With the sun still yet to rise, we loaded up the van and began making our way up north to a section of Mekong River where Thailand meets Lao and Myanmar. Known as Golden Triangle since the 1970s, the region has experienced a long and turbulent history of poppy cultivation, opium smuggling to proxy war. Today, we share with you our journey through the Mekong River to explore the region's history and culture that help us make sense of our past.
With the roar of the long tail boat engine, the acceleration sent us backward and our hands grabbing the side of the boat for dear life. The boat glided gracefully through the glassy surface of the Mekong River that originated from Tibetan Himalayas. The meltwater flows through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam before it reaches the ocean. Upstream we saw ‘Wat Pra That Pukhao’, an ancient temple on a hilltop which date back to the mid 8th century, and a scattering of temple ruins along the river banks.
What stood out among the hilly terrain were the Golden domes and gaudy crown of huge casinos in Laos, subsidized by the Chinese government. The semi-lawless ‘vegas’ is a jungle oasis for hundreds of gamblers and shadowy trades. On the opposite bank in Myanmar, we spotted delicious red cotton tree flowers find in a local dish called, ‘Kanom Jeen Nam Ngeaw’, a traditional curried noodle soup of the Tai Yai people who live in the northern part of Thailand and Myanmar.
Along the way, the boatmen cut the engines off, giving us still moments to float in the serenity of the majestic river. Other than birds chirping, flying above the wetlands, all was quiet and still. The pause made me think of the Hmong fleeing a Communist Laos, trying to cross these icy cold waters without the knowhow to swim. Through our conversation with the drivers, we learned about the treacherous path used by thousands of Laos and hill tribe people to flee persecution as well as a glimpse of the livelihood and culture of locals.
Cruising back to Thailand border, we couldn’t help but feel a sense of quietness of the present moment yet the chaos of the past that is still very much ongoing in the dark.
Images and words by Buranee Soh