BootsnAll Travel Network

Chiang Khong: Simplicity

After the overwhelming craziness of Bangkok, the peaceful town of Chiang Khong was exactly what Bec and I needed. The town was made up of one main road, with just a couple of minor dirt tracks running across it every so often. There were no footpaths, one simply walked along the edge of the road, as mopeds, tuk-tuks, and big 4wd trucks slowly drifted past. Yeah, big 4wd trucks, looking brand new. Massive hunks of metal that wouldn’t be out of place in the US; somehow they’ve become the choice mode of transport for young Thais.

I saw all this from the back of my own personal tuk-tuk, as it drove me towards our chosen guesthouse. Upon being dropped from our bus, a local guy had shown us photos of his new guesthouse on the banks of the Mekong, suggested a reasonable price, and convinced Bec and I to stay. A number of tuk-tuk drivers were crowding around as we discussed all this, but with our big packs taking up most of the room in the back of the tuk-tuks, we would have to take one tuk-tuk each. I headed out first, with Bec in her tuk-tuk quickly being left behind. We drove through the town, the cool air hissing in my ears, before the driver stopped at the entrance to a dirt track, said something about a guesthouse at the bottom of the track, and asked for 20 Baht (about 60 cents Australian). Fair enough, who was I to argue; I had no idea where I was going anyway, I simply assumed this was where I was meant to be.

A few minutes later, Bec’s tuk-tuk appeared. I was about to ask her if they got lost, but she beat me to it, “What are you doing here?”

“Uh, I dunno, this is where my guy dropped me.”

“The guesthouse is way back there,” she said, pointing back the way we had come. “We pulled int here but you weren’t there”.

Her tuk-tuk driver was laughing, “I don’t know what he was doing.” He said, referring to my long-gone driver, before gesturing for me to squeeze in the back. I did so, and we soon arrived at our excellent guesthouse; a double bed with fresh sheets, towels provided, a private bathroom/toilet/shower, and a large patio that looked out over the mighty Mekong.

From Chiang Khong, the typical destination for most travellers is Luang Prabang in Northern Laos, reached by boat down the Mekong, either a speed boat taking 8 hours, or a slow boat that takes 2 days with an overnight stop along the way in a small village. Our plan was to catch the slow boat the next day. But of course, our plan changed after speaking to a super friendly local guy who ran a great cafe just near our guesthouse. Sayan ran the Easy cafe, and over dinner told us about some small villages not far from Chiang Khong, and easily reached by bike. He even drew us a map showing how to get there. Well, how could we refuse. And after a long days travel, a rest day before spending 12 or 14 hours on a boat seemed a great idea.

Next morning, after a nice sleep-in, we grabbed some bikes and headed towards a dam that Sayan had mentioned to us. 7km out of townit was, apparently, but we couldn’t find the turn-off, and headed back towards town. On the way back in, we spied a large gathering just off the main road. At first it looked like a typical food market, but as we rolled through on our bikes, it became clear that this was some sort of school sports carnival. Basketball courts, volleyball courts, soccer fields, they were full of kids playing desperately hard. Old ladies sitting behind food stalls watched, and smiled as we went past; “Sawatika,” they would greet us. And there was not a dread-locked backpacker in sight.

We stopped at one particular court for a closer look. There were six young lads out there, around 10 or 12 years old, 3 on each side of a small net. I was about to mention how the young kids got a smaller net for their volleyball game, the net being slightly higher than the kids themselves, but I thought better of it when they started playing what was essentially volleyball, but using a small thatched ball (think of the material of a wicker chair, but as a small ball) and using anything but their hands. It was like a game of hackey sack with a net. And these kids were awesome; round-house bicycle kicks and pin-point headers.

As we watched, a middle-aged man approached and began speaking to us in easily understood English. He was a physical education teacher and these were his students out on court, playing Sepak Takraw, he explained. We chatted for a while, talking about Australia and Thailand, before he went back to his students. They ran up to him with eager expressions on their faces, pointing in our direction. He was the hero for speaking to us. Talk about putting a smile on your face.

We left the sports carnival, giving a wave to our new friend, and headed back out of town to find one of the villages Sayan had told us about. We rode down one of the back streets of Chiang Khong looking for the turn-off, and passed old wooden and thatch huts standing quietly in the dust. Old men and women sat silently in the shade, smiling and waving as we rode past, and toddlers ran about chasing chickens that sprinted underneath the huts to seek refuge. We found our turn-off, and rode out between drying fields, with the odd solitary hut standing lonely in the distance. Further away, low, tree covered mountains rose into the hazy sky.

The paved road turned to dirt, and we continued on, motorbikes with two and sometimes three people in board past us, some waving and smiling, others just staring. After 20 minutes of bumps and dust, the road became paved again as we entered a small village. But the paving was covered with dust. Everything was covered with dust. Old huts stood nervously, leaning precariously to one side, seemingly ready to topple over at any minute. Chickens and pigs ran beneath them. Young, barefoot kids walked played amongst the huts, throwing a dirty soccer ball at each other. yet some huts had massive satellite dishes attached to their roofs, and gleaming silver 4wd trucks parked out the front. A group of ladies looked at us and smiled as we went past their hut. A little further on we hit the end of the road, and turned back. As we passed the ladies again, one of them called out, “Hello. Where you from?”

“Australia,” I replied. They giggled, as though one had said, “I bet you they’re form Australia.”

“Bye,” we called as we pushed on. “Bye bye,” they replied.

This was the Thailand we had hoped to see. Not the touts and manic movement of Bangkok, but simple, happy people, ready with a smile and a wave.

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2 Responses to “Chiang Khong: Simplicity”

  1. Bec Says:

    Thanks for not mentioning how I amlost fell off my bike into a ditch. Stupid little bikes.

  2. Posted from Lao People's Democratic Republic Lao People's Democratic Republic
  3. me Says:

    so when did this all happen. i am sorry you almost fell of you bike bec.

  4. Posted from United States United States
  5. Bec Says:

    Thanks for the sympathy “me”. It was all my own fault. The guys watching me almost fall into a ditch even tried apologising for making me run off the road. Really, it’s just me being clumsy!

  6. Posted from Lao People's Democratic Republic Lao People's Democratic Republic

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