Mekong River

Trip Start Nov 30, 2004
Trip End Feb 04, 2005

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Oudômxai,
Friday, December 31, 2004

Hello everybody,

I left Thailand for a three-day trip to Laos.  Originally, the plan was to fly.  But I heard about a route that goes over land and water and offers more sights.

The first day I took a mini-bus from Chiang Mai to the border at Chiang Khong.  It's one of the few border crossings.  My bus sat 10 people with seven from back home.  Just another reminder of why I do independent travel.  It was fun to see the mountains and trees.  Similar to the Pacific Northwest but in a semi-tropical environment.  That night I had dinner with a Swiss couple and a German woman.  Was fun to talk about other cultures.  Needless to say, America isn't one of the top tourist destinations right now.  At one point, the Swiss man asked me if I ran into trouble being an American.  Wasn't sure how to answer that one.  So I told him I try to look German.  He was a little surprised.  Then the German woman said she tries to look American.  We had a good laugh.

The next day we started at 8AM to cross the border.  It became a true lesson in 3rd world culture.  It's actually a river that's about 300 yards long.  So we got into little canoe-type boats measuring 4' by 25'.  They're supposed to carry five people, but we had eight.  Four were from a European family that didn't understand English.  They left their backpacks on, leaving the boat top-heavy.  And their two little boys were playing behind them.  This was the closest to danger I've felt on the trip.  If the boat tipped over, I would have made it back to land, but likely would have lost all my gear.  When the boat hit shore I started breathing a whole lot easier.  By then there was about 40 of us trying to get the paperwork to enter Laos.  It was supposed to be handled by the guesthouse, but then this is a 3rd world country.  So the leaders stepped up, and we got all the visa, customs, currency, transportation connections and so on in this new language.

At the adjacent ramp, we boarded a larger 'slow' boat for a two-day trip down the Mekong River.  At 11:30AM we finally disembark.  3 1/2 hours to go 350 yards.  I was truly beginning to re-think the plane idea.  I sat in a lobby at the back.  Every last seat was filled and you could hear the engine churning.  We had one water closet and there was livestock tied up next to the luggage in the rear.  Next to me sat a guy who looked and sounded like one of the Beatles from the mid-60's.  Surprise, he was from northern England.  Rounding out the immediate circle was a girl from Australia and a guy from Canada.  Soon, there were two Israeli girls in the mix.

The next two days we went down the Mekong River together.  It was a lot of fun trading passports and stories about all our countries.  It was kind of surprising to see such an active bunch be so somber in their passport pictures.  Turns out they can't smile.  Only in America.  But they do share smokes, drinks, food, weed and whatever else they have.  I heard this about Europe and here it was happening.  Others near us that didn't speak English were just joining in and passing around whatever they had.  Somebody would keep an eye on your stuff when you went to the toilet.  Pretty neat community.  Everybody realizes that they're in it together.  By the way, here's what's printed on foreign cigarette packages:  "Toxic emissions: Tar, Nicotine, Carbon monoxide, Formaldehyde, Hydrogen cyanide, Benzene."  Along with it are pictures of people with no teeth and black lungs.  How powerful do you think the tobacco lobbyists are in America?  Early in the trip, we tried guessing what countries we were from.  Not as easy as you'd think.  Even with us native English speakers.  Soon they were teaching me card games.  Everybody outside America knows this easy game called s***head.  It's similar to crazy 8's and fun.  Guess who was the s***head the first two hands?  Later the two Israelis taught us a game called Yanniv.  During the overnight stay in Pak Beng, we had dinner with three sisters from South Africa.  By then, I think we had covered all the English-speaking countries in the world.

It ended up being a pretty relaxing trip down the mighty Mekong River.  Lush landscape all the way down with an occasional village.  It reminded me of Alaska - about 98% wilderness.  On Christmas day, we arrived at Luang Prabang in Laos.  By then two other Australian guys had hooked up with us.  So, we all had dinner to celebrate.  After wards we stood in the two-story main street and looked up at the sky.  It was easy to overlook.  It's pretty surreal to celebrate a holiday in an area completely removed from home.  Will be staying here longer than I planned.

Happy New Years!! & best wishes for a prosperous 2005.

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