Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Musing on the Mekong: From Thailand to Laos

As of late, I seem to be perpetually prefacing my blog posts with one reason or another as to why I'm not continuing the chronology of my Southeast Asian travels, but instead diverting into one creative affair or another. Well I will preface this post by kindly noting that there won't be any more prefacing of the like. I'm going to start writing my posts on particular aspects of my travels that I want to talk about, and not be confined to telling my travel stories, in their entirety, chronologically, and all that hullabaloo (Here I'd like to take a small detour and give myself a writer's high-five for finally incorporating the word "hullabaloo" into a post). The moral in this somewhat rambling story is that, moving forward, I'll write about whatever I'm in the mood to write about. Perhaps that is not at all that shocking considering it's my blog after all. Eventually, I hope that all my travels will make an appearance in their own right, and maybe they will, or maybe not. Either way, I'll enjoy writing it, and I can only ask that, as a reader, you will might do the same.

Today - I'll be writing about slow boating down the Mekong River.

Bri and I embarked on a minibus after four fantastic days in Chiang Mai that was heading as north as north gets in Thailand. That ultimately left us holed up in Chiang Khong. We situated ourselves in a hotel, then made a haphazard arrangement to meet friends around 9 and do a little wandering of the city, which was more of a riverside town in all actuality. The lot of us did in fact meet and head to a whiskey bar owned by a Belgian man where we proceeded to play Jenga. You know, just your run of the mill sort of night in Thailand. The night wound down as all nights do, and we awoke in the morning to cross the murky waters where we'd be able to get our Laos visas. We threw our travel packs in the front of the the narrow, suspect watercraft, and set sail.


We arrived alive on the opposing shores, got our visas in order, then caught a tuk-tuk to the port of departure, which was more or less a muddy shore with an outpouring of restaurants to capitalize on the tourist dollar. We sat down in one of these restaurants where I bought an entire pineapple for a dollar, and ultimately consumed it for breakfast - It was sweeter than my first lollipop. I gazed out upon the waters, wondering which foreboding craft would become our vessel for the following few days. The options, as pictured below, were not awe-inspiring, but they were intriguing.


The good news about waiting to find out which ship we would be spending most of the following few days upon is that all the ships before us were in a similar, noble sort of disrepair. Also, these ships were truly as advertised. You simply can't get much slower than these slow boats. And, in our case, this was a welcome turn of events. There is something to be said for having time, lots of time, to think about what you've seen in previous cities and where you are embarking to. That is, of course, if your boat doesn't sink. On the first day we would be riding down the Mekong and stopping at nightfall in a little known village called Pakbeng. Bri and I had made close friends thus far with Amelia and Jorg, who were really some of the finest people we met, hailing from beautiful New Zealand. If you're reading this Amelia and Jorg - I kindly send my love. We sat near the back of the boat, which isn't the wisest call if you don't want to be bombarded by the loudest motor you've ever heard in your life. It was the type of motor that I imagine has been fixed hundreds of times by crafty hands in villages all along the Mekong. I'm fairly sure the interior was populated with old car seats, which worked out surprisingly well.


I spent most of the day with my headphones on gazing out the window at sights that I hadn't yet witnessed in my life. There was something entrancing and alluring about the Mekong river, with its deep brownish hue. I watched children playing on the muddy shores, the hills which seemed to surround us, and even spent some time on the front of the ship alongside Jorg, taking it all in. I had a deep appreciation for all that I was seeing, and still do.


We continued to coast through the waters and ended up, as I mentioned previously, in a small village called Pakbeng. As we departed from the boat, we were greeted by throngs of eager hotel and hostel owners who wanted our business. Jorg, Amelia, Bri and I decided to head to one of these properties with a few American pals we had met along the way. The room was only about 10 dollars for the two of us, so the price was absolutely right. It was essentially a bed in the middle of a room, with a mosquito net around it, and let's not forget about the giant, alarming spiders. I didn't get a very clear picture of the spider, but the image below should illustrate what sincere terror it could spark in a person.


Spiders aside, it was such a pleasant place to spend the night. We all gathered on the large porch which possessed a marvelous vantage point of the Mekong River, and sipped on some beer from Laos, which was imaginatively called Beerlao. As far as Southeast Asian beer goes, it was fairly good actually. This is a feat as Southeast Asia, generally speaking, is known more for its beer prices than its beer.

In the morning, the sun shone through our window with unusual force and we awoke. We grabbed our packs and made the ten minute walk or so back to the boat. We had another day of slow boating ahead of us before we made it to Luang Prabang, a city I didn't yet know would become one of my favourites. The boat was waiting by the shore, as the low clouds drifted downwards on the rich hillsides, and a smile crept across my face.



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