2 days on the Mekong and still not where I need to be

I suddenly realized I needed to get my act together on my Indian visa and thus, begrudgingly, cut my Laos intermission short to get back to Bangkok by Monday so I could fly out by Thursday. Secondly, it would probably be a good idea to get checked out at an international hospital since my motorcycle wounds were healing at the speed of snail.

Instead of taking the normal bus route, I decided to switch things up a bit amd opt for a more adventurous border crossing method: this came in the form of the Laos slowboat the crosses the border at the Golden Triangle (where Laos and Thailand intersect with Myanmar and poppy fields are aplenty). The slowboat is no misnomer- it takes 2 full, long days down the Mekong just to get to the remote Laos town of Huay Xai, then another full day to get to the Thai side, followed by an overnight bus to Bangkok. The slowboat is a longtail cargo boat that stops at rustic bamboo hut villages along the Mekong, picking up various cargo from villagers who sit on the river banks all day, waiting for the slowboat to pass at anytime.

This little boy and his fisher man father were in an isolated fishing boat near the village of Pak Beng when we passed by. The father yelled something out to the boat captain and all of a sudden we started steering toward him. The boy and his father began to paddle toward us. Out of nowhere, the fisherman pulled out a long white fish he had caught that day. The boat captain is buying the fish from the man at this moment, as the son waits patiently.

This little boy and his fisher man father were in an isolated fishing boat near the village of Pak Beng when we passed by. The father yelled something out to the boat captain and all of a sudden we started steering toward him. The boy and his father began to paddle toward us. Out of nowhere, the fisherman pulled out a long white fish he had caught that day. The boat captain is buying the fish from the man at this moment, as the son waits patiently.

2 whole days went by without speaking a word to anyone, my only interactions making funny faces with a cute little Lao girl and I began to feel a wee bit lonely. I think my lonliness, however, was mostly due to my immense physical discomfort. I had self-diagnosed myself with a fractured sternum from the moto accident, as it began to be extremely painful to laugh, cough, sneeze and even stand up. I also had a developing fever, body aches, and a sore throat. In an over-paranoid hypochondriac state, I began to fear malaria. To top everything off, I had a stomach ache coupled with diarrhea for the entire duration of the trip. I really felt like crying. But as I do to get through tough times, I imagined in my head that I was a seafarer in the days of Magellan, discovering far off lands, struck with dyssentary as a consequence for venturing far from home (when I was little I used to pretend I was Harriet Tubman when I had to do chores, or that I was climbing the Swiss Alps when I had to drag my sled up a snowy hill).

Though it was not a comfortable experience, my 2 days on the slowboat were extremely rewarding. It was a genuine glimpse into the lives of most Lao outside the tourist towns most visitors only see. The way of life in these remote areas was at times astonishing in their almost archaic lifestyles- tiny huts perched up on raw jungle hillsides, sometimes in clusters, sometimes spaced kms apart.

My company on the boat were several cheerful Lao men, who enjoyed rice whiskey chased with Beer Lao at sunset. After initiating with some friendly gestures, I was invited to join in, and despite my body ailments, I accepted, eager to have some human interaction. They said they liked me because I had “Lao skin color” (aka the superdark tan I’ve acquired in Southeast Asia) and we cheersed over a plate of fried buffalo skin- the Lao equivalent to American Buffalo wings (except that the “Buffalo” part is really buffalo- not friend chicked dipped in blue cheese). In conclusion, the slowboat was indeed an adventure, just not one that I could appreciate at the time.

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~ by ceciliabien on June 14, 2009.

One Response to “2 days on the Mekong and still not where I need to be”

  1. everyone prob tells you this, but seriously, you should try and get this whole thing published.

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