Sunday, June 10, 2012

Floating the Mekong

I've always thought river travel to be the most romantic way to travel. Train travel is a close second, especially when it comes along with old smokey stations, but nothing beats river travel. It might be that it conjures up nostalgic ideas of floating down the Mississippi back in the frontier days, Mark Twain, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Amazon rides all at the same time. 

Back when I was planning my big trip, I really thought about doing some Amazon exploration (see my post here), but South America got put on hold. I finally got a chance to get in some serious river travel in Laos.

It was long. It was hot. It was crowded. But it was also my favorite part of the entire trip.


Supy and I slept at a tiny hotel on the Thai side of the border where Grandma rented us a very basic room (super cheap, but we did decide to spray down our mattress with bug spray before sleeping). We woke up early and headed to the boarder crossing. After Thai immigration you walk down to the river... 

And hop a small boat across to Laos. It's one of the world's only border crossings by boat. 

From there we went through Lao immigration, which was a bit more involved, but still pretty easy. We bought ourselves a boat ticket and some sandwiches and fried rice for the long journey. (We also attracted an annoying and somewhat sketchy German traveler who was difficult to shake...) We sat on the boat until every single seat was filled and then headed out on our two day route. 

The boats were long and skinny. This is from the engine/storage room looking forward to the front of the boat. Their wooden benches had somewhat recently been refitted with old Thai bus seats. 

A closer look at the engine (with a few Buddhist offerings on and around it). This bad boy was loud.

Only one boat makes the trip each day. Families live on the boats when they aren't shuttling passengers and cargo down the Mekong.

The scenery was varied. Sometimes the river was narrow, sometimes extraordinarily wide. Sometimes the banks were sandy, sometimes there were rapids and massive rocks everywhere. 

We also saw lots of wild life--cows, goats, water buffalos, etc. 

Lots of local fishermen and women, and children swimming around too. I'm sure things have modernized considerably in the last few decades, but it seemed as if life was going on as usual as it had for centuries. 


The sunset on day one was pretty spectacular


This is Pak Beng, where we stayed the night. The boat pulled up to the dock and we were surrounded by people trying to get us to come to their hotels. Supy found a kid who gave us a good deal and some banter (and promised that the electricity would run all night), so we followed him to our home for the evening. 

It turned out that making sure our hotel had a generator was a good move because the electricity in town went out before we could even get back out the door. The electricity flickered on and off all evening (making it difficult for us to get our daily quota of fruit smoothies), but we eventually found food in the form of buffalo sausage hot dogs and strolled around town a bit. Finally we figured out the reason for the black outs--a storm was coming. Unfortunately we didn't make it back in time and got ourselves a soaking. 

Everything was clear the next morning though

This is the boat and family that ran the boat on day one. Day two we switched out to a different boat for the rest of the journey. 





 What is a long trip without some snacks? Supy was in love with seaweed flavored anything, but I will admit these seaweed flavored sunchip-type things were tasty. On the right is a ball of flavored sweet fried noodles. It wasn't bad but had a flavor I couldn't place. Finally I figured it out: it tasted like popcorn dipped in sweet and sour sauce.  

River pictures from day two: 







Day two was particularly scenic. These pictures can't do it justice. After two days on the boat though, we made it to Luang Prabang--which was laid back and lovely. 

A sneak peak of the Mekong from Luang Prabang: 


It was my longest water adventure to date, and my first real stab at river travel. The travel was slow--but that was probably just why I liked it. There was plenty of time to read a novel that's been passed along through 2 friends and 3 continents, listen to Joe Purdy sing about the Mississippi, nap, chat, and just enjoy the world floating by. 

Not a bad way to travel at all. 

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