Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Experience: Thailand to Laos

Some take the road less traveled; I choose to take the river less traveled instead. Opting out of a bus or a plane, I cruised for 2 very long days down the Mekong River via a slow boat from Thailand into Laos. About 20 minutes into the journey on day 1, another boat blew its gearshift and the 50 passengers on board that one climbed onto ours. All of a sudden an already crowded boat became absolutely packed. I was lucky enough to have a seat on one of the very luxurious wooden benches. Most of the crowd from the broken boat were forced to sit on the floor in the center aisle, preventing anyone from being able to move about the boat without stepping over arms, legs or weary heads. The alternative for the shipwrecked passengers was to find a spot amongst the luggage, where the comfort of sitting on the soft packs was marred by the diesel fumes and loud grumble of the engine. The reality was that no seat was particularly comfortable after 3 hours, or 5, or especially 7. My butt became sore, my joints ached and my head grew tired.

But there is something really unique about entering a country via a river… to see the nature before you see an airport or a bus station. The landscape is beautiful and serene: steep cliffs covered in thick jungle, the murky brown Mekong giving bath to young children, and long fishing boats docked to the shore of tiny bamboo villages. Dragonflies skim the surface of the water and birds soar aimlessly in the clear blue sky.

Being amongst 100 travelers, held captive on the boat with no television, cell service or wifi, we are forced to find another means of entertainment. We exchange tips and itineraries, share a Beer Lao and a baguette, and get to know each other. There are certainly faster ways to travel from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang, but there is something special about taking the long way. For lack of a better word, it is an Experience.

I’ve realized that gaining new Experiences is what this trip is all about for me. Doing things I normally wouldn’t or couldn’t in the good ol’ U-S-of-A is the essence of my intention. Therefore I’ve packed as many Experiences into a short amount of time as possible. Since I last blogged, I’ve zip-lined through the jungle near Chiang Mai. Imagine being rigged to a wire and flying through the trees like a monkey on crack. Better yet, watch!

I also jumped off a 12-foot high waterfall into silver-blue water near Luang Prabang. After eying a couple of Laos kids jump, I was the first “farang” (i.e. white person) brave enough to break the ice, and thankfully not break a leg. And then, I spent an entire day bar hopping along a river in Vang Vieng via an inner tube. Each bar had a different style of music playing and some sort of contraption that you could probably kill yourself jumping off of, but I somehow managed to survive both the buckets of whiskey and red bull and the strong river current with only a few minor cuts and bruises (though I did say goodbye to my favorite pair of Haviana flip flops as they sailed downstream faster than I could swim… a small price to pay for a day of lascivious debauchery).

I read a traveler quote recently that struck a chord, “I have seen more than I remember and remember more than I have seen.” I have tried to capture the most poignant moments, people and places in this blog. I have focused on the major events, the Experiences with a capital “E”. But there are so many experiences with a lowercase “e” that fill in the gaps of my days. And I wonder how time will play a role in defining which experiences become Big and little in importance. In the end, what will I take away from it all… the echo of my scream as I soar through the trees or the smile of the little Laos boy on the road as I wave to him from the back of a tuk-tuk? The rush of excitement as I jump from the waterfall and plunge into the cool water below or the pride of negotiating the cost of a taxi ride down by 75%? Getting into a mud fight along the river in Vang Vieng or getting off a 4-hour bus ride and replacing the cramp in my leg with the surge of excitement that a new destination awaits me? I hope, in the end, that I will not only remember the Experiences with a capital “E”, but that I will be able to conjure the smallest moments as well. Because this journey is not defined by one Event or single Experience, but it is the sum of it all: big, little, easy, hard, good, bad and beautiful.


  1. Miranda you did it again; you let us all feel your ride down the river inside and out. Keep traveling- Keep writing love you Dad

  2. Looking forward to a book when you return called: The little e's Dad

  3. Amazing, all -- the blog post, the ziplining video and the photos. I'm definitely living vicariously. Now if only we could see our day-to-day surroundings with the same adventurous hunger. Is that possible? Hmmm.

  4. well put. WOW tubing looks like a fun party!!!

  5. I like the idea of entering a country by river...

    How many countries actually provide this kind of opportunity?

    Not many, I'd bet.