Why is it that the Mekong River fills my body with warmth? The river continues to feed my soul with joy and my mind with memories that seem to last a lifetime. The Mekong is long and wide and I have not traveled all of it, yet… But it has become part of my life. It seems to be a place where I keep coming back to, finding the answers I am looking for.
The first time I traveled along the Mekong River was in 2006 and ever since I traveled almost yearly along the Mighty Mekong in the upper north of Thailand, through the valleys near Luang Prabang, the rough Southern parts of Laos, the Delta in Vietnam and my favourite part; the Cambodian stretch between Stung Treng and Kratie. The river has given me everything I ever wanted and something I will look for the rest of my life: peace of mind.
The colonial buildings of Kratie are ready to be conquered. Just walk in, smile to the locals and take your pictures. The tiny island of Koh Trong is where you pick the pomelo’s from the trees and feed yourself a treat in the hot southern sun. You cycle around and sit down to take in the views of Kratie town or the floating village. Kratie is so peaceful already, but when you cross the river and move up the West Bank of the river, you find yourself a few decades back in time. A place where time has stood still and where people care about the things that truly matter. You may get stuck on one end, but just turn around and find yourself a new path. Eventually it all leads to the place you want to be.
The monks at Wat Sarsar Mouy Roy (the one hundred pillar pagoda) are studying as always. I take a peek inside and see that English is on the program for today. Upstairs at the pagoda an old man greets me with a smile. He asks me in Khmer where I am from and if I would like to be blessed. People come to the pagoda to be blessed by the monks. Blessed for their journey, their new house, their marriage or their ancestors. I don’t need to be blessed at this stage, I just need the smile of a local person and the feeling of being welcome.
Stung Treng offers a different experience. It gets rougher when I approach the Lao border. Nature is untouched, waterfalls are sprawling up and preventing me from moving further upstream, roads get bumpier and food more local. This is where I feel at home. On boats on the river, in a kayak in between sunken trees, standing on rocks overlooking the rage of the Mekong falls. And then the evening falls… there I float downstream the Mekong. While the sky gets dark, the lightening fills the clouds. Different species of birds fly out to gather food and the sun disappears in a spectacular way.
You don’t need to wonder much more what is happening tomorrow when you end your day in such peace. All you need to do is take it all in, make sure you share your experience with someone special and vow you continue to seek for moments like these.