I made the trip to the sources of the Mekong and Yellow River in July, though blogposts here date from September. More ‘live’ from Laos now:
I have traveled along the Mekong in Qinghai and Yunnan; and in the north and south of Laos and in Vietnam; and along the stretch that borders Myanmar; and through the larger part of Cambodia; and I have chalked up many other Mekong ‘sightings’. On the way I have seen glaciers and snow-capped peaks, and low-lying flatlands, forested hills and farmland; I have sailed through a half drowned forest, and along a myriad of streams and canals in the river’s delta.
But the stretch south of Luang Phabang had so far eluded me.
There are no public boats. Upgraded roads make bus travel faster these days. There are no tourist boats either. They stay north of Luang Phabang.
I go to the cargo pier out of town, down a small side road that turns into a mud track, winds through a village – the kind of road that seems to lead nowhere but gives me an ah-great-now-I’m-heading-the-right-way sense.
The man in charge of the port says it shouldn’t be a problem. I should just wait, a couple of cargo boats will leave downstream within a few days. He gives me the mobile numbers of their captains. But a couple of phone calls, a couple of days and a second visit to the pier later it becomes clear that after all it ìs a problem. No captain wants to take me. They say frequent stops to (un)load would make my trip lasting days. I say I don’t care, but they don’t give in. I offer money, they shrug.
Something to hide? Illegal logging? Maybe it ’s just my suspicious mind.
I end up chartering my own boat.
The river mostly moves at some purposeful pace. Once or twice it slows down to a near standstill. Occasionally it rushes through rapids. On the brink of the dry season the water level is still high, but the first rocks start to appear above the surface. It takes a skillful person to manoeuvre between them. The man steering my boat is a professional.
There is hardly any traffic. We see one cargo boat all day, and a few small boats taking people a short distance up- or downstream.
Left and right undulating hills, green everywhere though near the river there is no old growth forest left.
On the banks scattered villages, half hidden amid trees and bushes.
I am as exited as all the other times when I first saw a part of the Great River.