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Cruising the Mekong to Luang Prabang, Part I

Three Thai carriers told to shape up

Preserve religious sanctity: Thailand culture ministry says

Cruising the Mekong to Luang Prabang, Part I

Rebecca Lomax, Ph.D.

We decided to escape the city and cruise down the Mekong River on the Luang Say through some of the most remote and least settled areas of Thailand and Laos. Getting to the boat was an adventure in itself – an overnight stay in Chiang Rai followed by a van drive to the border town of Chiang Khong. After processing through Thai Immigration, we were met at the pier by a Luang Say employee and boarded a long tail boat to cross the river. Another staff member met us on the Laos side of the river and assisted us in obtaining a visa for the duration of our cruise and processing through Lao Immigration. Thirty dollars U.S. later per person, we were loaded into a taxi and trucked to our cruise boat.

The 34 meter long boat is luxuriously roomy with only nine passengers.

The 34 meter long boat was luxuriously roomy with only nine passengers, but it has a capacity for forty. There was plenty of room for luggage and people, with upholstered sofas and chairs in multiple locations. We met our fellow passengers, and knew we were in for a pleasant voyage. All of us were experienced travelers, eager for this adventure. We relaxed as the boat started to pull away from shore, and talked to the other passengers – a French couple from Paris, a British homeland security consultant, two women from Brazil, and a pair of American doctors fresh from volunteering for three months in Zambia. We had a lot to talk about as we got to know each other. We watched the amazing scenery unfold, with the Thai side of the river far more developed than the Lao. About an hour into our journey we left Thailand. Both sides of the river were now in Laos. Huge gunmetal gray rock formations pushed up from the earth. Here and there poles were wedged into them, with fishing traps attached to the ends. Water buffalo meandered along the sandy beaches, and we saw small boats navigating from fish trap to trap. The lush green mountains were interspersed with bare spots that had been cleared for crops.

Fishing boats along the river during the cruise.

Lunch was announced, and we were starving. The Lao food was simple but plentiful, and very tasty. Fried rice, chicken curry, fried chicken and pork, and fresh fruit in abundance were served. Coffee and tea were always available, and other drinks could be ordered.

Our first stop was a Tai Leu village some five hours down the river. This was our first indication that this was not a luxury cruise. Access to the village, in 100 degree plus weather, was straight up sand dunes that even the youngest and most fit in our number found challenging. The photo opportunities for those who had never been into a remote village were good. We found the nearby temple with a village of monks to be very interesting, and not at all like most tribal villages. Then we returned to our cruise boat drenched with perspiration and yearning for a shower.

Our first stop was a Tai Leu village some five hours down the river.

Our journey began again with cold towels and refreshing cold drinks, and we settled back to again talk to our comrades and watch remote Laos unfold. It was late afternoon when we arrived at Luang Say Lodge. The lodge is wood, built in a traditional Lao architectural design that seems to blend into the jungle behind it. Each of 19 rooms is a separate bungalow with a private bath. Every lodge has windows that open onto the river. Ceiling fans provided more than adequate cooling as the sun set, and mosquito netting surrounded each bed. We opened the windows that faced the river, and enjoyed the breeze as we prepared for dinner.

Activity on the river came to a standstill after sunset, and our whole group enjoyed the peace of being in such a remote location. Our evening meal was again simple but delicious, with soup, vegetables, spring rolls, curry, laab and sticky rice, traditional for the Laos people. Fruit complimented the meal. Not surprisingly, we all retired to read and relax quite early. We were pleased to learn that the lodge gives employment to a large number of villagers and tribal people who earn wages that are three to four times the local standard. In addition, the lodge buys most of its fruits and vegetables and a lot of its poultry from the villagers. It also supports local education.

Morning found me actually complaining about a noisy ‘jingjoke’, and the Parisians complaining that they couldn’t sleep because it was too quiet. We all joked that city living was such a contrast with the beauty and quiet of the river at night that it made it difficult to relax. But none of us would have missed our night at the lodge. We knew that we would choose to come back.

Three Thai carriers told to shape up

Jeremy Colson,
TTG Asia

Three of Thailand’s passenger airlines have been given notice that their licenses will not be renewed if they do not get their act together.

A spokesman for the kingdom’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) told TTG Daily News that Angel Air, Thai Pacific Airlines and Thai Jet will lose their licenses in September, unless they start providing regular air services.

“We have told them that just making the occasional flight here and there will not be good enough. They will have to show that they are serious about it,” said DCA director general, Chaisak Angkasuwan.

The crackdown aims to clean up the registry and put off applicants that do not have a “serious intention” to fly but want to hold on to their permits in the hope they may increase in value.

Angel Air president and chief executive officer, Somchai Bencharongkul, said he was discussing a new plan with investors but he did not think Angel would be flying again before the end of the year.

There was no reply from the offices of Thai Pacific Airlines nor from Thai Jet.

Preserve religious sanctity: Thailand culture ministry says

Jeffrey Studebaker,
TTG Asia

Thailand’s Culture Ministry is urging national heritage sites to apply for patents to prevent the commercial use of Buddhist art and architecture, and provincial governors will be asked to monitor the use of religious items at hotels and resorts.

The announcement by ministry permanent secretary, Ms Tiphavadee Meksawan, comes in the wake of a protest by Buddhist monks over the irreverent placement of a replica of a revered temple within the new Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Hotel in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai Buddhist Association president, Bunchuay Sirinthalo, urged the private sector to show respect for the deeply held religious beliefs of the national religion. “Replicas of revered temples and icons are not appropriate for use as decor in a private business,” he said.

In response, Dhara Dhevi executive assistant manager, Savas Rattakunjara, said the ministry should initiate a dialogue with hoteliers before laying down clear guidelines regarding use of religious and cultural imagery.

“The intentions of the investor should be considered, since some hotel owners are seeking to preserve and respect Thai culture by modeling their properties on ancient heritage sites,” he said.