Mekong meanderings – Part One: Meeting the Prime Minister … and a local

Mekong RiverI decided one day that it would be nice to follow the Mekong river by road as this mighty river is nearly 3000 miles long and acts as the border with Laos for about 600 miles. Great idea I thought but totally misjudged the distances as my rear end found out over the next few days riding the motorcycle. I decided to ride upstream as I thought it would get prettier as the river narrowed, but it doesn't you see – it’s enormous! The river seems about half a mile wide all the way to Nong Khai where there is a “Friendship Bridge” giving close access to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. There are only about four bridges across the river but loads of ferries.

I had ridden for 4 days by then and decided to either spend the night sat in a bowl of iced water with several dozen paracetemol in it or rest. I chose the latter.  After a couple of days off including a trip to the capital of Laos I decided to press on. I was still getting my head round sitting in Vientiane in the middle of austere surroundings, which seem inevitable in communist countries, and being able to buy a French style baton and fantastic coffee, all that was missing was an accordion playing. Now the scenery started to change and got more interesting.

I followed a sign to a waterfall and was amazed at the amount of police there when I arrived, must be a murder I thought so being nosey went to have a look. I met a party of official looking people walking towards me and politely stepped off the path so they could pass. The lead man stopped and in perfect English chatted about where I had been etc. then moved on. Later that day sat in my hotel room I watched on TV the Prime Minister of Thailand visiting the waterfall just before he stopped and chatted to me. Nearly famous.

Restaurant overlooking the Mekong riverThe topography was getting rugged with more waterfalls to see as well as caves. I was sat by the river having a break when I became aware of movement behind me and turned just in time to see a little old man on a bicycle far bigger than him. He was losing control of it and heading off down the slipway next to me. With an entry that would have made many a lifeboat crew envious he went into the river with a tangle of legs, handlebars and wheels. I rushed down laughing at the same time to help him up as he was in shallow water. I soon realised what had caused the launching as he breathed the after burn of the local rice spirit at me. He couldn't stand and I only wished I'd seen him wobble up the road before he spotted me and stared, as they all do, with the bike taking the same direction as he was looking. We chatted for a while until I established where he lived and motioned that I would take him to his village on the back of my motorcycle. I was just regretting the offer when his grand-daughter arrived and with a look that said “not again” she thanked me and sat him on the back of her scooter and with a bit of rope tied round them both to stop him falling off slowly disappeared.

I found a wonderful place to stay that night, a wooden shack on stilts out over the Mekon with aircon and an adjoining bar/restaurant. I sat and watched the sun go down with a cold beer still smiling at the day’s events.

•  Read Part Two: Carry on regardless

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Steve Francis

Thailand tour guide

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