The best laid plans……

I had booked myself into a very nice hotel in Chang Mai for one night before I was due to board an evening flight to Bangkok and from there overnight to London and due to arrive at dawn on Monday. However after a quick bout of Temple, pagoda and Stupas I decided to spend a few hour by the pool.

Received an email alerting me to the fact that my flight from Chiang Mai had been rescheduled so that I would not make the connection to London. So several hours booking myself onto flight the next day and hotel at Chiang Mai Airport. All very tedious as was the 13 hour daytime flight to Heathrow!! Arrived late evening and checked into hotel at Heathrow before driving through freezing fog to Flete on Tuesday morning.

Max collected from Kennels on Wednesday morning. Very happy to be home (Me & Max).

Thai Airways now added to my sh1t list of airlines. Appalling service, uncomfortable seat, inedible food and eye watering cost for business class !

Will publish this and probably write an “epilogue” in due course. R

The final leg before heading home

The final leg of the cruise was spent traversing more rapids and venturing upstream until the low water level caused by those Chinese dams was as far as we could go. Thailand on the left bank and Laos on the right. A few km upstream of the Friendship Bridge we moored up and went through a somewhat tedious process of exiting Laos and entering Thailand. A minibus back to the Friendship Bridge to depart from Laos, A bus across the bridge and Thai immigration before another minibus ride back to the Laos Pandaw which has now moored on the Thai side of the river after a 100m repositioning.

A last night on board with a farewell from the staff and crew, some Thai dancing and a final, somewhat subdued “last supper” on board.

Disembarked early the next morning for a final excursion to the Golden Triangle and an Opium Museum. The Golden “Triangle” is a pretty murky part of the world where Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Thailand meet, and with a couple of “disputed” territories, is where the majority of the worlds Heroin and more recently Methamphetamine is produced. The Myanmar military seems be be the major benefactor here but the UK. and US both have a lot to answer for! The UK for having started the Opium trade in the 19th century, and indeed fought wars over it. The US for supporting and enabling it during the Vietnam war etc.

A final Thai Lunch, a group photo and then lots of farewells as we all headed off to either Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai and either home or to continue travelling to a variety of destinations. I headed for Chang Mai – a 5 hr ride in a minibus to start the long haul back to Blighty.

Drama as we head upstream !!

He headed upstream from Luang Prabang for two days cruising through stunning scenery and very little in the way of population. The river fluctuated between wide and shallow to narrow and fast flowing. This involved negotiating many sets of rapids and eddies and on several occasions we were virtually stationary as our three engines, driving three propellers of various sizes, struggled to make headway. Before we knew it the captain pulled over to the bank and announced that we might have cracked a propeller so they needed to get the engineering department to go over the side for an inspection as the worst rapids were yet to come !

The inspection confirmed that it was somewhat more than cracked ! However our ever resourceful Pandaw crew somehow had it replaced and we were underway again in just over an hour.

With a major set of rapids still to come the Captain wasn’t taking any chances and a series of ropes were deployed and tethered to a large tree with a view to using the ships winches to tow us if required.

We made it without resorting to winches and soon crossed paths with one of our “sister ships” Champa Pandaw heading downstream with a “cargo” of French tourists on board.

A couple of excursions to remote local villages with many fascinated, and on the whole smiley and enthusiastic people. All living off the land and river,

Many locals along the banks panning for gold. And quite a number of major mining operations along the way. Some very dramatic sections of the river….

Stunning scenery all the way. We finally made it to a sand bar “beach” where cocktails, a barbecue and even dancing to an old Elvis album. I was not a participant but a great effort by the crew after their very energetic day with the rapids

Doing my best to avoid the dancing !!!

Luang Prebang

Luang Prebang was the royal capital of Laos until the communist takeover in 1975. It was once the administrative capital of Laos and an old French colonial town on the banks of the Mekong and it’s tributary, the Nam Khan . A great vibe and very popular with backpackers and adventurous travellers. Lots of boutique hotels, shops, spas, cafes and restaurants. Also numerous temples (wats) and palaces all accessible by foot or tuk-tuk, as well as a thriving night market. The locals still continue a traditional rural lifestyle involving farming and trading.

We arrived at our mooring in the centre of town for 3 nights of exploring the town and surrounding area.

A slightly strange ceremony and blessing on board on evening followed by some traditional Laotian dancing before I ventured out for the first of two delicious dinners in the local restaurants.

Checked out the Night market but resisted the temptation to buy anything. Having spent most of last year downsizing prior to my move back to the UK, the last thing I need is any more global clutter ! Visited “the worlds best silk workshop” interesting but overpriced.

Set off upriver through stunning scenery to another remote village selling local “whisky” in bottles containing the obligatory snakes, spiders and scorpions and a vast assortment of silk and cotton textiles etc.

Okay it’s a fair cop I did buy a few scarves to support the local community and maybe keep me warm once I get back to Devon !

Transferred to a long boat for a visit to an amazing set of caves containing thousands of Buddha statues. Accessed by approx 300 steps which got the calf muscles whinging a bit, but great views back over the river.

Back to the Mothership for a last few days cruising before crossing over into Thailand and the long trip home …..

Mekong Excursions on the way to Luang Prabang

Having made it to the Laos Pandaw as the sun went down we awoke to thick fog which delayed our departure until it cleared. Unfortunately this meant that we were unable to stop at Pak Lao – an old French colonial outpost. So we spent the day cruising up the spectacular Mekong River.

We stopped of during the afternoon to stretch our legs and visit a local village. Very friendly locals who must have thought that we were from another planet. Very remote and seemingly self sufficient with an assortment of livestock including pigs and chickens etc.

Various photos of village life – including a rack of dried rat – a local delicacy apparently. Lots on dogs and puppies running around and way too much talk about how they are also on the menu.

After clearing the dam/locks we dropped in on another village. A different ethnic group and a very different vibe. No electricity and a pretty low standard of living compared to the previous village. Prone to discrimination due to them having allied themselves and fought along side the US forces during the “secret war” that never happened in the late sixties.

Cruised on up the river/lake to Muang Khay Village on the way to Luang Prebang. Visited a stunning series of waterfalls with a bear sanctuary attached. Followed by a visit to a dismal Butterfly Farm followed by an even more tedious visit to a buffalo, rabbit and pig farm. A paint drying exhibition would have been more interesting !!!!!

Cruised on upstream and moored at Luang Prabang for a 2 night stay. Details and Photos to follow….

A Rant about the Mekong Dams…..

The Mekong River is one of the longest and most powerful rivers in the World. Starting in Tibet, it flows for 2700 miles through China, into Laos, through Cambodia and Vietnam to the Mekong Delta and into the South China Sea. For millennia the fertile silt that it has generated has supported the many communities and civilisations along its banks. The rice production alone has fed entire populations as well as supporting the economy with exports of rice across the planet. The fishing industry also has been a major contributor to feeding and supporting the entire indochinese peninsular. The river is both spectacular and powerful and supports an entire ecosystem that has evolved around it’s bountiful waters. The Delta itself, which produces a considerable quantity of the worlds rice harvest, relies on its flow to hold back the incursion of salt water which would/will render it infertile.

The Chinese have already built literally dozens of dams along the Mekong in China and its many tributaries. The first major dam has already been built in Laos to generate electricity to sell to Thailand. Many more are planned with construction work already underway in several locations. Entire villages and communities had been forced to relocate to higher ground and their entire way of life disrupted.

Many of the dams upstream are rumoured to be built/planned with no locks thus rendering them unnavigable. So from a purely selfish point of view this will put an end to river cruising. However far more importantly it will be another nail in the coffin of Mother Earth, and do untold damage to the livelihood of the local population!!

Below is the only dam that we will encounter on this trip. It’s impact on the river that we have so far encountered has been in evidence since we arrived in Vientiane.

The Captain heads off to check the water levels and put markers in where there is a hazardous submerged tree

Then through the large double lock to the upriver stretch of the river that is now a lake all the way to our next stop at Luang Prabang.

OK Rant over !!!!! I’m too old to become an eco warrior! Back to Pandaw, cruising and excursions……

Off up the Mighty Mekong

After a night in Hanoi – Still in the throws of Chinese New Year mayhem – we flew from Hanoi to Vientiane. What a contrast !!! Ten degrees warmer and a totally different vibe altogether. Nine of us from the N Vietnam cruise joined up with about 10 new recruits for the next leg of this adventure.

An afternoon with a whistle stop tour of some of the temples and landmarks of Vientiane which used to be the French capital of Laos when the French ran Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

The Mekong is one of the worlds greatest rivers flowing from Tibet, through China into Laos and on through Cambodia and Vietnam to the South China Sea. Thanks to numerous dams that the Chinese and now the Laotians have built to generate electricity to sell to Thailand and others, the water level has been reduced to a very large trickle during the “dry” season. As a result the Pandaw boat cannot get down to Vientiane so we were up at dawn for a 3 hour bus ride to get us to a very long longboat which will take us up river for six hours to join the Laos Pandaw – our home for the next 10 days.

A delicious Laotian/Thai lunch cooked and prepared onboard by our Pandaw crew. A minor problem with the gearbox – soon overcome and we were off…..