16-Feb-2002 -- Continued from 17°N 102°E.
After spending the night at the Chiang Khan Hill Resort at the rapids in the Mekong (Kaeng Khut Khu) we enjoyed breakfast with the sun rising over a mountain south of the rapids (see picture). We had to be back in Udon Thani by mid-afternoon which left us some time to give this confluence a try.
The topography in this area is very different form what we had encountered elsewhere in northeastern Thailand. There are many mountains; this is reflected in the course of the Mekong. Not far east from here it is forced to change its direction by ninety degrees, turning east after coming from the north (Laos, China). At the rapids it is actually flowing north for a while.
We drove to Pak Chom and found a paved road heading towards the confluence. About 5km from the confluence we turned into a dirt road and at 4.25km our luck finally started to run out after seven straight successful confluence visits in the region. We came to a village at the foot of some mountains and while we were preparing to turn around at the point where the dirt road turned into a foot-bridge (see picture) we learned from the villagers that there is no road towards the confluence from here.
We went back to the pavement to call it a day. As we drove along the winding road we came around a turn and the guys in picture 3 walked across the road. I immediately hit the brakes; these guys might be able to help us with locating the confluence. They looked like surveyors and appeared to carry serious GPS equipment. We stopped and explained the project to them, no problem with the explanation here! With their professional equipment they smiled at my trusty old Magellan (‘There are better units than that by now’). We showed them the approximate location of the confluence on the road map, which prompted one of the guys to go back to their car and get some topo maps. Unfortunately they did not have the right sheets, the confluence was in the south-east corner of one of their maps and there were no roads visible from that side. They told us that the topos are available from the military in Bangkok to anyone who asks and explains the reason for needing them. They were not sure, however, whether the fact that this area is close to the border with Laos would impose any restrictions. As we were ready to leave they told us about a dirt road a little down the road that might get us closer to the confluence.
We drove on and decided to give the dirt road a try, but soon had to turn since it got too rough. Not wanting to give up so easily we stopped at a nearby house where some people were sitting in the shade with a pickup truck nearby. We talked to them for a while and inquired about roads. During the conversation one of the guys offered to take us down some roads in his truck for a fee (300 baht ~U$7). We ended up exploring some dirt roads for about an hour and a half never getting closer than the 4.25km. By now time was running out for us and we had to head back to Udon Thani. Before we left our driver told us about another road that we might want to try. That road will have to wait for next time.
On the topo map the surveyors showed us it looked like the confluence might be on a hill. There is a lot of farming going on in the area and some fields go up the slopes of the hills. If the confluence is close to such a field it might be easy to reach, but if it is in the dense bush that covers the hills around here, it could require some real effort to get to (see pictures). I am curious to see which way it turns out.
This concludes our confluence hunt in the northeast of Thailand. We were now headed for the beaches. Of course we did not forget about confluences...
Continued at 13°N 100°E.