Along the Banks of the Mekong River – Day 2
The Mekong River, Laos
It was a pretty gloomy morning in Pak Beng, as were all mornings along the Mekong River for us. The low hanging clouds were not helping our moral as we trudged down the piers and boarded back onto the Nagi of Mekong. We had stayed the night at the Phetsokxai Hotel, a relatively basic, but perfect-for-the-time hotel in what was seemingly the heart of the charming town of Pak Beng, Laos. Our guide, Pheng, had taken eight of us ‘younger’ folk from the cruise out to “his friend’s” restaurant before swinging us by the only bar in town where we proceeded to drink nearly all the booze out of the place. Literally – At the end of the night, the bartender held up two quarter-full unlabeled bottles and said, “I have whiskey. Or, whiskey.” Drinking a town dry did not bode well for us the next morning.
I woke up in my bucket seat on the Nagi of Mekong to sunny skies and somehow a very minimal Lao-Whiskey hangover. Most of my group was still passed out so I grabbed my camera, GoPro, and 3-in-1 coffee and went to the bow (again, have to be nautical) of the boat to hang my legs over the side and enjoy the humid breeze. I had kind of noticed it the day before, but this new perspective at the front really made me realize how quickly we were actually cruising down this river and how much attention the captain had to pay to really navigate around the rocks – he was ‘threading the needle’ a good amount through this river. It really caught me off guard when he came out from the cabin to ask me about my GoPro with the same silent curiosity as the kids the night before.
The second day on the Nagi of Mekong was exactly like the first – We hung out, drank some beers, and took a lot of pictures. As the day got later and we got closer to Luang Prabang, we were stopping at both the Pak Ou (Tam Ting) Caves and Whiskey Village (Ban Xang Hai) – both apparently large tourist day-trips for anyone coming through Luang Prabang. The Tim Tang caves aren’t necessarily the most impressive caves, but they’re religiously significant and over 4,000 status of Buddha reside in them. The lower cave is the prominent landmark 60 meters above the river, visible from the Mekong as the boats pull up, and houses 2,500 of the Buddha status.
Whiskey Village was a different experience then Ban Houy Pwa Lam the day before in that there were actually booths set up with locals selling goods. To me, the people still seemed less-than-thrilled that a bunch of Westerners were being paraded around their village, but at least there was the opportunity for tourism to support the locals. And it just seemed more established than Ban Houy Pwa Lam – the clear disparity of a flourishing economy based on actual tourism versus the apparent stagnant economy in the more remote village the the day before.
Luang Prabang would turn out to be my favorite part of the entire trip (more to come) and the lure of the city was quickly apparent, even from afar. But, as inviting as it seemed when the boat pulled in, I really didn’t want this cruise to end yet. It had been two days of doing pretty much the same thing and I easily could have just kept going. As I’m closing this up (and the cruise was ending…), I’ve realized this post might come off as overall negative with me talking about massive hangovers, “unimpressive” caves, and village exploitations, but that’s not really my intention at all. Without those elements, I’d just be repeating, “the scenery was beautiful” and “it was relaxing.” It’s now two months later when I’m finally getting around to writing all this stuff and thinking back to the 21 days I spent in Southeast Asia, the Nagi of Mekong trip was one of the biggest highlights of my trip (#2). It was one of the most beautiful and relaxing travel experiences of my life that let me see a lot of unique cultures and landscapes.