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Mekong river boat to Luang Prabang; Udomxai, Luang Namtha, Muang Sing, Xieng Kok, Houixai during Mekong flood (06 - 14 August 2008)

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Xieng Kok is a small border town with some local small scale trading activities between tribal peoples on both sides of the Mekong river. Hmong, Shan, Lao, Akha, Bamar, Thai, Chinese and other tribal peoples cross the river to visit relatives and friends, sell and buy stuff. Farm produce and basic househole necessities such as charcoal kitchen fire pot, garden hand tools, and some Chinese made items.

Candle lit night in a guesthouse in Xieng Kok, northern Laos, Myanmar border
Candle lit night in a guesthouse in Xieng Kok, northern Laos border town with Myanmar's Shan state on other side of Mekong river

I stayed at Xieng Kok resort - a line of rustic wooden huts overlooking the Mekong river. Electricity was limited. Bathroom was fitted with Asian style squat toilet. A mosquito net was provided. You could order only Lao and Chinese style meals at the restaurant. The town itself was a small one with a market, custom and immigration office, a few restaurants and several home front grocery stores selling mostly vegetable, some fruits and regional-made foods, instant noodles; torch light, batteries, flasks, clothes and cloths, and hand tools.

Peoples came in a boat to Xieng Kok from Shan state across the Mekong river
Peoples came in a boat to Xieng Kok from Shan state across the Mekong river

I did not see a bank. There were no atm machine, no Internet. The bus service between Xieng Kok and Muang Lone (and Muang Sing) is purely on demand. Usually there should be at least one truck or bus going between these two towns each way. You have to ask someone for the time. I searched for possible slow boat down the Mekong to Houixai. Only speed boats were available, but again on rental basic.

A Chinese cargo boat going downstream Mekong
A Chinese cargo boat sruising down the Mekong

The next day, after spending few hours walking around the town I finally got altogether four people to take the speed boat down the river. Two were from Shan state and would get off somewhere in the middle of the journey on the Myanmar bank. I and another fellow Lao passenger would continue to Tong Phueng - a Lao town opposite Thailand's Chieng Saen.

The speed boat ride on Mekong river
The speed boat ride on Mekong river

On the right is Shan sate of Myanmar (Burma), on the left is Luang Namtha province of Laos. We were going downstream to the triangle where Thailand's Chiang Rai province meets with Myanmar and Laos. Since I was concerned about the safety I asked the boat man not to drive too fast. We were provided life jackets.

Arriving Tong Phueng
Arriving Tong Phueng

The trip took less than 3 hours. We were lucky that we had got only few periods of light shower along the cruise even though the sky was cloudy and windy. The buc stop and custom port were located next to each other in Thong Phueng. But the passengers were lacking. The truck driver would not start the engine with only two passengers. So we waited, ate noddle soup at a small restaurant, waited. At noon there was no progress and so we kept on waiting. Finally a truck pulled in with few passengers, and the driver agreed to take us as far as it could go. I was puzzled, why was it as far as possible? What was going on? We were going to Houixai. I knew later why.

Passing a flooded road section on a tractor
Passing a flooded road section on a tractor

At 3:30 p.m. we arrived at the place where the road was flooded and our low suspension truck could not go. However a couple of farm tructors were available to transport peoples and goods across the waters. So we arrived at the other end minus the truck. The waiting game started again.

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