Thursday, January 7, 2010

Meandering down the Mekong

The Luang Say glides down the muddied Mekong on its two-day journey to Luang Prabang navigating through boulders of jagged rocks brutally exposed in the dry season.

My fellow travellers and I slipped into a slothful slumber, wrapped in prettily decorated textile cloaks, as the boat pulled away. Re-energised after a snooze, we were awoken for tea, sweet banana chips and guidance.

Travel is slow with ample opportunity to watch life on the river banks. Banana plantations crowded over gold panners sifting the sparkling sand on the river banks. Small boys splashed in the shallows and the scenery alternated between feathered grass, woody slopes, vegetable gardens, small jumbles of bungalows and peanut patches marching in parallel lines across the sand.

Pakbeng, a linear river settlement, sits in a gash in the mountainous landscape on a northern curve of the river. Its sole purpose, it seems, is to provide a bed and sustenance to the hundreds of travellers taking the slow boats up and down the Mekong. The Luang Say Lodge provided us with a gorgeous set of bungalows linked by wooden walkways for the night.

On the second day of the journey we passed many more barges chugging up the river with their bold colours and Laos flags swinging from a bamboo pole at the helm.

We stopped off at the isolated village of Ban Bor to see the women’s weaving products. Ban Bor, surrounded by a small teak plantation, is home to some 200 Shan, Khamu and Lao Leum villagers. The Lao Leum and Shan specialise in weaving. In the past, cotton would have been grown in the area; now it is imported from Luang Prabang.

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