The Mekong and its Ancient Lands.

The Mekong river flows steadily below my veranda, muddy and expansive, treacherous and mesmerizing.  In the warm mists of early morning, a lone fisherman balances on the deck of his long tailed boat, a giant rod held horizontally as nets are cast. He drifts with the fast moving current. 

Morning view of Laos, from Chiang Khan, Thailand.
Morning view across the Mekong to Laos. Chiang Khan, Thailand

The day opens gently in Chiang Khan: the oppressive heat of the afternoon is a distant thought. In the teak guest house next door, the sounds of Thai opera waft across the deck, and a man lounging on a daybed sings along. We are close to a Wat: the early morning prayer and response is suitably soporific. Over the way lies Laos, so close and yet, at this point in the river, so different from Thailand. The village on the opposite bank is enclosed by dense jungle and hills: shanty villages with early morning cooking smoke rising above the trees, and the familiar pointed roof of a Wat just visible in the distance.

Thailand to Laos. view from Chang Khan.
Thailand to Laos. view from Chang Khan.

At this point, crossings to Laos are not possible: there are few signs that the locals bother either, although locals with border passes may do so. International tourists require a visa: from this part of Northern Thailand, obtainable at Nong Khai to Vientiane or further west at Chong Mek to Vang Tao.

I have always yearned to take the great travel adventure of a lifetime, travelling on all forms of river transport down the length of the mighty Mekong through five countries, but I suspect that time has run out.

The busy port at Nong Khai: goods are loaded for a river crossing into Laos.
The busy port at Nong Khai: goods are loaded for a river crossing into Laos.

Ten years ago we spent time on the Mekong in Luang Prabang, one of the finest spots in Laos, and then travelled by long tailed boat for two days up the Nam Ou river, a tributary of the Mekong, then stayed for a week in the village of Mung Ngoi in simple bamboo huts by the river. I hear that life is still the same in that lush, tropical valley, where young men travel up stream in the dark, watching for the glow of tiger eyes along the banks.

Sunset on the Mekong from Nong Khai
Mekong Sunset, Nong Khai to Laos.

On that journey, we also caught up with the Mekong at Phnom Penh in Cambodia, a town that has changed for the better over the last ten years. My photos of this era have sadly been lost.

A place to write beside the Mekong.
A place to write beside the Mekong.

If I had ‘world enough and time’, I would chase that Mekong river from its source in Tibet, down through five countries, to its wide delta in Vietnam, but I doubt that this will happen; I am content with the river running by me now.

26 thoughts on “The Mekong and its Ancient Lands.”

    1. i have yet to see the Mekong in Vietnam, as we only went to the north, to Hanoi and Halong Bay, when I was there. The south still awaits, like another tempting pearl. Glad the post brought back good travel memories Francis.

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  1. For me too, this was a lovely going back to past! I was used to travel for work to Thailand and spent there many days… up in the north I crossed the border in Mae Sae to Myanmar with no problems, the visa was issued in BKK few days before. But since the political turmoil wasn’t safe for us (I’m speaking about 20 years ago), we found a man with a platform and discended the Ruak river which is the political border between Thailand and Laos. In the Sob Ruak (golden triangle Park) the river enter the Mekong… I wish I could go back there once more in my life. But I guess a lot is changed, unfortunately… Thank you again, serenity 🙂 claudine

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    1. Travelling up here in the north of Thailand is so different from the beach scene. No one speaks English so we get a chance to practice Thai ( badly) which always produces a laugh. I have been buying strange kitchenware from older ladies- we mime and have a chat about things. Older people have time for talk – I wonder if there is some special peer thing happening which has nothing to do with language or culture? Just loving the slow pace here.

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  2. So poetic and evocative. I admire your adventurous spirit. My spirit for big adventure has been sated, I think, and I’m happy to just have a change of scenery and little adventures these days. It is so nice to think back at the aspects of those travels that stay with us. Thank you Francesca.

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  3. You’re creative writings are obviously inspired here. So beautiful and heartfelt. We spent some time on the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia and it has a powerful spirit. I dream of following the Great Ganges but think I’ll have to be content with the time I spent there when in Varanasi. I don’t think my senses could cope with much more confrontation 🙂 We have only been to southern Thailand which looked nowhere near as picturesque as where you are. Enjoy and keep chasing that river!

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    1. Ah the great Ganges, mother river of time, what a wonderful thought, following her path. Confrontation a plenty. I remember Varanasi with some fondness but it was such a long time ago it now seems like a dream.

      Did you read Shantaram, which came out about 10 years ago and is enjoyed by India lovers? I read on an inflight that they now have tours in Mumbai where you can follow the footsteps of the main character, Lin.

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