Mekong River ChristmasSouth East Asia by the not-so-beaten path
. A trip down the Mighty Mekong via cargo barge - into the real heart of darkness.
b yBel Suave
Mekong River Christmas
from the blog whiteyrideseast 12/28/2012
The trip from southern Yunnan down China's portion of the Mekong River into Thailand had been on my mind since before I left Vietnam. Everything I read about boat trips on the lower Mekong, Cambodia, Laos, and Nam sounded really touristy - expensive but cheap, at the same time - if you know what I mean.
From the southernmost part of China however, butting up against not just Laos, but Myanmar too, cargo leaves daily on a trip downriver that has earned the docks at Guanlei the title of "China's only freshwater international port" - hauled by river barges that are allotted the privilege of carrying two (2) paying passengers on each haul...
or did. Then, in the fall of 2010, a gang of Burmese river pirates\dope smugglers, aided by a few corrupt Thai soldiers apparently, did to death 11 Chinese sailors via an onboard ambush and massacre, setting the Mekong virtually off limits to river traffic for most of the next year. Just my luck.
Online info was scarce...what you could read would generally refer to the period before 2008, when both cargo-carriers and dedicated passenger vessels plied the 150 mile stretch of the mighty Mekong between Jinghong China and Chiang Saen Thailand. But there were just enough tantalizing updates to keep me guessing - and hoping - that if I just showed up on the shore of the river, with my pack and a bit of Chinese script, I could find myself on board and southbound on one of the worlds greatest rivers.
So I did just that. After flying from Kunming to the southern county of Xishuangbanna, I found out via an article in the US edition of China Post that passenger service had resumed from Jinhgong in November of this year, I made enquiries - yes there was a boat leaving, but not till the 6th of January. Way too late for me. Having eliminated the easy option, I could get serious about the tramp steamer one. A guy at the deserted passenger ferry terminal who understand the basic idea started saying Guanlei...you go Guanlei. Boat leave Guanlei. Subsequent conversations determined that this was the first port inside of China's portion of the Mekong, from where the cargo shipped downriver leaves. It was reachable by 4 hour bus ride. I was ready.
A beautiful ride through hilly country of rubber and banana trees takes one south to the point where the main road to the Laos border diverges, and you pass onto the bumpy and narrow stretch of highway that somehow serves as the means by which all the cargo loaded on the the river boats gets shipped in and out by tri-axle cabovers. Guanlei eventually appears at the end of this road. At the end of pretty much everything. Grubby port town with little choice in the way of hotel or services. But possessed of shiny new customs and immigration terminal, and gateway to the Golden Triangle. After sitting down to eat, I pulled out my transcribed Chinese characters with the magic formula questions: Where is the boat to Chiang Saen. How much does it cost? When does it leave? How long is the trip?
Next morning I boarded a battered but shipshape iron barge with a crew of six, including captain, and a cargo of citrus going south. A bed in a two room cabin to myself, the electrical outlets showed no life, but I was happy to give the laptop a rest and just plug into the vibrating throb of the engines and the screws churning up river spume night and day, digging into my Hanoi purchased books, the second story back deck giving me a magnificent view of the landscape to either side. The cook was good, the chow excellent, we ate all together for the three meals of the day, and I was free to wander wherever I wished above decks.
Long wooden cargo prows - hearth and living quarters atop the back deck, huge diesel chugging away below pass us constantly heading up and down river. They know, like our captain, just how to slide at the right angle through the choppy rapids and run up close but not too close to the sand bars and other hidden impedimenta of a river constantly changing in depth and flow pattern. This is their life... running the giant floods or low season trickles, going back and forth on three day trips through four countries segments of the Mekong then sitting in port waiting for a load back and the clearance papers to haul it.
The landscape itself betrays no indication one is entering or leaving the territory of one to the other of those countries... it's the same alteration of treed hills, swampy lowlands, with the occasional riverside settlement and small cultivated zone all the way down to Thailand. Nothing more than a sign flashing by marks the border lines. And though the river widens and the inhabited zones get more frequent as Thailand appears on the west side, it's still very much a land ruled by the river, not roads, until almost the whole way down to Chiang Mai.
We cruise past a big sign on the Laos side of the Mekong says "GOLDEN TRIANGLE SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE." I cringe. Special indeed. This here is where a couple generations of DEA agents cut their teeth working to stem the flow of illegal drugs while several other agencies of the same government worked to increase it. The original template for what would spread out all over the globe as the new Amerikan style of special economics - corrupt officials in league with mafia type 'private sector' operators and banking houses in an orgy of weapons\drugs\money laundering\human trafficking deals that were all based upon the simple premise that everything is for sale. Most particularly, allegiance to one's own country and countrymen\women. Ollie North and the Reagan Era gang were just following in the footsteps of Ed Lansdale and the original crop of traitors to AMERICA who came here to the Triangle and sold themselves to the kosher mafia which runs its Empire of Evil out of the international headquarters of bnaibrith freemasonry. Love for sale.
You have to love the way synchronous stuff happens. Just the day before, prior to stepping aboard my Mekong River cargo barge, I realized it was time to crack open my copy of Howard Marks bio "Mr Nice." Back sometime in the 90s I had bought and read a hardback book about Howard called Hunting Marco Polo. How a DEA agent from LA tracks and persecutes an English hashish smuggler over several continents. Meanwhile, an entire echelon of government sponsored and protected crooks work out ways to import tons of deadly heroin and cocaine. And to create markets for same. Great read.
Now I had Howard's very own inside version, post jail time. And appropriately, having bought his bio off of a street vendor in Hanoi, I discovered upon opening it, that it was a cheap counterfeit edition, crappy print job, illustrations illegible. But fun, nonetheless, and great to contemplate over as I cruised down into the heart of that special zone where the mighty Republic lost it's soul to the indefatigable efforts of Evil to corrupt whatever goodness there is left in this tired ol' world.
As my first trip to the 'far east' of the Asian continent draws to conclusion, it's timeliness becomes more apparent every day. What we seem to be witnessing is a rapid rearrangement of power and wealth on this earth, in a manner much more dramatic than what the western media is allowed to portray. Little bits and pieces of information are seeping out however.
Little did I realize, when setting off on my tour a month ago, that I was following in the footsteps of giants! It seems that Martin Armstrong himself has been doing a parallel tour of the East at the same time as myself! And his reports also parallel my own. It's all about the shift of power. http://armstrongeconomics.com/2012/12/27/economic-growth-china-wins-hands-down/
You know, it's amazing how different your conclusions are when you actually go in and investigate things for yourself, first hand. All of the China bears who pontificate about the bubble economy there have the security of knowing that their audience in the West is completely in the dark - so they can get away with the most ridiculous bullshit without fear of challenge. Once you actually get to the East, boots on the ground fashion, it gets easy to see through the rhetoric. Some observers are astute(and\or connected enough) to get it even without leaving home. But, rest assured that home is likely to be outside of USA\Campfemaville. Here's another great read, by the way... if you are ever cruising down a south east Asian waterway and feel like getting a bit of background on what you are passing through...
The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia | Table - DrugText
The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia ... Marseille: America's Heroin Laboratory
, Alfred Mccoy, 2611. 7, 3. The Colonial Legacy: Opium for the Natives, Alfred ...
it's a jungle, indeed... in more ways than one!
I stayed away from Bangkok and all the coastal beach resort towns of the south during my stay in Thailand. I wasn't in the mood to see circus. The Thais are as proud and dignified a people as any on this Earth...but under siege from all the usual suspects. The links that appeared on this original blog post back in 2012 are all dead. The child sex trade under diplomatic cover - through Burma, Thailand, then west to feed the appetites of the upper echelons of the politico-judicial class which operates the levers of power in the fallen lands on behalf of their hidden masters. Very very bad stuff. I guess it was too close to the truth to be allowed to stand. I'll leave it at that.