Mekong views: boats and the river

The onset of our Wet season, bringing us the monsoon skies I posted here a week ago and reminding me of similar skies in Laos at the end of their Wet, brought back memories of my visit (outlined here) to that country six months ago. This post presents photographs of the Mekong, which dominates Lao geography and landscape, and the boats which serve its travellers. My next will do the same for life along its banks.

storm clouds backlit by the sun
A dramatic skyscape over the Mekong at Vientiane
Mists, river, mountains
Early morning mists on the Mekong near Luang Prabang. The boat in the distance is very similar to the one I travelled on.

Mekong ferryboat
A closer view of the same type of boat

These boats are all built to very much the same size and proportions: very long for their width, perhaps 30m long but only 3 or 4m wide, with a small wheelhouse in the bow separated from a substantial deckhouse at the stern by a roofed section which takes passengers and cargo equally easily. The rear section houses the engine (below deck level), stores and living quarters for the crew.

riverboat wheelhouse
The wheelhouse of our boat, with the captain’s wife keeping him company for a while.
riverboat open cabin
Looking back from the wheelhouse to the open cabin.

Our seating was spacious and luxurious by local standards. Locals making routine journeys between villages would get plastic chairs like the one the captain’s wife is using in the previous photo. There might be 50 or more instead of our 20, and assorted produce and livestock instead of our backpacks. The captain’s wife produced lunch for us each day, and it was better than many restaurant meals I’ve had. Their teenage son helped out.

moored riverboats
More of the same kind of boat, moored to the bank near a village.
Longtail speedboat
Travellers in a hurry could go by speedboat. They are ‘longtail’ boats – the propellor shaft extends about half a boat-length behind the stern.
longtail speedboat and log
Another speedboat. Note the floating log in the foreground.

The speedboats are very fast, very noisy, and so dangerous that passengers are advised to wear crash helmets. Not many do, although a collision with a log like the one in the foreground of my second shot, or a barely-covered rock, would be disastrous.

Mekong freighter
Bulk carrier, Mekong style.
small canoe with passengers and cargo
Smaller boats, down to one-person width, are still very long and narrow. This one is near the end of our Mekong journey at Chiang Kong on the Thai shore.
River view
Looking back downstream from Chiang Kong towards Pakbeng (one day away), Luang Prabang (another day) and distant Vientiane.

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