Chiang Khong Present and Past

Chiang Khong Present and Past

Sunrise on the Mekong

It’s 6:18 am, the sun has just risen, and I’m sitting here on my teak wood balcony watching the glassy Mekong River lazily flow by. Bells from a temple just gonged. Other sounds are crickets, birds, and motorboats of the night fishermen coming home with their catch. A cat is playing near a banana tree below. Some loud speaker of announcements that I don’t understand has just come on. Across the river is Laos. Last night the Lao karaoke was going on across the river, but they stopped around 11:30 and being across the river, it was never too loud anyway.

One of my favorite Thai experiences happened in Chaing Khong 11 1/2 years ago and although I was not expecting the same, I was looking forward to revisit this little border town for the kindness of the people. So far, Chiang Khong has not disappointed.

My view is so soothing and I have free wifi that I can type this from my balcony. When I was here before, I don’t even think there was an internet place in town yet.

Just because it was such a wonderful experience when I was here before, I wanted to see if I could find what I wrote back then. I have had the same e-mail address for over 12 years, so when I look back I can find stuff like this, written in April of 2000:

>CHIANG KHONG: I arrived in the border town of Chiang Khong with plans to go to Laos the next day. I got there and decided I liked it enough to stay for a few days. It’s on the Mekong river and across it is Laos. It is a nice little town, food was excellent and my Guesthouse was nice too.

>I rented a bicycle the next day and rode around town. I stopped to get a “fruit shake” and heard this drumming and singing coming from the house next door. I went to have a look and was beckoned in by the downward waving hand to join them. There was a treedecorated with money and other assorted necessities, like soap and detergent. I was given a glass of Thai whiskey and urged to dance. I gathered in broken Thai and English that it was a Buddhist celebration for the woman’s deceased parents.

>After a lot of celebrating we went to a gorgeous wat (temple) and prayed. The tree was offered to the monks there. It was a very special to be welcomed in that way.

>As I was riding home I saw a group of children following a baby elephant down to the river. I followed and watched the elephant get a bath. All the children were laughing. It was very cute. All in all it was a perfect Thai day.

>The next day I was trying to draw a picture based on the beautiful celebration from the day before and was really getting too hot to do anything. I was going back to my guesthouse to take a cold shower, when suddenly… splash! I was drenched with water. This was the beginning of Songkran festival.

>Songkran (Pi Mai in Laos) is the Buddhist new year celebrated roughly at the new moon in Aries, sometime in the middle of April. It is a time for cleansing and nowadays lots of water throwing. It also happens to coincide with the hottest time of the year in Laos and Thailand just before the rains start.

>So at my guesthouse with Thai people and other travelers, I grabbed a bucket and started throwing water myself. It was hilarious, I got completely soaked. It was quite a welcome relief from the intense heat.

Almost 12 years later Chiang Khong has changed a little, but nowhere near as much as Pai. There is still not a lot in town, but there are shops, and street markets, and some guesthouses. Some people speak a little English here because many tourists stop through here for a day to cross the border. That was my plan when I came in 2000, but then I ended up staying about 4 days because I enjoyed it here so much. I plan to stay for a few days this time too. It’s not a bad place to let time slow to the pace the river flows.

Fisherman on the Mekong

Garden and river view

Mekong

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Border Crossing

Border Crossing

Crossing a border is always a somewhat nerve wracking experience, but you don’t normally do it to turn around and come back in to the country you just left 10 minutes later. That’s what I did today…

In Thailand, if you cross the border into another country, you can come right back in and get 15 days on your passport free of charge. It used to be 30 days until a few years ago.

Today, Oct 1, I got my coffee and left Chiang Rai in the morning for a bus bound to Chiang Khong. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the countryside of Chiang Rai province is. After about 21/2 hours of winding through rice fields, little towns, and mountains n the distance I arrived in Chiang Khong.

Chiang Khong is a border town in Northern Thailand on the Mekong River. Across the river is Laos. I made this border crossing into Laos in April of 2000. So, although things constantly change, I had a little idea of what to expect.

I was picked up on the back of the lovely Maeleewan’s motorbike to go to her guesthouse called Baanrimtaling. It is slightly out of town with a beautiful quiet view of the lazy river. She assured me that the whole crossing experience would just take 1/2 hour and that I had time for lunch first. I ate a delicious vegetarian green curry with Maeleewan, her American boyfriend, and a Peace Corps volunteer friend of theirs. Being stationed in Chiang Khong for the Peace Corps has to be pretty nice we agreed.

Maeleewan let me borrow her one of her bicycles to ride across town to the border crossing. I pedaled through the town as motorbikes and truck whizzed by. I arrived to the border control, got my Thai exit stamp and was off to the muddy riverside where the little boats make the river crossing for 40 baht (about $1.30)

Oddly, the first sign I saw today "Obama blended spirits"

On the bike ride I saw this extremely groovy picture of the King

Condoms for sale anyone?

I waited about 5 minutes for some other people to fill up the boats, then we made the 2 minute river crossing and I was in Laos. I have not been to Laos since 2000, and I know that it has gotten money from Japan, Korea, and China for development since then, but I imagine it is still much less developed than Thailand. This is slightly evident at the border.

Boats going to Laos

I was surprised that I needed to pay $36 for the 30 day visa to Laos even though I was only staying for all of 5 minutes. The Lao immigration officer, who was not too pleased with me for only being in his country for a Thai visa, explained that I pay for the visa even if I’m in the country for one minute. Live and learn.

the Thai/Lao border

Crossing back into Thailand I wanted to get a 90 day visa, I asked for this in my rudimentary Thai. The immigration official said no and that I got 15 days. I said, 90? and the guard joked with me, “These people get 15 days, but you, maybe 2 days.” I decided to take the 15 days and get out of there. I didn’t know you had to get that processed while out of the country. Another lesson learned. Amount of money it cost to cross back into Thailand with 15 more days on my passport? $0.00.

Laos

I was glad to be back in the land of smiles. I think I’ll stay a while…if they let me.