Day 1 on the Mekong

Hannah and I rise early to catch the sunrise.  There are too many clouds for it to be spectacular but the serene calmness of the town before its inhabitants awake is priceless.  The air is still apart from the crowing of roosters.   The mountains on the Lao side of the Khong River are shrouded in mist, revealing themselves slowly as the sky lightens and the sun begins to rise.

After breakfast we head for the border.  At the border we are stamped out of Thailand before boarding a bus over the Friendship Bridge to the Laos border.  Here, we pay USD30 for our Laos visas and exchange our Thai Baht into something more useful.

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Back on the minibuses again before, a short way down the road we realise that the second bus picked up the wrong group of people.  Passengers rectified, we move on to the longboat dock.

Along the waters edge, brightly coloured longboats patiently wait for their human cargo to board.  Our bags are loaded into the front section of our private boat, while we carefully board and remove our shoes.  With everyone settled onboard and the driver installed at his car seat, the boat begins chugging and we are off.  The boat is a decent size for us.  Just behind the driver are 4 daybeds, 2 on each side along the side of the boat.  Next are a bunch of tables and chairs, a dining area, kitchen and toilets.  Beyond that I can’t tell without being nosy but I’m told most families live aboard their boats too.

Gold thread curtains line the windows.  The wooden floors creak and groan as we pad back and forth across them.  We leave the daybeds for the older couples and seat ourselves at the tables.

Outside the boat, granite outcrops, fishing poles, small long boats, sticks and other assorted flotsam adorn the waterway.  Onboard is the captain, what I assume is his wife and a second mate.

Noticing that no-one has taken advantage of the daybeds, Hannah, Erin, Dan and his Mum and I wander up the front of the boat to enjoy them, cracking open our beers and snacks.

The Mekong stretches lazily for over 4,000km and spans all the way from Tibet to Vietnam, with the lions share of it making its home in Laos.  In each of the countries it runs through, it is called something different – River of the Nine Dragons in Vietnam, Khong (Mother of the Waters) in Laos and Water of the Rocks in Tibet.

Late in the afternoon we arrive at Pakbeng, where we will be spending the night.  Our bags are loaded into a small lorry as we trudge up the hill to our guesthouse.  Pakbeng is a small town which probably only exists for its location as a halfway point between Chiang Khong and Luang Prabang.  Shops and guesthouses line the single road.

An attempt to visit the local markets ends with a downpour of rain.  Very few stalls remain open but we get to taste fresh tamarind and watch the local kids huddle from the rain.

Dinner is at the guesthouse restaurant but we head out for drinks a couple of doors down.  We call it a day when the Magoo’s rock up.

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