Di and I spent February and March, 2012 paddling our 16 ft. pakboat canoe on the Mekong river in northern Laos. Here’s a few photos of our adventure. By Brian Svelnis
Our goal was to paddle the Mekong river 800 kms from Ban Huay Xai to the capital city of Vientienne. It was tough getting any information about the hazards or the dynamics of the water
but we had learned that passenger ferries traveled up and down at least half of our intended route.
That was enough and away we went.
Packed and about to set out from Ban Huay Xai, Laos. Chang Khong, Thailand is visible on the opposite shore.
The various diesel-powered barges and ferries could be heard chugging their way up and down the river and we had plenty of time to steer clear of the boat traffic and their wake.
The river stayed calm and flat except for a handful of choke points. We always govern ourselves conservatively when we are traveling on a remote river. While we were stopped at one of the narrow sections to reconnoiter 3 fishermen happened by and offered to carry our pakboat and gear the 400meters around the whitewater. I offered the equivalent of a couple of dollars each which they gratefully accepted and an hour later we were back on the river.
At times the water became funneled into chutes due to rock weirs that villagers had built to create an eddy to fish in. Often these weirs were built in narrows where the water was quicker and occasionally we needed to line our way around these chutes.
The Laos people were very kind and welcoming. One evening when we retired early we were surprised to hear a couple of men at our tent door speaking to us. After some guesswork it became apparent that they were trying to tell us that they would be fishing with flashlights at the particular bit of beach we were camping on and that we weren’t to be alarmed. Fishing, hunting and gold panning seemed to be the main occupations of the villagers along this mountainous part of the Mekong
We encountered some sections with severe whirlpools and boils in canyon-like sections in the later half of the trip. Some of these Brian ran and Diana walked the shoreline while others we portaged. Portaging, of course, requires everything to be carried.
This trip was a joy. We had a strong sense of being remote as road travel is negligible in this part of Laos. However, we also were never very isolated as ferry traffic, fishermen or families traveling in their own river craft past us by daily.
Our folding canoe was definitely a curiosity but then again so was just about everything we owned. The ability to take our pakboat around the world to explore the beautiful rivers and waterways has enriched our lives exponentially with every trip we take. It continues to be an essential item in our well being. Happy paddling…