At 7:30 a.m. a call from tourism guru, Peter Semone: “I want to cruise the Mekong from the Chinese border to Vientiane. Can you arrange it?”
“Sure,” I had no idea. “What’s this about?”
He needed to survey the waterway for “Mekong River-based Tourism Product Development Strategy” a UN report identifying “ports” with tourism potential and researching the current Mekong cruise situation.
First, we had to sail from Luang Nam Tha’s Ban Say to Huay Xay, where the Mekong temporarily ends its border role with Thailand, and an armada awaits to haul tourists to Luang Prabang. No passenger vessels plied our upriver route. The blogosphere documented failed penny-pinching attempts.
Somsavath of Phou Iu Travel could get us from Ban Say to isolated Xieng Khaeng, but no guarantee of onward passage. “How about a guide and ride to Xieng Kok?” They had local boats, and Pandaw Cruises stops eight times a year on Golden Triangle-Kunming, China voyages.
A gaggle of skippers sat at Xieng Kok’s gravel jetty. They ferried people and goods to Myanmar. Not interested in Huay Xay. “How much to buy a boat?” I asked, “because that’s what we’ll pay.” $300.
We spent five hours puttering through green wilderness, stopping at ethnic villages never visited, before reaching the Golden Triangle and Ban Ton Paeng’s floating wooden dock at dusk. A few guesthouses, and noodle shops greeted us. We were within cycling distance of the 1,000-year-old ruins of Souvannakhomkham, a massive Buddha statue, Bokeo Ethnobotanical Garden, and Nam Nyon Waterfalls.
“What do you think so far?” I asked.
“I see potential and challenges,” Peter said. “It is what it is.”