I would imagine we have all had a similar experience. You do not recall precisely when you first heard or read about a faraway place. At that point was just a name. Might have been in your childhood, later in your high school geography lessons or even later in life. Timbuktu, Bali, the Amazon, the Sahara, Machu-Picchu. As the years passed by, the location grows in your consciousness, begins to develop its own mystery, attraction and eventually becomes ‘The Place’. Then one day, whether by design or by some coincidence, you end up travelling to “The Place” and you finally get to see it. To experience it. When you have that first encounter it triggers all sorts of reactions, from immense pleasure and amazement to a variety of other emotions.
Our company’s Bamboo Road Cycling Expedition stretches from Shanghai to Singapore and when it crosses from Vietnam into Laos we come across the Mekong River – my very own “The Place”. It is one of the mightiest and, for me, enigmatic areas of the world. The Mekong is the world ‘s 12th longest river, being a mere 4,184Km long, and over the last millennia it has fed and supported many a ruler and their warriors. In fact, it was the blood line of Khmer Empire – with its famous capital, Ankgor. According to Wikipedia, this “bear(s) testimony to the Khmer empire’s immense power and wealth, impressive art and culture, architectural technique and aesthetics achievements, as well as the variety of belief systems that it patronised over time. Recently satellite imaging has revealed Angkor to be the largest pre-industrial urban center in the world”.
The Mekong River originates in the vast Tibetan Plateau and if you sail a tiny sailboat from its source, it will flow into Yunnan province in China. After clearing customs at the border, it will drift through fast-changing Myanmar and on into Laos, to the very spot I was standing when I first reached the shore of the river. After some prolonged concentration, a hypnotic state overtook me. Suddenly I was beginning to perceive a tiny sailboat with people (actually goblins, gnomes and brownies) who were eager to tell me what they have already seen while sailing from the Mekong’s source. After all, almost 300 million people and 95 different ethnic groups depend on the gifts that the Mekong River brings. Chief amongst them, believe it or not, 1,200 species of fish – the 3rd highest in the world after Amazon and Congo Rivers.
The river was fast, the tiny sailboat was moving quickly and we could only exchange a few words. In any case, their dialect was difficult to understand. I managed to comprehend that the scenery they saw was great and the people were fascinating. When I told them I was cycling along the river – first to Cambodia and then into Thailand – they said that I was sure to have a great adventure. We promised each other to make contact again when they sailed into Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
What can I say about my journey to Phnom Penh except that they were right! Cycling through Laos and Cambodia was pure pleasure. When I did reconnect with the tiny people in Phnom Penh, they told me that being in the sailboat they were now to follow the river to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) whereas I was leaving the mighty Mekong River and heading for Bangkok. They said I should not despair as they had heard that visiting Ankgor Wat is a must – but they could not leave the sailboat. When I told them I planned to continue riding south through Malaysia and then on to Singapore, they said that the next time they will definitely take bikes and do the same route.
And so, with great sadness, we said goodbye. They pulled anchor and I got on my bike, but I promised them that I would post a few pictures of what I saw. So here they are ,my fellow travellers.