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January 10, 2004

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At the northern end of Thailand we meet the Mekong River. On the other side lies Laos. We cross into it by flat bottomed canoe because no bridge exists for miles along the river. Laos can't afford a bridge. Shaped like a warted mushroom, Laos has experienced conflict throughout its history. China, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia passed it back and forth as a war trophy. Laos gained independence for the first time after World War II yet even then it served time as a pawn in the regional struggle between communism and capitalism. Peace came after the Vietnam war ended but tons of unexploded ordnance makes the countryside a risky trekker's destination. We'll stay on rivers or the beaten trail during our visit.
Mekong cargo ships serve as uncomfortable passenger ferries for people traveling south along the Mekong. The river provides a major shortcut for anyone heading to the nearest city, however, it's still a two day journey.
Our first day in Laos finds us drifting down the upper Mekong. We spent all day chugging down the river.
The Mekong cuts a bold line down the map yet this far north it has barely graduated from stream status.