Sitting still beside great rivers

Chiang Khong, Thailand

It was seven years ago this week that a Honda dealership in Mae Sai, the northernmost town in Thailand, begrudgingly rented me a motorbike for the day.  “We don’t want to do this,” the woman at the counter said, since it wasn’t profitable for them, but she also said that thanks to some tourism-friendly law they were required to do so. Apologizing to her for the inconvenience but taking full advantage of the law, I spent the better part of the next ten hours on that bike, tilting into back roads and main roads and exploring the famous Golden Triangle.

In the town of Chiang Khong, half way into the day’s journey, I parked in front of a sign that said “Welcome to Bamboo Guest House and Restaurant”. It was a backpacker sort of place, and the restaurant overlooked the Mekong River, on the opposite side of which was the Lao town of Huay Xai. I entered the restaurant, bought a coke, and sat.

I was in love with this seat beside a mighty river, which is why the next day I would return by bus and spend the night here. The chairs at the Bamboo provided a place to slow down and reflect, to watch water that had traveled from the mountains of China and now, right before my eyes, was rounding a bend on its way to Cambodia and Vietnam, and then the Pacific Ocean. I thought of other rivers I had seen – the Nile in Cairo, the Mississippi in St. Louis, the Danube in Budapest — and felt the power of watery highways, the presence of Pharaohs and Mark Twain and classical music. I also recalled how as a young kid I first became mesmerized by the Mekong — and the region through which it flows — thanks to a Michael Landon movie called “Love is Forever,” based on the real-life story of Australian photojournalist John Everingham, who used scuba gear to get his girlfriend out of Laos.

If you find a seat beside a great river, take it. Often they have shaped entire civilizations. They may also shape the traveler who sits still beside them.


Posted by | Comments (4)  | May 24, 2011
Category: Asia, Images from the road, Notes from the collective travel mind

4 Responses to “Sitting still beside great rivers”

  1. Bob Schmidt Says:

    From 2002 to 2006, I worked in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. On Friday evenings, the big event was to go down to the Congo River and watch the lights of Kinshasa, Dem Rep of Congo, come on. Watching the river pass by, fishermen crossing by pirogue, just admiring the contrast of river slowness and urban lighting, it was possible to reflect and slow down myself from whatever the urgencies of the day were.

  2. Sitting still beside great rivers | Travel Guide And Holiday Says:

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  3. scribonia Says:

    This photo is stunning.

  4. Nookrapao Says:

    I live in Thailand , at Mae sai and good to see your story with my country.