Bus, plane, bus, boat, bus, boat, walk, boat, bus south from Vientiane to spend time down on the lower reaches of the Mekong where the river is at its widest and the flow is at its slowest. Heavy with silt from the north and waiting for rain upstream to refresh & invigorate & re-energise these slow grinding waters, the river flows sedately downstream.
There is a calmess about this journey. The occasional fisherman doodles with his paddle & plays about with his net. Other than that, nothing disturbs the surface except for a swirl or two which hides an underwater obstacle or a clump of weed or foliage which protrude through the shallow waters, both of which the boatman skilfully avoids. The banks are so far apart that one has to turn ones’s head 180° to observe them both. They are lined with jungle with the isolated flashes of colour to suggest hidden villages or temples.
A sand bar indicates a long island. Don Daeng Island is 7 km long with a Mohican haircut of jungle down its length. The local Low Lao people make a living from fishing & growing sticky rice. The long fishing boats are tethered in the shallows awaiting their owners to take them out in the afternoon coolness, like dogs eagerly anticipating their evening walk.
The cross-river ferry terminal is a wonderful collection of jumbled up timber, rope & corrugated iron – vessels & pontoons & buildings. Several ferries cross the Mekong at this point. Each one is numbered. Each ferry has a superstructure constructed on 3/4 metal boats – a bit like a catamaran but there the likeness ends. From each side of the planked floor a ramp is suspended from two vertical poles so the vessel can dock facing any direction. A shabby wooden hut painted blue seems to offer passengers some shelter whilst the captain drives this contraption from an open, single cabin. When the engine starts up to move away from shore a huge plume of black smoke spurts up from one side suggesting that this is the back and the crab/dragon splurts & farts its way into
movement. Heath Robinson would be proud of the whole enterprise. The shadows lengthen, the silhouettes of hills & vessels & poles & cabins intensify and the Mekong starts to settle for the night. The river will carry on its perpetual movement, gliding past like a mirror reflecting some glassy surface.