Monday, June 10, 2013

The Mighty Mekong

The View From Above
We finally had to give up our trusty motorbike in Chiang Mai and hopped a bus to Chiang Khong, a Thai/Lao border town. We landed at a riverfront guesthouse and stayed up late talking to an Israeli traveler named Sky. He'd just finished three years with the IDF and was taking some time off prior to starting an agriculture program. Great conversation, as it's always nice to get info from an inside source (also understanding the perspective comes with a certain level of bias). Then we crashed, we slept, we woke, we ate. Off to the crossing point. 

The View From Below

Border Crossing
Perhaps this is just for land border crossings, but just a quick piece of advice for any aspiring travelers: don't forget to get your passport signed by the country you are leaving from when departing. We learned the hard way and had to do this crossing three times. There, back, then there again. Regardless, it's neat to think the water flowing here was snow that feel somewhere along the Tibetan Plateau.

The Slow Boat
After some visa work and receiving the super-official go-ahead from the Lao government, we hiked a few kilometers to the port to catch the two-day slow boat to Luang Prabang, Laos. The boats weren't fancy, but they did the trick. They for sure wouldn't fly in the US. First, it looks like someone took the engine out of an old war plane and threw it in the back of the boat. It's in plain view and is very loud. Second, the seats have all been ripped out of minivans and aren't fastened to the floor. Your body weight keeps them from sliding around. Third, the SE Asia wipe method is a spray tool (we've named it the bumgun). Our best guess is the bumgun is used sans toilet paper. On the slow boat there's no running water, so what makes the bowl-of-a-toilet situation worse is the bungun bucket was filled to the brim and billowing over the side and onto the floor at every rock of the boat. Granted, it's probably river water, but there's just something really grimy about dark-brown standing water on the floor of the lou, leaving you with the unpleasant decision of saturated feet or a ruptured bladder.

Sorry for excuses but the camera does very little justice to the grade of the hills and the richness of the colors. It was beautiful. Sure enough, just like every other afternoon, we received a heavy rainfall. We scrambled for the window tarps. The wind picked up, and so did the speed of the boat. I wonder if these things ever tip. I don't see a daggerboard...

Puk Bang
After the first day of boat travel, we stopped in a small town called Puk Bang. We set up in a nice little spot, had a nice Lao dinner, and slept hard. On the boat the next day, we were happy that we got the last open seat on the boat. We soon realized why the seat had been left open. There were six boisterous Euro dudes in the seats in front of us and they had just started to turn their seats around to crate their own makeshift club car. When their arrangements were made, they spent the first hour of the trip arguing about frozen food. Who even knows. When the argument subsided, they busted out the bottle of Lao whiskey for several rounds of shots. Then came the first round of an unnecessarily loud drinking game where every hand, each lasting a minute or two, would end with lots of loud yelling. The game was over when the bottle was gone, and the loser had to stand and sing the Irish national anthem at the top of his lungs. Then, it was a round of 24oz beers over more heated conversation. No complaints besides the Euro dudes but we made it Luang Prabang.