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Mekong, etc.

Mekong River   |   villages   |   Pak Beng   |   etc.

August, 2004

Laos photo.
Luang Say Riverboat

— River Boats

There are 3 ways to travel on the Mekong River from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. The traditional way is to take the slow ferries. In the past, you might be sitting on top of a cargo of almost anything. Today, there are enough tourists to justify seats for all. The boats are cheap ($13 for a 2-day trip) but the seats are hard, and you have to find your own food and accomodations along the way.

Then there are the speed boats which make the entire trip in about 6 hours and cost about $20. They look like something out of a road runner cartoon. They are incredibly loud, even from across the river. Earplugs are a must. They are also dangerous, particularly as the river level falls in the dry season, exposing more and more rocks. Life jackets, crash helmets, and white knuckles are the uniform of the day.

We chose a gentler approach, with the Luang Say river boat (see photo at left) that traveled at modest speeds and stopped at villages along the way. We had room to move around and view the sights, and good food and lodging included.

Laos photo.
Weaving for sale

— Cotton Weaving

The women in some of the Mekong River villages weave decorative cotton fabrics that they sell to the tourists. The process starts with removing the cotton seeds with a small hand-cranked cotton gin. The villagers also prepare their own natural dyes to color the yarns before weaving. Finally, they use a large loom to weave the fabric. The women produce nice looking fabrics with bright colors and interesting patterns (see the photo at left). The whole process must take many hours, perhaps days, to accomplish. They were asking 400 baht ($10). We bought a very nice piece of bright green fabric, and did not bargain for a lower price.

Laos photo.
Rice whiskey

— Rice Whiskey

Many villages along the River produce rice whiskey from the sticky (or "dry") rice. The process begins with a mash of sticky rice and water which fements in earthenware pots to form a bubbly alcoholic liquid something like beer. It is then heated in an old steel drum over a wood fire. The alcohol vapors are collected at the top of the drum and piped into another jar. It is then bottled for sale (photo at left). No aging is required.

We did not try the rice whiskey, but others did. From the looks on their faces, we think it is definitely an acquired taste.

Laos photo.
Pak Ou Cave entrance

— Index —


— Pak Ou Caves

Just a short trip upriver from Luang Prabang is the mouth of the Nam Ou River. On the opposite shore is a large limestone cliff which houses two caves of great importance to the local Buddhist people. The caves were first dedicated to the spirits of the river before the arrival of the Buddhist religion in the 15th century; now they house thousands of small Buddha statues. The statues were brought here by pilgrims over the centuries. There are two caves. The lower cave, Tham Ting, is easily reached by a short flight of stairs (see photo, at left). The upper cave, Tham Phum, is at the top of a fairly long staircase. The upper cave was a disappointment, not worth the climb unless you have the proper religious passion.


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Jim and Jamie Richter, http://gotouring.com/razzledazzle/
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Created 8/2004. All text & photos are © 2004 Jim Richter.