The morning mist hovered around the mountains as I stood on our little balcony and gazed at the mighty Mekong, watching as the various boat captains began preparations for departures. We showered, packed our day packs, (luggage remained on the boat overnight, so a change of clothes, toiletries and passport came with us in our back packs).
Say was meeting us at 6.30am to walk us to the boat and he had arranged for our guest house to pack us a breakfast, so off we went armed with sustenance for the morning.
We soon lost our jaunty demeanour, as we rounded the bend and headed for the boat, we noticed the River had risen overnight and the gangplank was now submerged in muddy, murky Mekong river water.
I had put some special purchases of Indigo material in my back pack to keep them safe, the thought of falling into the Mekong and getting that wet really worried me, then of course, our passports!! I had visions of soggy wombats, soggy back packs and soggy and useless passports!!
The Boat Family tried to concoct an ad-hoc plank and I felt my stress levels rise, the plank is sooo long and is steep and over lots of water. Did I mention it is only centimeters wide?? It takes Say and both the Boatmen to get me up and on the boat, with a viewing audience of dozens from adjoining boats. They were even more entertained, when minutes later, Mr Wombat loses his footing and slips into the River. After an athletic and impressive recovery, Mr Wombat is back on the plank and up on the boat. We cast off immediately and we are the first boat to leave.
We enjoyed a tasty breakfast with a nice hot cup of tea and we settle back for another relaxing day. The jungle is luxuriously thick and green, with the amazing smell that only comes from an unpolluted environment. I had downloaded a heap of books to read on this journey, but I never even took my tablet out of the bag. The scenery and the River were riveting, mesmerising and calming, all at once and I could not tear myself away. When our Boatman would tack from one side of the River across to the other, I would change sides so I could see everything as we hugged the bank. The Mekong is dangerous, with swirlng and seething whirlpools in large areas, tons of debris that has washed down during the rains and deceiving currents.
Keeping to the sides of the River appeared to be the tactic and it allowed amazing views of villages and hill tribe people going about their life. It was incredible to sail past 2 working elephants that had been brought to the waters edge by their mahouts, such a surprise.
Today we stopped to visit a village and we were able to wander around with Say and see parts of the village that had hung on to its traditional roots and parts that were modernising. I was originally skeptical about this stop, we have visited villages in the past and have found them to be a tourist trap and disrespectful to the villagers. However, this was not the case, no one here but us and the people who live here. No one selling souvenirs, no human zoo. Say showed us many fruit and vegetable trees, bushes and plants and we watched them building new houses. There were animals everywhere, ducks, chickens, pigs, goats all inevitably destined for the dinner table.
Back onboard and we were greeted with a delicious lunch of morning glory and pork, vegetable and tofu soup and sticky rice, absolutely delicious. Papaya for dessert and tea and coffee as we made the final run to the border crossing at Huay Xai.
We motored under the new Friendship Bridge but were really surprised that it was still another 30 minutes before we reached our docking point. Consequently, we were late arriving, this caused much concern as there was NOWHERE to dock! The Boat family tried a variety of places but there was no room to unload us. I had already noticed the obvious chaos with boats unloading cargo, cars and trucks parked everywhere and people milling about, so I wondered how we were going to get our gear off and up the hill to our waiting van. Thank goodness for Say! It is worth spending the money on a guide for border crossings, such a massive help.
Finally, with no other solution, our boat noses up to a window of an already docked boat. Seriously?? Mr Wombat climbs through then I do, only to get my pack caught on the window. There was much pushing and thumping as my pack was manoeuvred through the window and I was given a massive shove by Mrs Boat lady!! I regained my footing and climbed through someone else's boat and out across to dry land.
Mr Wombat was in charge of the other bags, with he, Say and both Boatmen lugging them out. Say struggled with the heaviest bag, maybe he can use the generous tip we gave him for the hernia operation he now needs!! We load everything onto the very nice van that is waiting for us and immediately leave for the border, such a process.
Arriving at the Laos side of the border, we pay $1 US to an Immigration official with no personality and head through to catch the bus across the Friendship Bridge to the Thai Immigration entry point. Say had accompanied us up to this point, he bought our bus tickets and explained what we were to do. This was the end of his role, we couldn't thank him enough, he had taken amazing care of us and he was such a lovely young guy. We swapped details, emails, What's App etc and promises of a good review on Trip Advisor and with his Boss. We bid him a warm farewell, caught the bus, then through Thai Immigration with no issues and we are back in the 'Land of Smiles.'
This trip was to be one of our highlights and it certainly didn't disappoint. We loved every minute and can not speak more highly of Nagi of Mekong, and Adisak, the Manager, who liased with me in the months leading up to the trip. We have such wonderful memories and already we find ourselves humming, 'Cats on the Table'.........