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Mekong river boat journey: Houixai, Pakbeng to Luang Prabang: 09 - 14 Feb 2007
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Red and pink flowers greeted us on the dirt road to enter the village of Lao Liu tribe people. BanKun Ting is a larger, 170 houses, community with dirt dry season road link (this needs to be confirmed) to Hong Sa - a place welknown for its logging elephants. The village without electricity has a primary school, grocery shops, and farms producing rice, corn, vegetable, chilli. People keep chicken, ducks, turkey, and some elephants! Coconut palms and bananas lined the village road. We saw some people weaving clothes by hand.
Begining in the highland of Tibet (Xizang Autonomous region of China) and Yunan, the origin of Mekong (Lancang Jiang river in China) is formed by cold water streams and snows from a wide area of mountains many of them higher than 5000 meters. The river flows through different climates, lands and ethnic areas for thousands of kilometers to reach low hills of South East Asia. Along the way thousands of mountain streams and rivers fill in to help make the river bigger, replenish for losses, and more spicy. Here in northern Laos river dwelling village people grow peanut or ground nut in the sands, search for gold (gold panning) or other precious stones in the sediment, find fish, and settle communities near the fertile land where they grow rice, corn and vegetable. In the forest there are wood too.
Just a comparison to see how the geography looks like where the Mekong (Lancang Jiang river in China) is in Tibet (Xizang Autonomous region of China) at the elevation of about 3740 meters above sea level, 290 km north from border with India's Arunachal Pradesh province and 410 km from Myanmar's Kachin state border. (Google Earth image)
The dry inlet of small mountain brook into the Mekong. In the dry season (January to May) many small streams are dry and empty, and the Mekong itself is lower exposing more sands and rocks. Traveling on low water, boat captains must look out for rocks that can hit the boat and boat bottom. More white waters are encountered during the dry season. Whilst boating during the wet season (June to October) floating logs and trees are another kind of danger to steer clear off.
Future Mekong captain in making. Life of river boat people is part of the river story and history. Many different lives begin and end on and around the river. Some boat people are carpenters or boat builders themselves - and could be the owners of the boat too. Others are just boat drivers and operators; though they also possess ability to repair the boat when necessary. Some divide their life on the river and at home, others may live on the boat most of the time. Some are natives of the river region while there are people who come from other provinces to work on the river. On this boat parents and their child live in a cabin at the rear end of the boat. Their living world consists of a space to sleep, a toilet which is also used by passengers during the cruise, and a room for cooking and eating and keeping things.
Captain's T-shirt and his wife's sarongs being dried hanging at the aft of the boat. It is obvious from the fact that between a quarter to a third of the boat length is for the crew members, they must virtualy live there. The baby child is also being raised on the boat and on the river. The wood planks painted green are the walls of their home. After the fish and rice dinner, while docking at a village sand beach, they would tell the child about the relationship between the moon and the waters, various stories of the river, and probably about people of villages along the Mekong. The baby is learning.
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