encounters life on one of the world’s most famous rivers, the mighty Mekong.
The Riverof Life
ter several days o heavy rain, the tumescent Me-kong hurries south through Luang Prabang, knownas LP, in Laos, urgent, charged with mission and pur-pose. Small skis sprint downstream at an unnaturalgait while the cross-river boats are obliged to work acute anglesagainst a current that the boat’s captain estimates at 4km/hrbut is clearly aster, judging rom the pace o vegetation movingover the surace.We’re headed upriver, 35km rom the Unesco-recognisedtemple town. The surrounding peaks shred the low cloud cover,opening breaks that promise better weather. There is so muchuctuation in the level o the amed Mekong River, that its wa-ters claimed another 20 metres o bank during the night.I’m travelling with Jean-matthieu Beroujon, assistant opera-tions manager or Villa Maly, a ormer royal residence turnedboutique hotel, and Kamu Lodge, and eco-hotel located up theriver rom LP. Also with us is Antoine Martin, another French-man who manages the Kamu Lodge. Antoine wears a banker’sstriped pants, ip ops and a ready smile under prominent eye-brows as thick as his lips. We’re cruising upstream in the NavaMekong, a 45m steel-hulled long boat decked in mahoganyand teak. Mahogany in the oor and the teak on the roo. Theteak is much lighter. The hills suggest abundant wildlie but here, near the river’sedge, the charismatic ora has ed or deeper sanctuaries.Four or fve hours rom the river, according to Moua Lee, aguide or Kamu Lodge, there are wild pigs and monkeys. Thewild elephants endure near the Thai border, and in the south. There is still a tiger population, but it’s “ar rom people.” No oneknows exactly.Lee, who is o the indigenous Hmong tribe, talks to peoplerom LP to Kamu, explaining all the way. He talks about thevillages and the amed Pak Ou Caves. In rainy season, thelocals harvest long beans and cucumbers, squash and Chinesecabbage, carrying the crops rom their small felds on the steepanks o the hills to little splinters o boats, and then on tomarket in LP. Antoine came to Laos on holiday, and liked it so much hedecided to stay. He’d had a riend who’d been here and storiesrom his riend were impetus or his own trip. His riend ravedabout the Lao people, and the dierent style o lie. “I had totry,” he conesses. He lived two months with a Lao amily whodid not speak English, and quickly he acquired their language.He now also speaks English and Kamu.“You have to like the quiet lie i you stay at Kamu Lodge,said J-m. He’s brought a book to read at the Lodge. For yearsas a hotelier in other places, he’d abandoned reading but atKamu there is the desire to dig in again. At Ban Dan village, the Nava Mekong moors at the bank,and we climb a path that looks like reormed chocolate atermelting. This is a Lao village o 300 people. We visit a Buddhisttemple where an interior mural tells the story o good peopleand bad, o a mortal man who captures a heavenly woman andbinds himsel to her until she escapes. The mural was paintedby a man rom LP 20 years ago and has been touched up eversince. Next door to the temple, two villagers saw through woodby hand, laboring 40 minutes on each plank that will later gointo the building o a boat. At frst light the next morning, plans to bypass urther villageschange and I soon fnd mysel on route to a Hmong Village.