Mekong: Down by the riverside

At some point before entering Laos the thought of spending two days on a lethargic long-boat creeping its way down the Mekong sounded like a fantastic idea.  I think most people still take the trip out of some romantic desire to interact with the great river – and to a certain extent the stretch of Mekong between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang does unfold in front of you, ever so monotonously, like a bald python slowly unwinding its grip.  However, the memories of our trip downriver are most vividly inhabited by cramped quarters and hard, unforgiving benches  We were surrounded by a combination of local families and merchants invariably carrying twice their weight in meticulously wrapped parcels and tourists unsure if to look at the milky stew in front of them or to read their books (neither option ever taking hold for the guilt of ignoring the landscape always prevented them from becoming engrossed in their literature and, alternatively, staring at the landscape never quite captivated enough to make them forget about the paperbacks on their laps).  Still, state borders that are defined by natural barriers are always more dramatic than toll booths and welcome signs.  Crossing from Thailand to Laos across the river is an accentuated act of leaving and entering.  Not to mention that the settled air of comfort and prosperity in Thailand is immediately replaced by a still fresh, if not volatile, mood of national awakening that makes the Laotian border town of Huay Xai boom with optimism, an optimism that can easily be misread for blatant thievery.  For us, leaving the comforts of Thailand behind filled us again with a sense of curiosity that we missed since being in India.  We felt at last like we were truly on the road again.

the Mekong’s bounty

hives and grasshoppers at the last Thai market before entering Laos

garlic and river grass

walking in downtown Chiang Kong to the border crossing

‘Gate to Laos – China’

crossing

we had to wait a day in Huay Xai before taking the trip downriver.  it was hot

in the heat of the day in our hotel room, they couldn’t help but taunt us with their furs

national pastime, french colonial residue

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long boats or slow boats, as you wish (neither appellative describes speed)

Mekong life

Mekong life

getting ready to leave

Mekong life

the Thai bank

on the boat

upriver

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our midway point in Pakbeng

Mekong life

Mekong life

entering Luang Prabang

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