As with everywhere on this big globe we call Earth, water equals life. In Northern Thailand and Laos, that specifically means rivers. Whether the Ping, the Nam Khan or the mighty Mekong, the people in this part of the world rely on the rivers for not only water, but food, transportation, recreation and even spirituality. Daily activities revolve around the waters - washing clothes, panning for gold, bathing, fishing. People live on the rivers in boats, or on their hilly banks to take advantage of the water's proximity.
I had the luxury of spending two nights and three days cruising down the Mekong. Another writer has already captured my experience pretty eloquently, so I'll quote now from Levent Chalmers (posted on Adventure): "From the tiny border point of Huay Xai at the confluence of Laos, Thailand and Burma, I made deliciously slow going as a passenger on an old freight boat down the Mekong River. For [three] days I watched jungle-clad, emerald mountains slip lazily in and out of view, steam rising from their peaks conjuring images of idling dragons. River folk, busy at their industry, flitted around our behemoth in their lighter and more agile crafts. Our captain expertly piloted our 60-foot vessel between the whetted jaws of the granite outcrops that haunt the length of this untamed artery of Southeast Asia, and, in time, I was brought to Luang Prabang."
It was a lazy, relaxing journey, marred only by the extreme illness of my traveling companions. To be in such a remote part of the world and know that such vast areas of untouched wilderness still exist made the world feel like a pretty big place. Until, of course, we reached our well-appointed lodges in the middle of the jungle - hundreds of miles from any roads, towns or services - to discover WiFi internet service. Grin!
Some Buddhist words of wisdom:
One day a young Buddhist on his journey home, came to the banks of a wide river. Staring hopelessly at the great obstacle in front of him, he pondered for hours on just how to cross such a wide barrier. Just as he was about to give up his pursuit to continue his journey he saw a great teacher on the other side of the river. The young Buddhist yells over to the teacher, "Oh wise one, can you tell me how to get to the other side of this river?" The teacher ponders for a moment looks up and down the river and yells back, "My son, you are on the other side."