Australian Passenger Shares about His Cruise on RV Champa Pandaw
by Top Mekong Cruises Apr 25, 2017
We are starting our 10-day journey from capital of Laos – Vientiane to northern Thailand by taking a cruise on Mekong river. However, at the outset, the operation of dams on the upstream and the low level of water cause us to spend several hours on driving to north.
Touching the opposite ear, then you can start your education at school. The new notion of school age – “touch-your-ear” seems to become the most effective measure to decide when kids can go to school in Ban Phar Leib – the village situated on the bank of Mekong river. The students of two-room school give us their national anthem song and we give them our presents (just notebooks and pens) before they see us back to our ship, RV Champa Pandaw.
We are starting our 10-day journey from capital of Laos - Vientiane to northern Thailand by taking a cruise on Mekong river. However, at the outset, the operation of dams on the upstream and the low level of water cause us to spend several hours on driving to north.
The ship Champa Pandaw was all made of steak, brass and equipped with air-conditioning, ensuites and G&Ts. It can be said to be the re-creation of the classic Irrawaddy Flotilla steamer. After being able to turning upstream, we start to cruise on the section of Mekong river in Laos whose name rhymes with “now” in English instead of “chaos” or “houses”.
The Mekong flowing through six countries such as China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam is considered as Asia’s “Big Muddy”. On the journey in Laos, we get chance to see whirlpools, enjoy sunny days, contemplate narrow ravines and sandbanks.
We also often spend time on visiting some inland destinations. The first visit is in the town of Pak Lai where we can find the harmony of yellow buildings built by French and Buddhist wat.
The long bell with the weird shape was put in the wat. And the flag of red and yellow with hammer and sickle decorated on it reminds us the official name of Laos - the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic.
We are in the Hydro Age. However, when driving the ship through gorges we feel like step back to the Iron Age due to the teak and bamboo-forested walls. The huge Sayaburi dam is one of preventers on our way.
Laos is not a land abundant in resources, but rich in Mekong waters. With the system of dams in which some are operated, some are uncompleted and some are planned to build, Laos is considered as “the battery of Southeast Asia”. The ship is driven toward the western side of the dam. After we are safely into the lock, the gates close and the power of the flow pushes our big ship climbs a water stair easily.
The Mekong – the 10th-longest river in the world offers a significant route for trading and migration in Southeast Asia. Country boats crossing over the river from Vientiane to Luang Phrabang, the speedboats with its unique sound, pirogues and boats with goods which drive towards Jinghong, China make sense of the bustle.
Our captain is a 62-year-old man. He does not need the assistance of electronics, just with the eyes of experienced sailors the river’s whorls seems to be nothing to him. We cruising during the daytime and cast the anchor beside jungle beaches at night.
The 23 passengers on the ship come from England, America, Australia, Switzerland and France. At meals, we mix the seats freely. I hear several interesting stories and information, for instance, the life of Vietnamese when they were under the French rule or submarine service.
On the next days, we hike in some villages or Buddhist Lao communities and visit schools, wats, markets and weavers. We cruise toward the north, see the life of people on the river bank and the forests keeping safe for their creatures out of the range of the hunters and tourist lenses.
The picturesque views of the river and the shore which are “painted” with the color of dense mist and the monochrome dawn of the sun are really amazing gifts on the early cold mornings.
After driving 300km from Vientiane we stop at the next destination - Luang Prabang.
As one of tourist hub in Laos, the embodiment of Buddhism, French heritage and royal Lao history offers us its 32 temples. At dawn, we meet monks walking through streets to receive food donation. And when the sun is higher, the city is lively with the operation of chic shops and cafes on the historic streets.
The wonderful land – Luang Prabang gives me remarkable memories with the golden-roofed wats, moon rock, the 1904 Royal Palace, old pictures of the last Lao king dancing with Ho Chi Minh, the 400-year-old Wat Xieng Thong temple and the period of time for sitting in a riverside café to see sunset when I spend two nights in this destination.
On the trip to North Thailand, we also get chance to see 4000 Buddha statues which are put to face the river in Pak Ou caves. Although the Mekong River is blocked by dams and reef, its flow of water is still very strong. In this remote area, sometimes we can get the signal to surf the internet but soon the signal is lost. We are on the decks several time and our mind “fly” with river’s silhouette ridges and the images of sun rise and moon fall.
Depending on the geography, the Mekong will be referred with different names which reflect the mythologies such as Nine Dragon River or River of Bends. Before travel to Thailand, we take time in Pak Beng where attracts many backpackers.
Next day, we leave the Chinese Special Economic Zone in Laos to approach the bank of Thailand. We drive ship to the border port of Ban Houay Xai for immigration. Then we are on the river at Chiang Khong, which means that it’s time to say goodbye with the ship named after the national flower of Laos to start our land journey in the famous Golden Triangle.
The Golden Triangle is “the junction on the Mekong River where Myanmar, Laos and northern Thailand meet”. In Thailand, it seems no longer be the opium-producing area of Asia like in the past, since nowadays "cabbages have replaced poppies", tourism is the source for people to earn money, and a huge golden Buddha “control” the life. This area enables us to visit the Hall of Opium museum where the past is displayed and offer us rewarding regions to relax in the towns of Chiang Khong and Chiang Sean.
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