Thailand’s gateway to the capital of Laos has one of the highest temples per head in the country, and it feels just as quietly ethereal. Three parallel roads bordered by a highway and the mekong. And the mekong feels like it is everywhere, in the air, the morning thin yellow glow, the evening orange glow. ‘Activities’ doesn’t really feature here, but i found the broad expanse of the mekong gave me lots to think about.
It is possible to walk into the riverside town following the tracks from the train station, but only if you would enjoy a straight 40-minute walk. Brave the plaintive honks from a couple tuktuks at the station, you’ll be left alone to walk, and walk.. The japanese juggler and i said goodbye here- he needed to continue on to Laos to renew his visa for Thailand. He walked too.
After two nights, on my way back, I decided i was spilling over my quota of sweating, and hailed a short tuk-tuk ride back to the station.
About three weeks ago, i’d allowed myself to come to a complete standstill at nongkhai, a small town of three roads parallel to the mekong in the northeast of thailand. The people seemed to live at the same languid pace, and i had two days to contemplate the mekong, the sculptures at sala keaw ku, and myself. This was a year after having been on the opposite of the river in vientiene, laos.
Two days in singapore is a pithy period easily stretched thin by work, engagements, responsibilities and urban entertainments. Between the afternoon of my arrival and the third evening, the initial restlessness and accompanying utter, completely mind-numbing boredom had condensed into… a quiet purpose. Still vague, but now calm. External boredom became a reflective solitude.
The few days there seemed a dense mini lifetime as i swung between ennui and wonderment. Little thoughts bubbled forth. The odd sights i’d come across. Just as the heat was relentless (i won’t be forgetting the semi-heatstroke at sala keaw ku, which brings me to another point: it is possible to walk 2km to the sculpture park, but only wise if you like walking, if you’ve a cap, preferably also a scarf, and water), activities, then thoughts got pared down.
It was an exfoliation process: i had nothing to do, or see, and didn’t seem to be capable of much thought. I was left to make my own congruence of physical place and time.
The sun seared burns across my neck and the mass of the mekong was a linear brown. It was quiet, silent,
and i started remembering the lessons i’d learnt with the project at nongduang; re-mused at how my life has narrowed in some ways, streamlined in others. I began to feel reassured i would surely take something back from what seemed like superficial wanderings across thailand.
I’ll also remember nongkhai for my first fun roommate (also my first long conversation in free-flowing english with another human in thailand). Zack from michigan and his hilarious “other half, nick” whom i never got to meet. I didnt expect the easy camadarie. …its a pity our trips to chiangmai didnt align, and that im only expressing my fondness here. Thanks for the chat. And for the tip on sleepbag liners.
Wat pho chai
Along the street
A girl drying isaan sausages outside a shop. The town was full of sausages. There were a couple of times i got excited seeing rows and bunches of dumplings and thought they might be those familiar leaf-wrapped glutinous rice of back home- ba zhang without the ba. But they were instead tightly-wrapped wads of 100% meat.
Being not too fond of them, my meals at Nong Khai were peanuts and mango, and soyamilk and mango.
Side of the mekong, looking across to ventiene, the capital of laos
The strip of trees, short buildings and scattered huts across the river became a darkened silhouette- it did seem highly evocative in the sunset, as i met the ghosts of a year ago and withdrew a little from concrete chases.