11-Feb-2002 -- At the time of this visit/writing no visits to confluences in Laos have been reported. So when we were in Vientiane to attend some Chinese New Year celebrations we had to give it a try. Particularly since this is probably the easiest confluence in Laos being so close to the capital and the border crossing to Thailand. The street map showed this confluence close to a road about 40km outside town. We had driven to Laos in a borrowed pickup truck from Thailand and planned to attempt this confluence on our drive back. The distance to the confluence from the border crossing appeared to be about 30km.
During the celebration we learned however, that there might be a problem with taking a Thai car that far out of the capitol. While we were contemplating the potential consequences of being stopped by police or military we got an offer to use a Laotian 4x4 pickup. The only condition was that we had to do the driving; not a problem. Thank you to the Owner!
We left the city around 3pm, parked the Thai pickup at the Friendship bridge (border) and continued in the 4x4. The map showed a paved, numbered road, but the pavement ended after only a few kilometers. The dirt road was in excellent condition and we made good time. The road passes through a number of small villages, connected by rice fields and dense bush/forest (which worried us a little bit: What if the confluence falls into the dense bush?). It closely follows the course of the Mekong east. There are no road signs at turn offs, the people who travel these roads know where they are going and visitors seem to be fairly rare.
We parked on the road about 100m from the Mekong and 750m from the confluence where a small trail led into the fields. This puts the confluence about a kilometer inside Laos, since the Mekong serves as the border between Thailand and Laos. The short hike took us through a cow pasture (fence made of thorny branches)and fields of tobacco and rice. The people in the fields asked us what brought us out here. City dwellers are not a common sight in these parts. We asked in turn whether it was OK to take some pictures. Our request was kindly granted, but drew puzzled looks: Why would anybody want to take pictures of something as ordinary as these fields?
The confluence is located in a rice field about 5 meters off a little dam separating fields. Since it would have been difficult to get to the 'exact' spot without damaging some rice plants, we decided against it. It was very hot and uncomfortably humid at the confluence; the air virtually stood still, the smoke from a nearby village went straight up. There were not many sounds to be heard as we were surrounded by hundreds of dragonflies feeding in the evening sun (dark spots on some of the pictures are actually dragon flies). The fences seen on the pictures serve to keep cows and buffaloes out of the fields.
On our drive back we got into local rush hour with small herds of cows being brought home for the night. It was interesting to note how rush hour traffic moved at about the same pace as in LA. Darkness added to the excitement of driving in this part of the world as the sun set: little motorcycles, cars, tuk-tuk's, bicycles without lights; no street lighting in villages; pedestrians, chickens, dogs, water buffaloes, goats crossing the road; large potholes; people passing when and wherever they please with total disregard to safety. The one unwritten rule that was in our advantage was that the bigger vehicle has the right of way and a 4x4 pickup truck is pretty big around here. Once back in Thailand, though, we moved down in the pecking order with many busses and trucks on the roads...