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Laos – on the mekong river

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Center map

the local story – what happened

The Mekong is one of the largest and longest rivers in the world and is considered the lifeline of South-East Asia. It flows through 6 countries – China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam – and is an important resource for the people in its catchment area, both as a transport route and as a source of food.

After crossing the Thai-Laotian border at Chiang Khong, I went as fast as possible to the port of Huay Xai to take the next boat downriver to Luang Prabang. The view of the harbour was magnificent, but when I saw the ship and all those people who also wanted to go up, I immediately knew that this would not be a luxury cruise for the next 2 days.

Years ago I had once travelled almost 6000 km along the Amazon for 12 days, it was somehow more casual that time – you could hang up your hammock, everyone had enough space and it felt more like a holiday – this Mekong ship was unfortunately hopelessly crowded – as if you were sitting in a crowded coach.

Nevertheless it was an impressive experience, because on the river you get a short insight into the daily life of the remote peoples who live here far away from civilization, away from roads along the river.

The ship was travelling at a slow speed – we were regularly overtaken by other boats – sometimes they were just faster, but mostly they were really fast little motorboats. At very high speed they passed us and made a decent noise. There is a rule that the boatmen have to wear crash helmets, but the passengers do not, which I found really odd. 


Down the Mekong river, the river and the landscape had changed constantly. There were passages where you were driving over calm water, as if you were on a lake. A short time later, some rapids came and the boat started rocking as if you were sitting in a kayak. Wide stretches of land covered with rainforest followed karstic canyons.

After a few hours my english sitting neighbour noticed that there were no birds to be seen here at the river. This is something very untypical – because river landscapes are an excellent habitat for birds. We wondered together what the reason for this could be – our realization was then more in fun: they probably end up in the cooking pots in the villages.

The port of Luang Prabang is located a few kilometers outside the city, the ride to the center takes about 20 minutes. Until a few years ago it was still directly in the city – but apparently the TukTuk chauffeurs had not done enough business with it, so it was moved from the centre to the middle of nowhere. There are only a few ships arriving every day, but due to the prices, which are very high for Laotian standards, the drivers can now make a good living.

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