Up The Lazy Mekong River

Up The Lazy Mekong River

From Udon Thani, I headed to the border town of Nong Khai. Situated on the Mekong River right smack dab across from Laos (The two countries are connected by the Friendship Bridge, built in 1994 with American and Australian funding), Nong Khai draws many travelers, as was indicative by my bus ride with 6 additional farang! My m.o. for my two nights in Nong Khai are to take in some of the interesting temples in the relatively small grid of town via bicycle, rest, relax and compose before my 12+ hour bus ride to Chiang Mai immediately following my visit.

On the X-files tip, the Nong Khai province is Home of the Naga Dancing Fireballs, as the welcome sign off the highway stated. Although my visit does not fall within the time frame of when these inexplicable dancing fire balls shoot up from the waters of the Mekong river (the 15th waxing day of the 11th lunar month), I inspect the calm waters skeptically looking outward on the river from garden of my guest house. Locals say “Oh sure, they’re just the breath of Naga”. You know, Naga, the mythical serpent of the river. The balls of fire’s emergence coincides with a Buddhist holiday and the locals connect the two events in true festive form. Apparently rooms book quickly during this time of year, as locals and foreigners alike celebrate.

My accommodations for the next two evenings are so much more than that. Mut Mee Guest House is a small commune of sorts, a strip of isolated street bordering the river that homes a honors-based guest house (Visitors create their own bills by noting a journal that corresponds with their room number kept by reception. Order from their restaurant’s extensive menu, note the book. Grab a beer, water or cola from the fridge, note the book. Rent a bicycle or motorcycle for the day, note the book.) There are laundry facilities and a gorgeous tropical garden lounge with ample tables and hammocks facing the river. Within the larger Mut Mee community, a yoga studio, art studio, bookstore/internet cafe, an astrological reader and meditation classes. The guest house is also affiliated with a floating bar/restaurant on the river that has nightly entertainment, as well as the organizer of a nightly sunset cruise up and down the river. Chess, boardgames, a lending library, Thai massage… this place certainly gets the gold star in my book.

After learning of Mut Mee’s dizzying array of amenities from the gracious employee (think Moby draped in green and gold fabric), I took a short walk to Yota Vegetarian Restaurant. With plenty of suspicious looking snacks lining the counter space and the choice of 5-6 hot dishes not in clear sight for distinguishment, I pulled the ol’ I’ll have what she is having, copying the woman’s order in front of me. The result was the best red curry I’ve ever tasted and, perfectly spiced to a minor flow of tears and chunks of tarot and tomatillo, and a cinnamon-infused gluten-seeming meat analog with brown rice.

After my meal, I toured the city by foot, venturing back to the guest house to try out their restaurant for dinner. Pad Thai, a first since here in Thailand. Adequate and a bit overpriced, it went cold as I stared at the city’s map overwhelmed with possibilities of exploration. I vegged in the garden with the other travelers, all keeping to themselves, and waited for the sunset cruise to board. I wound up on the river boat early and enjoyed some solitude with Neil Young and my journal. Laos facing me to the left, I embraced my surroundings in a peaceful acceptance of their beauty, their mystery, the loneliness in their perfection. Oh, that perfection was also attributed to by the sticky rice with mango I ordered from the floating restaurant docked next door. (No sign of any great balls of fire, btw, except for that big one in the sky. {Hey, this is your sun, too. That’s a nice thought})