After the Black Temple stop, Geng takes us up north to Chiang Sean.
On an earlier trip to the Golden Triangle, we did the A-list attractions, including the bizarre plaza where locals toss coins into a looping metal chute in attempts to land them many yards away in the belly of a grinning Buddha.
On this second visit, we hit stops on Geng’s list, including several peaceful, shady, secluded temples we didn’t even see the first time around. From there, he takes us to the Mee Kong River, where we board a long boat and go flying at high speed across the muddy water.
Our first stop: Burma (now called Myanmar). Back at the hotel, we had asked the concierge about traveling to Burma, since many companies (including the Le Meridien, where we were staying) offer packages that include crossing the Friendship Bridge into Burma.
He smiled. “Have you heard the news about Burma? The elections there?”
We shook our heads. “Is it unsafe?”
Still smiling, and in typical Thai style, he arched his eyebrows and said, “Perhaps, today, another tour would suit you better.”
And so: while our longboat stops at Burma, we don’t get off. Instead, we float in the river, looking up at the casino where most tourists tend to go. (“Very easy to get *into* that casino,” one local told us. “Not so easy getting out.”)
Once it becomes clear we aren’t going to pay a visit to our Burmese friends, the boat pilot takes us across the river to Laos. We do step off here, paying the 40 baht charge to come ashore to a uniformed man who is sitting in the shade at what looks like a desk stolen from an elementary school.
We don’t really see much of Laos, of course — or, more precisely, we see what one can see from a market deliberately constructed on the border where tourists might venture. There are stalls upon stalls packed with counterfeit goods: cigarettes, whisky, Polo shirts, LaCoste shirts, fakes of every conceivable kind.
Unfortunately for the vendors, we are long past our “Oooh! Fake merchandise!” phase of life, and we leave without buying anything more than a bit of costume jewelry and t-shirts for the nephews.
Trying to snag a dollar or two, the vendor pulls out all the stops, revealing his cache of the local specialty libation: huge jars, filled with whisky, and stuffed with whole pickled cobras. The reddish liquid is thick and smells foul, and chunks of scaly meat slosh to and fro in the bottom of each container.
He smiles. “You try?”
Um, no. Thanks, though!
Back on the boat. Back in the car. A stop along the river at Thai Kitchen, where Clyde orders a beautiful steamed Mee Kong river fish with flesh as white and pure and succulent as any he’s ever eaten. He raves about it, picking away until every scrap of meat has been removed from the bone.