Our journey begins in Thailand, where we board a small long tail boat in Chiang Rai, Chiang Khong district, cross the Mekong River to Huay Xai on the side of the border of Laos. The weather gods are not on our side and the small craft is hit by rain, wind and current in the rough. The cry of the women passengers with fear as pitch and roll, but the test is over in five minutes and we’re safe on the other side.
After passing through immigration, we boarded the OU Pak, a barge 34 meters long, with outdoor seating for 40 people. The ship has a bar, toilets and a kitchen. With coffee tables between each pair of facing seats banks have room to put our drinks and snacks for the long hours. A traveler lazy, like me, the eyes of the seat in the large compartment where luggage is stored. As each piece of baggage is loaded, large jump in the seat, lie under the blanket, and down with a good book.
The rain has stopped to get Hmong village of Ban Hoei Lampane. Children shout and point at our boat and in less than five minutes to the villagers, mostly women and children rushing down the slope to the bank, waving handmade bracelets and bags and the cries of prices in own language.
Unlike the villagers, which can go up and down the muddy slope with no problems, 30 of us struggle to the only bank that faces a bridge that reminds me the river of sticky chocolate factory of Willy Wonka chocolate. As I am about to step on dry terrain I can find, the sound of something falling makes me stop. One of our colleagues has slipped in the mud caked catwalk, as his attempts to prove themselves right hilarious success, decided to leave and take the path back to the boat.
Before sunset we arrived at Luang Say Lodge in Pak Beng, – halfway between the small port town of Huay Xai and Luang Prabang. The cold weather has continued most of us around the fireplace instead of going back to the unheated rooms.
The next day we visited the morning market, 10 minutes drive from Luang Say Lodge. The small market is full of life, as it is near Pak Beng pier where the public boat trips to Luang Prabang and Huay Xai every day. With roads in this part of the country are scarce, the Mekong is the main transport channel for all peoples in the river
The sun kisses the yellow river as we leave Pak Beng and is infinitely more enjoyable cruise, without rain. Our first stop is at Ban Baw, a town known for fabric weaving and rice whiskey. Along both sides of the road, the villagers was the woven fabric on the floor to show color pattern for visitors passing through. Unfortunately, the brewery whiskey is today, so they miss the opportunity to sample the famous mountain dew.
The last stop before arriving in Luang Prabang is Tham Ting Ting or cave, where thousands of Buddha images are stored. The temple, 30 minutes from Luang Prabang, was dedicated to the spirits of the river and became a Buddhist temple during the 15th century.
“There are two burial caves in the cliff. The cave on the ground floor contains more images of Buddha, but the cave at the top level was the temple where the king of Luang Prabang a ceremony of bathing the Buddha in Laos New Year. King aromatic water is poured into a glass timber decorated in the shape of a naga, which is placed over the images of Buddha.
“The Buddha images you see here are only a fraction of the actual number, because when the Mekong level is high, flooded the cave and some images of Buddha are gone with the tide,” explained our guide.
Mekong exchange bed, huge jagged rocks and often unpredictable waters stir fear in the hearts of those who live along its banks, while running through the Tibetan Plateau through Yunnan Province of China in Burma , Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. But the river is also a benevolent mother, who has been feeding millions of people for hundreds of years.
And as we continue our journey to the land of a million elephants, the charm of Mekong slowly seeps into our souls.
Cruise Mekong with three ships from / to Huay Xai and Luang Prabang. The boats have a renewed capacity for 40 people in comfortable seats and benches.
Each output of the cruise has both a French-speaking guide and English able to answer questions and point out the sights along the way.