Slow travel has always been a goal for this trip. Quality over quantity we repeatedly tell ourselves, a tortoise’s pace rather than a hare. But it turns out, traveling slow is hard. There are always more cities to explore, more towns to discover, and more awesome things to see and do. Inevitably slow travel becomes faster, and before you know it you stop really seeing things and you start forgetting things you did last week. Travel becomes more burdensome, exhausting – and less fun.
As the name suggests, the “slow-boat” to Luang Prabang (Laos) from Chiang Rai (Thailand) gave us no choice regarding speed. We were essentially trapped, on a boat, on a river, somewhere in the middle of SE Asia. I was initially a little worried about this mode of transport from one country to another. What would we do for two days trapped on a boat? Won’t we drive each other nuts?
But we needn’t of worried. The few days we spent on the Mekong were some of the most rewarding and relaxing days we’ve experienced on the trip so far.
The mystical narrative of the Mekong is warranted. With its dense jungles, small villages, ancient hill tribes, and crumbling Buddhist temples, it is completely enthralling and indescribably beautiful.
It’s a river from another age that demands respect, and forces introspection. The untamed Mekong did strange things to my over-scheduled, news-addicted, internet-using, city-living brain. Its remoteness, after initially causing me concern, pacified me, its volume and silent power awed me and its currents, churning and boiling around exposed craggy rock and rolling sandbanks, hypnotized me. I sat for hours, wrapped in a blanket, perfectly content, just watching.
But it wasn’t the river that captured my imagination the most, it was the people I saw along the river, and the lives we were honored to peek into that enthralled me the most.
Everywhere you looked, along every inch of this wild river you saw signs of life. Small farms, crops, cattle, bamboo fences, nets, fishing poles. Men fishing in impossibly skinny boats, a woman carrying crops or tools, small kids playing in the water, in the mud, in the sand. Everyone busy with their business, everyone busy living.
I’d find myself making up silly fictional stories about a woman tending to her corn on the bank, or about a child waving at me from the rivers edge, or about a man repositioning a fishing net between two rocks. The made-up story of one person would continue until I’d see a new person, and then the storytelling would restart anew.
The Mekong (and Laos) have an unknown and somewhat controversial future. Things are changing fast. Infrastructure and power investments by the Chinese promise to change the river and the people that depend on it. New railroads, roads, and dams are being built that promise economic prosperity however big questions remain regarding who will benefit most given China’s leverage in Laos. It’s a shame but I guess that’s progress? 😦
Thank you, Mekong! It was a wild ride slow ride and we loved every second.