The Mighty Mekong River (Part 2)

Trip Start Sep 01, 2010
Trip End Jun 18, 2011

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Tuesday, April 19, 2011

After knocking back a couple of Beer Laos last night we ended up stumbling back to the guesthouse and we were so tipsy we didn't even care about the huge bugs that were crawling the walls: flying cockroaches anyone? So when we woke up this morning we were feeling pretty worse for wear but managed to stumble down to the dock to board our boat at 9am. When we got down to the dock there were two boats which were about half full. All of the people from our boat yesterday were standing around waiting to be told what to do and we couldn’t understand why none of them were boarding these boats, which were clearly labeled as going to Luang Prabang. Well it turns out that some backpackers suffer from a very deadly disease called mob-mentality. We quickly realised that no-one would board the boats that were there because they had local people on them and they did not want to be separated from their friends. Tom and I were stood around wondering what the hell was going on and when we climbed onto one of the waiting boats one of the young backpackers leaned in and told us that "this boat is for the locals, stay out here and they’ll send another boat for us’. Now by 'us’ I’m presuming he meant Western travelers. Obviously unwilling to even sit on a boat with local people and risk having to mix with anyone other than fellow Westerns, these stupid kids would rather stand around on the dock all day and risk missing their boat to Luang Prabang than be separated from their mob of friends. I don’t possess enough words to explain how I feel about people like this; unfortunately some people travel half way around the world and still only want to interact with people from their home country. Tom and I tried to explain to them that the boat which we were on was going to Luang Prabang and if they wanted to get there than they should get on board before it sailed off and they were stuck in this town for another night. One or two people got on but the majority just stood there staring at us and at this point Tom and I really lost our rags. Before too long we were off on our way, leaving the mob of backpackers perched on the edge of the dock looking like a herd of confused sheep.

We were really happy because the boat we were on today actually had seats plus we had managed to nab the best seats on the boat which were near the front where we could stretch our legs out over our luggage.  Able to see out of the windows today we were lucky enough to take in some of the most amazing scenery of the trip so far. In the early morning haze the Mekong and surrounding jungle look like a beautiful painting. Layer after layer of mountains slip into the river, monkeys whoop whoop in the trees and parrots flutter above your head. The sun was sizzlingly hot despite it still being early and steam was rising from the shallows. The banks of the Mekong are made up of alternating sandy bays and limestone crags that jut up out of the water. The water-level of the Mekong is really low at this time of year and every now and then the bottom of the boat would scrape along the riverbed or we would hit a series of rapids and the boat would sway and splash all the passengers. For mile after mile we would see nothing but jungle and rocks and then we would spot a tiny bamboo hut deep in the jungle or on the river bank and it was amazing to think that someone actually lived such a solitary life cut off from the rest of the world; there are no roads or even paths through the jungle, so it must be a very lonely life with no-one but the Mekong fish for company. Our journey today would take about 8 hours and along the way we only saw about 5 villages; some where no bigger than half a dozen houses while others had about 30 bamboo huts, none had electricity, roads or concrete buildings and they all relied on boats such as ours for their only way in and out of their villages. Our boat was full to capacity however Asia is renowned for overfilling their boats and pretty soon we were pulling over to some of these villages to pick up other passengers. As we approached the villages we would see someone stood on the nearby cliffs waving a flag or t-shirt above their head and this was a signal that someone wanted picking up in the next village. By lunchtime our boat was overflowing with passengers from the Mekong villages. And as we have learnt since we’ve been in Asia lots of passengers means tons and tons of luggage in all shapes and sizes; some of the luggage on our boat included 3 motorbikes which were strapped to the roof, a basket of crowing cockerels, a couple of bags of rice and some big pans full of curry with clingfilm over the top. By the end of the day our boat was as full as the boat yesterday and people were lying in any tiny gap they could fit into. At about 5pm we were chugging along quite nicely when the boats engines cut out and we ended up drifting towards the sandy banks. The boat staff all made their way towards the engine room and after about 20 minutes we were on our way again. However by the time we had sailed back out into the middle of the river the engines went again and we were drifting along on the current. Normally Tom and I would have been quite concerned but we have been fully absorbed into Asian culture now, so we just smiled, opened up another bag of crackers and waited to see what would happen. In the end another slow boat came up alongside us and we got tethered to it with bits of old rope so we were both running parallel and our boat was basically dragged down the Mekong for the last hour or so. We finally arrived at Luang Prabang at about 6:30pm and before we knew it we were checked into our guesthouse and wandering through the local night market looking for some food. Our first night in Luang Prabang felt very magical because just as we were walking towards the market there was a huge power-cut and we found ourselves in pitch darkness; power-cuts must be quite a regular occurrence because everyone just pulled out their torches and candles and we ended up eating at a food stall with some Japanese professors in the glow of candlelight. It has taken us three days of traveling to get here, but our Mekong adventure has been an amazing and unforgettable experience.       
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dad on

Your photographic ability really comes across again in these pictures,along with the videos. I think you two should start up a media company when ur back. In the meantime keep well and carry on enjoying the great adventure.

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