Oliver is…

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man

…done with the Mekong

You’ll remember the Mekong River from my days at the Golden Triangle and after another few days at Chiang Khong, a small town on the Thai side of the border, I made my way into Laos to experience more of the flat, brown flow of water.


From what I’d seen of it so far there wasn’t much to be excited about so you’ll understand my lack of anticipation for a two day cruise down to Luang Prabang. One remarkable thing about Chiang Khong, on top of its outstanding Mexican restaurant/standard bakery, was that the travel agent I went to see refused to sell me a ticket for the cruise, including an outrageous service fee plus transportation across the border, instead telling me just to get the ticket when I was over in Laos. I’d have expected almost everyone in town to be willing to sell me a ticket, with a generous commission included, so when someone advertising just that service refused it was something of a shock.

Don't crash!

My apprehension for the cruise turned out to be completely unjustified and the boat trip turned out to be one of the highlights of my time in south-east Asia. There were two options of boats: an expensive (relatively) option that had small numbers, comfortable seats, tables and food provided or a cheap option where you were lucky to get a car seat to sit on.

Hopefully the right boat

Over two days we dawdled down the river — I took the high class boat, which was definitely worth it — and took in the constantly-changing scenery.

Look at all that space

The cruise also included a few stops. An overnight stay in a town in the middle of nowhere, where I got my first taste of Laos life, including being served by kids.




We also stopped at a couple of small villages and a cave full of Buddhas — one of Luang Prabang’s top attractions apparently, so a trip saved.



The villages were interesting. One seemed to like tourists for the custom they brought, honestly selling whiskies and scarves. The whiskies had weird things like scorpions and snakes in them, and we were given a taste of rice whisky (no animals drowned in the making) which went down without a burn. A local showed us how the loom was worked, implying she or a friend made all the goods on sale, which encouraged people to buy directly from her rather than through the markets in the big city.



The other was a lot more eye-opening. I was told before I started that this village was a lot poorer and that the cruise operators donated a bit to their school, which sounds like a nice gesture, so I thought I’d add to their efforts and buy some odds and ends that school kids like. My thinking was that there’d be a teacher or something there that we could give it to. What actually happened was utter chaos.

As we got off the boat, a few of us with plastic bags or other impliers of presents, we were followed by a group of evergrowing children until they were told to scram. They knew where to scram to so at the end of the tour they were waiting for us. No teacher approached so we were told to give out the presents ourselves and rather than wait patiently for their gifts, the children swarmed around us, grabbing things from our hands and pushing each other to get the goodies.

Other tourists, shamed at not having my levels of generosity, started buying things from the conveniently located shop, and the same process repeated. (Probably, the shop then bought things back for a cheaper price and everyone, except the stupid tourists, won.)

Yummy treats on the roof


There was also a cave we visited, which was full of Buddhas, but really the most enjoyable part of everything was just sitting on the boat, peacefully heading towards our destination, only to be dismayed by the number of people who had flown or bussed into Luang Prabang, completely missing one of the best tours of the area.


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One Response

  1. Dave says:

    Like a fool, I took the death-defying mountain bus route there and back. I splashed around on the Mekong in South Vietnam a bit, it’s brown there too.

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