From the glisty lights & the fuming traffic & the high risers & the noise & heat & humidity of in-yer-face Bangkok I fly north to Chiangrai. Here I step out into rural Thailand, take a bus to the Lao border passing date palm & rubber plantations, fields of rice & wheat with colourful, God painted combines swirling their blades like Mississippi river steamers ploughing through their waters, mango trees, palms, coconuts, bananas & coffee. There is the bridge across to Laos and the first sighting of the great Mekong, SE Asia’s greatest river. A short journey brings me to Ban Houai Sei & my first night with the Lao people.
Let’s sort one thing out. The country was names Laos by the French & is inhabited by numerous tribes of the Lao people who speak Lao. OK? Got it?
Ban Houei Sei is a one-horse town with a single main Street. Homes open out onto the street on either side and punters walk through front rooms & past families eating to use the bars, eateries, hostels, hippy tat shops & general stores. How any if them make any money is unclear. A family member sits at a low plastic stool at the entrance to each waiting for the occasional young backpacker to wander in for a beer or a packet of crisps or yellow noodle soup. Occasionally a large Toyota cruises by driven by what looks like a 14 year old or a couple of scooters, whole families on board, gently disturb the peace of main street.. Everyone seems so young but all have smiles & welcomes.
Through a narrow opening steps lead up to the monastery where dusk welcomes the young monks to prayer & the Mekong carries on its glide down to Vietnam and the ocean.