10,967 km so far.
Our journey to Huayxai continues, with another nine hours of cruising along the Mekong. Today’s boat is smaller and a little less luxurious than yesterday’s, but we have decent seats, great weather, and pristine views of mostly uninhabited wilderness.
Every once in a while a town appears, but in Northern Laos, towns consist of a small collection of houses made entirely of bamboo. We made a couple of stops at some of these towns, dropping off or picking up locals who use the route as their public transportation service. Most towns have no roads to them, and the Mekong is the only way in or out.
Apart from being used as public transport, there were few signs of other business on the Mekong. We saw local fishermen with their nets tied to bamboo poles in the river, we saw children playing in the water, we saw small fishing boats plying the waters, and the speedboats that take people at twice the speed we chose to travel, but are so unsafe you are requested to wear a motorcycle helmet.
What we didn’t see were barges hauling raw materials, cruise ships, or huge tankers transporting freshly made cars – all of which we came to expect on Chinese rivers. I suspect that down near Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City the river is used to transport goods, much as the Yangtze is in China, but up here, there is so little industry there is no need to use the Mekong as a highway.
It’s more like a rural road.
The only views were mountain ranges, fields of banana trees or corn, wild jungle reaching down to the river’s edge, and the small towns that popped up every hour or so.
Money, It’s What I Want
We have noticed a strange trend in Laos. Almost every time, and we are not exaggerating here, we have had to pay for a service or goods, we have been given more change than we were expecting. Usually prices are listed, or at the very least verbally agreed upon first.
Then, when we go to pay, we get extra money back.
Are they trying to trick us? Did we fail some test by not saying anything? Is the fact that the smallest bill is 1,000 kip as confusing to them as it is to us? Is everyone here very stoned? Will Laotian border patrol present us with a bill for all these mistakes when we leave the country?
We were never sure what the correct response was. Sometimes we didn’t notice until we had already left. Sometimes we weren’t sure we’d remembered the price correctly. Sometimes we were confused by the large bills, so we thought maybe it was our mistake. Sometimes we put the extra money in the tip jar or a donation box.
And yes, sometimes we just shrugged our shoulders and kept the change. ♥