I spent two days rolling down the river Mekong on a slow boat. The boat was long and narrow and the captain was adept at navigating round the numerous rocks and whirlpools.
Inside there were about 30 Lao people and about six tourists. There was also a fine mixture of oranges, eggs, rice, bamboo hats and cardboard.
Passengers who missed the slow boat caught us up on a speed boat and then jumped on board. Deaths on the speed boats are apparently not unknown as they crash into the rocks.
The Mekong looked like something out of Apocalypse Now, with the tropical rain forest coming right down to the river. The local H’mong people fought for the CIA in the 1970s and apparently funded the war through heroin factories in this area.
After the Pathet Lao won the war in 1975, the CIA evacuated about 3,000 H’mong and a further 300,000 (out of a total H’mong population of 600,000) fled the country.
Today there are about 600,000 H’mong in Laos, about 700,000 Khmu and about 3.5 million Lao out of a total population of about 7 million. Uniting such a diverse population after a bloody war is difficult. Interestingly, the communist government has announced that some of the kings of the past were national heroes and put up large statutes to them. This is a statute of King Anouvong on the banks of the Mekong.