A Day With The Mekong

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Other travelers have told us that Laos is that last honest country in SE Asia- referencing the scams prevalent elsewhere. If our quietly made deal to hire a boat is any indication, this is entirely true. Our tuk tuk arrived at 9 am as scheduled and dropped us off at the banks of the Mekong River, where our boat driver proudly placed cushions onto the wood seats and off we went.

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There were six of us who pitched in for the private boat- the other four whom we met by luck of sharing a balcony with. For us our new friends made this day possible, as financially the two of us could not have done this alone. For the day we had a boat, a driver, and no tour guide or much organization. We hopped from village to village at our leisure, avoiding the crowds and seeing some things that we wouldn’t otherwise have.

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The Mekong is a massive waterway that is hard to comprehend. It runs from the Tibetan Plateau in the north all the way down to Vietnam and Cambodia, creating borders, feeding villages, and acting as a major transportation system that is unsurpassed in Laos. Villages thrive along the river, many of which have only seasonal roadways and rely on the river for most contact with the outside world. The human dependence has had it’s environmental toll and there is a growing concern over this. The river, according to a citation in wikipedia, is second only to the Amazon in biodiversity. In a nutshell, it is the lifeblood of SE Asia. Humans, animals, plants- the entire foundation of life here is dependent on the preservation and greatness of the Mekong.

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We visited two villages and stopped off at the famous Buddha Caves. These three stops alone took up the entire day, and we did not return to town until around 5. To put this in perspective, organized tours return to town at 1pm. After spending a day on the river, we can’t figure out how the tours manage to rush people through so quickly.

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Our adventure offered a glimpse of real life in Laos, and we were happy to spend time simply wandering the dusty paths, greeting the locals, tasting home made rice whiskey, and viewing the dramatic mountains from tiny hidden walking paths. Having the chance to see these places on our own time was essential to the experience- I cannot imagine it any other way and would recommend that every traveler make the effort to do the same. The extra effort is worth every second.

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