The Mekong River trip lasted two days. Both days we needed to wake up at 6:30 and be ready to set off around 7.
The river runs through Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Myanmar (Burma). Its the 12th longest river in the world and is roughly 2,703 miles. At this time of the year the water was almost at its lowest point but you could see along the ride how high it went in the wet season. We were travelling by a 40 metre slow boat but it was quite fast and smooth and no noise could be heard from the engine. The trip came with both breakfast & lunch for the first day but only lunch for the second. Not great vegetarian options but we managed. Most people take the boat from Thailand down to Laos but we reversed it and headed up stream against the current. Now and then we would ride over rapids and sometimes only barely missed the sharp edges of rocks.
The day was unfortunately overcast but that also brought mist to form around the scenic mountains and gave it an eerie feeling. Most of the journey was mountainous but there were points where land flattened to show the vibrant green paddy fields. Children played on the banks, fisherman fished off the rocks and women picked rice in the fields and carried things from shore to the villages, everything was alive.
We stopped off at Pak Ou Cave after about 2 hours of driving. The cave was on a sheer cliff face that overlooked the river and mountains. Inside were many Buddha’s scattered around the cave. The upper cave had the same idea as the lower one but the lower one had many more shrines and Buddha’s. It was a long walk to the top but we did it, even Jed!
The river widened and narrowed quickly along the way. When the river had took a more narrow approach we stopped off at Pakbeng Village. This seemed more like it was built to accommodate the tourists on their trips but locals lived here too. Naked children waving from the shores enthusiastically greeted us. We took one of the cheaper hotels with the better river view from the restaurant area for the night.
Jed made a friend, a young local boy who was younger than him and both played roughly but happily together for hours.
When we set off the next morning it was still dark as we made our way down to the slow-boat. We bought our own breakfast and glided along for another day. At some point the sun rose and was trying to break through the clouds but didn’t succeed.
We stopped off at a local Khmu Village. ( The Khmu are an ethnic group, the majority live in northern Laos and may have been the first populations to settle northern Indochina). Mum had done some research and on the internet it said the locals here don’t really know why we are visiting and so it might be awkward. The owner of the trip recommended she buy books for the school if we wanted to help in any way. It seems nobody else on the trip did any research as they just took photos and looked uncomfortable to be there.
The village was small and on a slope.
Children came to scrutinise us -especially Jed-. Pigs lounged around and families came to their doorways. Some people took pictures but we just kept ours limited to a few. We walked up to the school on top of the hill which looked like all the others around Laos – long, rectangular and on one floor. Teachers taught in the classrooms and the younger ones who didn’t study were playing and looking at us in the outside area.
The view from the school was spectacular, it stretched in both directions showing us the Mekong and to the other side where other villages could be seen.
We carried on with our trip, dark clouds still remained above us threatening to rain a little. Snuggled up on thick, soft blankets we didn’t feel the cold.
At the front of the boat was a bench where you could be seated to glide along with the currents, so we spent some time there. We stopped a few more times for petrol and other supplies in random places along the banks.
Soon we reached the border and on the left of the river was Thailand, on the right was Laos. Land flattened and the skies opened and gave us more light.
The boat stopped on the Laos side and soon most of us were piling into a mini bus(which was included) and saying our byes and thank you to the crew. We were whisked off to the Laos border for immigration. Once we were through we took a bus to the immigration of Thailand. A few bikers were hanging around to put their bikes in the bus but they said to put them inside the vehicle. They tried but obviously it was impossible – they were made to wait for the next bus.
Half an hour later we were in Thailand after an epic meltdown by Jed! Don’t ask. I’ve been before when I was three for about 6 weeks but I don’t remember – but never this far north. Instead of driving all the way to Chiang Rai we settled to stay in Chiang Khong for a night. We stopped in a guest house on the main road (the bikers later arrived there). The streets at night didn’t have much activity and we struggled to find somewhere to eat. When we did the food was delicious, the people were friendly and all smiled at Jed instantaneously.