Boat trip offers new challenges in the rainy season

After many weeks of rain, there’s been so much flooding in Laos that it’s hard to travel anywhere unimpeded.
This year, widespread flooding has caused problems throughout the country and thousands of people have lost their belongings and farmland, while several dozen have died.
In Laos most people travel by road while those who can afford it take a plane but not many people can travel this way as it’s expensive.
Boat travel is another option given Laos’ many rivers but at this time of the year it’s a risky undertaking on the swollen and fast-flowing rivers, which also carry a large amount of flotsam and jetsam.

The sun sets over the Mekong.

But with so many roads cut off by floods and landslides, some sections washed out and many bridges impassable, road transport is no longer an option in many places.
That means people have two choices, they either go by plane which costs a lot or they travel by boat which is much cheaper but takes a lot longer.
Last week, a 20-year-old named Khamman Xaisychan told me about his experiences when he took his first boat trip from Luang Prabang to Oudomxay province where he lives.
He had wanted to travel by bus but this wasn’t possible because some of the bridges along the way were broken. So he had to change his plans and go by boat.
“By the time I made the journey, it had rained for about three days nonstop. I was really afraid about going by boat because the river was so high and there was a lot of dead wood in the water,” Khamman said.
“But in the end I had a lovely journey,” he added with a smile.
The boat left Luang Prabang after 8am when all the passengers were settled – about 60 people altogether.
It was Khamman’s first long boat trip and it took 10 hours to get to Pakbaeng district.
Khamman is a good swimmer but he was still afraid when he climbed on board the boat because the water was even higher than he expected and there were so many pieces of driftwood passing by.
He worried that the boat would break up if it was hit by a large piece of wood, especially as they were moving at a fast pace.
“It was about 8am when I went to the boat but it was still quite dark because of the rain clouds. Fortunately the sky soon cleared when the rain stopped,” Khamman said.
He was enthusiastic as he described the amazing scenes that unfolded as the boat passed along the riverbank and revealed the daily activities of the villagers. He could see them farming and fishing and sometimes saw livestock grazing.
He tried to look at both sides of the river but it was difficult because the river was so wide because of the huge volume of water it now carried.
To his surprise, he enjoyed his time in the boat drinking in the fascinating landscapes that passed by.
The breeze brushed his face and sometimes he fell asleep, but he didn’t want to miss the beautiful sights that fascinated him and made the journey pass more quickly.
“The best time was in the late afternoon when the rain had completely stopped and the sky cleared. We had strong sunshine and it was very beautiful when the sun set behind a hill. The light on the water was amazing – I’ll never forget that scene even though it didn’t last long,” he recalled.
The journey normally takes about seven hours but because of the high water level the boat had to go more slowly and it stopped several times because of engine problems that needed to be fixed.
Khamman said he completely forgot his fear and no longer felt the river was dangerous. But he advised others contemplating a boat trip to prepare themselves by taking some food along and always wearing a life jacket, especially in the wet season.
“Now I’m thinking about my return to Luang Prabang and wondering if I should take the boat again. Even if the road and bridges are passable, travel by road won’t provide me with such a wonderful experience,” Khamman said.

By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update September 8, 2018)

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