, I have yet to take a cruise into Laos but I am definitely intrigued by it now.

    Look forward to reading more of your articles!


    1. Hi David,

      How wonderful you’re living in Cambodia. I loved Cambodia and would like to go back one day! I can highly recommend a trip down the Mekong – I thought Cambodia was pretty chilled out but Laos is on another level!

      I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂


  3. Sounds fantastic. I recently did my first cruise and think it’s a great way to travel – especially the distance you can cover without having to pack and repack each night. I’d really love to do a cruise along the Mekong – what an iconic journey! 🙂

  4. I know how it feels when you know someone has opened your bags. I remember in Indonesia, someone has opened my bag and it made me very uncomfortable, even though nothing was lost. Karma sticks is something I picked up at China Town in Singapore and I still use it sometimes to see what is in store when things are not going well.

  5. I’ve been reading a guidebook on Laos lately, and it’s great to see your photos and hear your stories – I’d be freaked out by the mysterious knickers, though! It sounds like a great trip!

  6. What a lovely 2 day trip on the Mekong! And so funny that you introduced the group to play the maffia game. In fact, it was the perfect way to break the ice and get to know each other again. And your guide with the lovely name, certainly made a great impression.
    And what a weird thing to find some weird pants in your luggage, especially since it never got solved. At least it will give you a story to tell to people for years to come.

  7. Sounds like a very intriguing trip! The river cruise I’ve only tried before was for an hour of lunch in a floating restaurant, but this river cruise of your seems more exciting (and pretty eventful too, it seemed!). Glad to know that you were still able to relax with the massage what with all the giggles from the girls. And that lime green lace knickers.. Ooohhh. A bit creepy, if you’d ask me.. Good to know that there were no other incidents similar to this during your trip.

  8. all I can say at the end of this post is… ew! I would also be disgusted if I found a random pair of underwear in my luggage! but for the rest it sounds like a great adventure 🙂

  9. I have never heard of the game of Mafia but it did seem to make the time pass by on your cruise. I wasn’t sure where your story would turn when you went from the Happy Bar for a massage! It will be interesting to see if your destiny plays out! I just admit that I would have freaked out if someone swapped out my underwear!

  10. I absolutely loved my ride on the slow boat down the Mekong River last year, and I can’t wait to do it again. I’m jealous that you made it to the Pak Ou Caves; that’s still on my bucket list. I kept thinking you actually ran into mafia on the river. That’s a great game to play! We played Controversial Questions on my ride. Such a great way to make new friends (both the game and the ride). That’s certainly an interesting story about the pants! I’d have thrown them away too.

    1. Ah that’s great you have done a river cruise too – it really is beautiful scenery isn’t it 🙂 Haha, the title was meant to be ambiguous 😉

  11. I’d love to do a river cruise on the Mekong! I love that you got to visit a small town and even got a massage. That’s a bit strange about the clothing switch in your luggage though!

  12. This is the kind of travel blog I enjoy. It is the narrative that pulls you along. We all go to places but the added personal touch makes it come alive. Very interesting read.

  13. Hi Louise. I enjoyed your article very much. One of the reasons I love the internet is finding stories like yours and being able to hear about adventures people are having all around the world. I like having the opportunity to read about far away places and how people traveling and visiting other countries can share their experiences. I do love to be in new places and see how other people live. It seems you did exactly that on this trip. I live in the USA and have a huge bucket list of things to see and places to go just here in my own country. Hopefully you will continue to travel and share your experiences…Dennis

    1. Hi Dennis,

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment. My aim has always been to tell a good story and inform people about different parts of the world so I’m very glad you enjoyed it! There is so much of the world to see and even though I’ve been to quite a few countries now, I still feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface!

      Louise 🙂

  14. Great post. I would be super annoyed if a country kept stating that I was in the wrong country as you mentioned. I couldn’t imagine losing my passport. I imagine the only recourse is visiting an embassy, but how would you do it on boat.

    I’d love to try a cruise in an exotic land. I’ve only done the typical mexico city and Caribbean Islands type of cruises. What was your favorite part of the whole experience?

    1. Hi Ernest,

      I absolutely loved the stillness and tranquility that came with the trip – you could get totally lost in your own thoughts and it really gives you perspective. That is worth it’s weight in gold to me 🙂


  15. A river cruise would be a superb way to visit the historic Mekong River delta in Laos. I’d enjoy a slow cruise, watching the landscape and mist drift by. You will certainly have a very good story to tell after that pants debacle! A good reminder to lock one’s suitcase for sure.

  16. Laos is an intriguing little country which is generally overshadowed by its neighbours. The cruise on the Mekong really sounds like a great experience. Of course, if you are playing mafia, who would care about the surroundings! On a recent trip with a few other bloggers we used to play Mafia and all of us got so addicted and high on the game.

  17. Hey Louise,
    I loved reading your article about a river cruise on the Mekong. I have never been on a river cruise, but it is definitely on my list. It sounds like you had a great time there and I laughed out loud when I read about ‘Bai’. I hope he is still there when I visit.

  18. Hello Louise,
    your trip to Laos sounds great.
    I have never been in that part of the world but you certainly a good job to give a very good description of the places you visited and the experience you had. I like your story telling and you cause a travel appetite in me to want to include Laos in my potential vacation spots.
    Thanks again for an enlightening article that provides great information.

  19. It sounds like a very eventful trip you had! I laughed at the part about ‘my name is bai’, I can almost picture it. All of the pictures are incredible, I really want to go there now! I’ve never been to Thailand before, but I hear a lot of good things about it.

    As for where the pants came from, maybe someone thought it was their bag by accident? At least, that’s a nicer thought than the alternative!

    Thank you for sharing this awesome experience!

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