the slow boat

it’s the second day of our slow boat trip down the mekong river, from chiang khong, thailand to luang prabang, laos. the river is strangely hypnotic, with it’s thick muddy whorls and eddies, its cragged shores. its size belies the power that lies just beneath the surface. even as we motor along, it pulls at us, tugging us towards the jagged rocks. fishermen in long-tail boats cast their nets. children run alongside at the banks, waving to us as we float by. women bathe neck deep. small scattered huts hint at the lives clustered close to shore. the mekong is a natural infrastructure where unpaved land and “unexploded ordnances” are a part of everyday life. the mekong *is* life, in these parts.

we stopped overnight in pak beng, a tiny smidge of a village with nothing much more than a few hasty guesthouses. people bathe at the side of the road, chickens run rampant, and the electricity only comes on between 6 and 11 pm. (”lights out” is fairly common in much of impoverished laos, where electricity is luxury.) after finding a room for the evening, we walked out to find some dinner, and somehow stumbled into a local wedding reception, where we were plied with homemade moonshine and 50 cent blaring from the stereo.

muzzy headed this morning, we’ve fortified ourselves with bottles of orangeade and baguette sandwiches, and settle into the narrow wooden benches for another eight hours. time drifts. the river drifts. we float along, pulling in at random bends and banks to let locals on or off. we take on a cargo of several hundred kilos of rice. we sleep and we eat, and we watch the river and river life. we pass through rainy patches and alternate scorching streaming sun. we gaze at the unending hils of jungle and landmines which rise up on all sides, surrounding us with heavy air and the buzz of insects so loud they pierce the drone of the motor.

the slow boat is uncomfortable and long and , true to name, slow. but it’s an essential part of the bonding process. to understand life in laos, you must understand the mekong. appreciating that is something which cannot be rushed. photos here.

2 Responses to “the slow boat”

  1. daddio
    June 5th, 2006 09:20

    you are sounding more and more like travlers than tourists…enjoy the pace, absorbe the people, imprint the memory and you will have a lifetime of joy lying tucked away in your soul.
    stay safe.

  2. Dave
    June 5th, 2006 14:49

    Beautiful pics – love to see that jonno is representing well with the Red sox cap :)

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