A Mekong Promenade - Part 6 : Chiang Khong

Discussion in 'Northern Thailand - Road Trip Reports' started by Jurgen, Jan 9, 2015.

  1. Jurgen

    Jurgen Ol'Timer

    Excerpt: Chiang Khong, with its new ‘Friendship Bridge’, is a significant crossroad for the Mekong region. It might no longer be a compulsory stopover on the way to Laos, but remains an enjoyable sojorn along the ‘Great River’s rim.

    A Mekong Promenade
    Part 6 Chiang Khong

    First (1st) part: The Isan Rim (A Mekong Promenade - The Isan Rim)
    Second (2nd) part: South Laos (A Mekong Promenade Part 2 – South Laos)
    Third (3rd) part: Vientiane to Luang Prabang (A Mekong Promenade, Part 3 – Vientiane to Luang Prabang)
    Fourth (4th) part: In memoriam of some Mekong explorers (A Mekong Promenade - part 4: In memoriam of some Mekong explorers)
    Fifth (5th) part: Xayaboury, Laos west of the Mekong (A Mekong Promenade - Part 5: Xayaboury, Laos west of the Mekong)
    Fifth B (5[sup]th[/sup] B) part: Pak Lai stopover (A Mekong Promenade - Part 5b: Pak Lai stopover)
    Sixth (6th) part: Chiang Khong (A Mekong Promenade - Part 6 : Chiang Khong)
    Seventh (7th) part: Along the Golden Triangle (A Mekong Promenade - Part 7: Along the Golden Triangle)

    Eighth (8th) part: Cruising down the Mekong river (To be published next)

    1. Muang Ngeun to Chiang Khong.

    I left Hongsa on a recently renovated ‘racing’ track and crossed the Lao-Thai border between Muang Ngeun and Ban Huay Kon; a usually uneventful land passage where I have never experienced large queues at the custom or immigration offices. With limited formalities, the drive back to Thailand is particularly straightforward.

    Till recently, the tracks linking Muang Ngeun, on the Lao side, and Xayaboury, did not encourage much traffic, but, as the road is now paved, down to Luang Prabang, and with a bridge under construction in the Pak Beng direction (Route 2W), this border crossing might soon increase its importance and frequentation.

    Renovated road north of Hongsa:
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    After the border, Route 1080 is a lovable trail meandering through a mountainous scenery tinted with various seasonal hues. I have wandered several times along this itinerary, and, that time, rushed straight down to ChIang Klang where I found coffee and a snack.

    Landscape on Route 1080:
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    My intention was to get back to the Mekong as fast as possible and to spend the night in Chiang Khong. As Route 1097 is now renovated, it is an worthwhile shortcut over the ‘Doi Kaep Kong’ mountain and a fancy ride, undulating through hills punctuated with small villages, right down to Route 1148 and Song Kwae.

    Route 1097, the shortcut over the mountain:
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    From Chiang Kham, different itineraries lead to the North-West. The longer, and most scenic Route, follows the mountainous border, over the Phu Shi Fa [1]; as I was eager to reach my destination, I chose the most direct way, along Route 1020 through Thoen.

    Km77 to chiang Kham:
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    Since my departure for this "Mekong Promenade", nearly three weeks earlier, the South China Sea’s tornado “Gaemi” was a Damocles sword over my rambling [2]. Under temperate climates, I am not particularly affected by showers, but, as I have to confine my photographic gear in boxes, I miss the possibilities to illustrate my trips. Finally, after a menacing sky’s dark warning, a heavy downpour forced me to use my waterproof attire; as this was the first drench during this trip, I had no reason to grumble.

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    Following Route 1020, and as the sky recovered some blue shades, I made a single stop at a white temple beckoning from a nearby hill.

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    Finally, in Chiang Khong, I reached the Mekong’s rim again and checked in to one of my favorite dwellings: ‘Tammila Guesthouse’.

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    After visiting Khmer temple vestiges and the former Champasak kingdom, driving through Vientiane and Luang Prabang, in the ancient Lan Xang realm, I had reached the Mekong’s Lanna stretch, another region filled with historic and ethnological diversity.

    From its secretive source [3] in the Himalayas, to its delta in Cochinchina, the “Great River” flows through an exceptional variety of landscapes, cultures and civilization, making it one of the World’s most interesting waterways. Its tumultuous nature often separated the people along its curse, as he remained fierce and untamed until the twenty first century.

    Blasting obstructive rocks for better navigability, daming its flow to satisfy energy thirsty economies and linking them with bridges over its waters are modern means to conclude the French Mekong river obsession; this region provides a good observation point, particularly for the navigability Utopia.

    2 Chiang Khong.


    I like to wake up early and enjoy the spectacular daybreak lightings over my favorite river; every season plays with different backdrops to gratify my breakfast time.

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    Morning temple bells, army bugle calls, religious or folk music mixed with public announcements and the aircastings of a radio station are reflected by the Mekong River from the Laos side; its a nostalgic feeling, an invitation to travel mixed with a contemplative lethargy to stay longer.

    Before the opening of the bridge toward Laos, all vehicles, from heavy lorries to small motorcycles, had to cross the river on ferries and barges and, many of them, cut through the small city on its main road.

    Tourists, bound for a cruise to Luang Prabang, spent a night in a local dwelling before processing through immigration, in the early morning, and crossing to the other rim on small skiffs.

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    The Lao arrival pier featured a laidback organization, with a maze of stairs to grab a couple of official stamps, but no immigration papers; for this, a drive to the city landing was necessary. This is a wistful souvenir, now that modern buildings provide a complete service, on both sides of the new bridge.

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    From Houai Xai’s heights, it was possible to glance back to Thailand and bid farewell to the meandering Mekong which, on this itinerary, might only be seen again in Pak Beng or down in Luang Prabang.

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    With the reduction in road traffic, Chiang Kong’s center has gained in quietude, maybe too much, as the main tourist flow is now channeled directly over the bridge, avoiding the stopover on the Thai rim.

    The river traffic, despite a couple of tourist cruises, is also low, particularly if compared with Chiang Saen; only a couple of large barges travel up and down in these waters.

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    Some goods, for whatever reason, and despite the improved road link, still reach the other side on traditional small boats.

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    All along its curse, the generous Mekong is – still – providing proteins to milions of people.
    The catching is often done by lonesome fishermen (and women), working from frail skiffs or by dropping nets directly from the rivers’ rim.

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    Late afternoons and twilights, along the tinted Mekong are always enjoyable; Chiang Khong offers a long promenade and several viewpoint to ramble during the golden hours.

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    In the evenings, small food stalls invade the main street, particularly on market days.

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    The ‘Great River’s’ rim is an appropriate place to celebrate ‘Loy Kratong’, the festival to honor the water spirits.

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    The evening parade, along Chiang Khong’s main road is a showcase featuring the the regional ethnic diversity; most neighbouring villages are represented with costumed groups and floats.

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    In the realm of the Naga, the mystic serpent is never forgotten and participates to all celebrations.

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    3. To Huai Luk, a Mekong outpost

    April 1994, Chiang Khong, Thailand. Jim McGee stepped out of his bungalow into the dark,heavy night. From a small hill overlooking the Mekong on the outskirts of Chiang Kong. McGee could view the bridge that was being constructed to connect the two sides of the river and the two countries Thailand and Laos [4]

    The bridged featured in Paul Adirex’s novel “Mekong”, a fiction about treasure hunting, Nagas and MIA search in the region, was visionary, or, most probably, the construction project suffered long delays. The described span linking Chiang Khong to Houi Xai took nearly twenty more years to become a reality.

    This ‘Fourth Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge’ opened on the auspicious day: December 11, 2013 (11,12,13). It might not be the decade’s most propitious date, but, the third Friendship bridge, in Nakhon Phanom, had already taken over and was inaugurated on November 11, 2011.

    I had reserved the day to ramble along the Mekong, south of Chiang Khong, and my first visit was for the bridge’s construction site. The artwork already spanned the river’s rims but several cranes still punctuated its arches.

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    Sometimes later, but before the bridge’s opening, I cruised underneath its deck and could admire the span from a river’s perspective.

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    Nowadays, the new construction is already an established landmark in the lower Chiang Khong’s panorama.

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    The Chiang Khong bridge has long been the delayed missing link along Asian Highway 3 (AH3), a dream Route spanning, over more than 7’000 kilometers, Russia to North China. Its regional importance is the connection between Kunming and Bangkok; since its opening, and on Chinese holidays, a steady flow of blue plated yunnanese cars chunk the roads down to Chiang Mai.

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    Driving further south, I bypassed the rural shortcut, near to the river, and headed to Si Donchai, an interesting Tai Lue village. Like most communities of this ethnic group, the dwellers proudly maintain some of their traditions, particularly the cloth weaving.

    In November, the villagers assembles at the temple for a Kathin ceremony. From dusk till dawn, skilled workers transform raw cotton balls into weaved, saffron dyed, robes. They are ceremoniously offered to the monks in the morning.

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    Recently, a dedicated museum - ‘Lue Lai Kham’ – opened along Route 1020, just before Si Donchai.

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    In Tha Charoen, the next village, an intersection leads east, on Route 1155 and to the Mekong rim. I followed all paved byroads, passing Wiang Kaen, toward the Huai luk viewpoint. This promontory overlooks the ‘Great River’ as it totally escapes to Laos, leaving the border line alone for its climb, through jungle forests, along the mountain range.

    If there was a ‘natural’ way to separate populations of similar origins and cultures, this demarcation would certainly be odd. It has a colonial background linked to the French appetite to dominate the Mekong, first outlined by the Exploration Commission’s members, it found its denouement in Pavie's gunboat diplomacy, resulting in the Franco-Thai agreement, of August 1893, which stripped Siam from all its suzerainty on the river’s east bank, as well as from some Cambodian provinces, the Champasak kingdom and a land band opposite of Luang Prabang, on the west side.

    A barbed wire fence, at the dead end of a paved trail marks the no man's land leading to Lao territory:
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    The visit to Huai Luk’s viewpoint is a worthwhile sidetrip for its scenic panorama; but for me, is was also the Lanna’s southern end of my Mekong ballade.

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    This time, in Pak Ing, I stopped at ‘Wat Phra Tat Mae Ya Mon”, a peculiar new temple.

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    From the hill, the glimpse, toward the North, jumps over rocks and rapids toward the ‘Friendship Bridge’, while a bend in the Mekong stages boats manoeuvring in the tumultuous stream.

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    My itinerary back to Chiang Khong followed the paved rural shortcut, heading north through Pak Ing and the fertile Mekong’s tributary alluvial plain. Many cultures can be observed along this Route, which also crosses over a charming Ing river bridge.

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    The sunset over the distant mountain range was a nice apotheosis for this rambling day, before another relaxing evening in Chiang Khong

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    Notes :

    [1] GT-rider.com forums have several trip reports about this itinerary – my own rambling story can be found here:
    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-mo...3An-Unbroken-Circle%94-1-Upper-North-Thailand

    [2] See “first part “: The Isan Rim http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-mo...ead.php/37718-A-Mekong-Promenade-The-Isan-Rim)

    [3] source of the Mekong (The Source of the Mekong River in China):

    The geographic sources of most major rivers on earth were identified in the late 1800's or early 1900's, including the six large rivers draining the Tibetan Plateau: Indus, Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween and Bramaputra. However, errors made in the location of the geographic source of the Mekong were not corrected until 1999, and the controversy continues (more information on the website).

    [4] Paul Adirex, Mekong
    Aries Books Bangkok, 1995
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 2, 2016
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  3. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Arh yes. Chiang Khong, my favourite town.

    Thanks again Jurgen for another wonderful Mekong Promenade report.
    Funny how it goes but I never get tired of that river. It is always so invigorating with constantly changing colours.
     
  4. geoffgoeff

    geoffgoeff Active Member

    A terrific thread. I live up here and it's fascinating to see other peoples views. Thanks again.
     
  5. ianyonok

    ianyonok Ol'Timer

    Good stuff Jurgen, Thank you. I live in the area too, so it's great to see such excellent photos of the places I know. The Thai Lue Museum looks like a need to visit place.
     

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