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.
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.
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.
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