We took an early morning walk down
to Pakbeng pier to board our longboat to resume our voyage down the Mekong.
There was light fog and smoke in the air but it was cleared a bit by last
night's rainstorm. Our camera shot more great scenery not yet obscured
by the fires. There were many more huge rock outcrops, tributaries, coves,
waterfalls, and sand on the shore. We learned that yesterday's captain
was rushed to hospital with possible stroke last night so we had a new
captain at the wheel.
Beam shared some Mekong mythology and legends
with us: NAGA the river snake/dragon dwells kilometresbeneath the Mekong.
There is a mythical bird that can see heaven/earth/hell and in one sweep
of its wings can travel thousands of kilometres. The river drops off very
steeply from its banks and is full of dangerous currents and whirlpools
making it very dangerous to swim across.
The boat family set out the buffet lunch we
had signed up for yesterday for 50,000 kips: fried chicken, stir-fried
vegetables, curry, potato, carrot, soup, rice, watermelon - very good.
As we got closer to Luang Prabang the scenery
changed. There were more prosperous villages and many kids all over sandbars
fishing and waving. We saw long buildings which were schools - closed till
the end of the month for New Year's holidays. There were more cleared and
terraced hillsides and more small garden patches on the shores. Many more
cattle and elephants grazed on the shore. Many more rock outcrops were
staked out with bamboo poles and nets.
Some of the sandbars were submerged and invisible
resulting in a beached longboat that people were trying to push back into
deeper water. Our guide pointed out a large "Government Hotel" (prison)
with high fence and guard tower. He said the food and service was terrible.
We docked at Pak Ou Caves -- two large linked
caves containing thousands of small Buddha statues left by pilgrims. It
still is a popular pilgrimage site - especially during the April Lao New
Year time when we were there.
We climbed the many stairs to the lower cave.
It has an interesting history, we were told, where originally Buddha statues
were hidden in the sixteenth century for fear that invaders would destroy
them. Many others were added in the ensuing years by visitors. In past
years the water of the Mekong has often risen so high that it actually
flooded the bottom cave during Monsoon season. This explains why so many
of the huts in the villages are raised or built on stilts.
It was another 150 steps to reach the larger
dark upper cave featuring more Buddhas and a platform where previous royal
families would come to meditate. We decided it wasn't worth the effort
and spent our time taking more photos after which we returned to the boat
for refreshments and waited for cast off.
The remainder of the voyage was uneventful
and before long we reached Luang Prabang