Our first real adventure on the Mekong began while taking the slow boat from Thailand to Laos. There were two options to get there. The slow boat was very slow and would take a day and a half. The speedboat option was a little bit more expensive, and we thought it was going to be a bit more dangerous. We totally should’ve taken the speedboat. Instead, we spent 40 hours sitting uncomfortably in a tiny raft packed with people meandering slowly, extremely slowly, down the Mekong River.
I met a bunch of boys selling rather intricately and creatively knotted thread crafts along the Mekong in Cambodia. I was so impressed with both their skill (woven fish with gills and tails in 10 colors!) and their English and started talking with one of them. He soon became my embroidery knot teacher and showed me how to make many different knots. In return, I offered to take him shopping at the local outdoor market (a maze of stalls miles long) where he helped me purchase more thread at the non-tourist price! Then I asked him what I could give him in return for his lessons. He took me past many vendors until he reached the one he was looking for. He chose a pair of black jeans and told me he was saving them for a celebration and called them his “Happy New Year pants” ––never have I had so much joy buying a gift!
The knowledge he shared with me lived on. Our next stop was at an ex-pat run guesthouse along the water called Sabadi Corner (means a resting place). Scott and I met several other travelers and within hours I was teaching them how to make bracelets with the thread and knowledge I had received from my friend.
After many months abroad I was feeling super homesick, and my mother treated us to a three-day boat trip down the river. The entire boat was made out of mahogany, and, by chance, we were the only passengers! Our incredible guide showed us different locations along the river, taught us the history of Laos, and took us to see the Si Phan Don Islands, an archipelago of literally 1,000 tiny islands. This was where I first tried larb gai with sticky rice. The dish of ground meat with citrus and spices is found on many Thai restaurant menus––if you see it, you MUST try it!
Our local guide took us out on a smaller straw boat where we played in the water and learned how to fish using handmade rods. Our guide made a fire, cooked our fish, and we shared an incredible fresh and delicious meal together. As we went back to our guesthouse, we watched the sun set in vibrant brushstrokes of orange, yellow, and pink––resulting in one of my top 10 best photos of the trip and a memory I will never forget.
I learned so much about the history of this region as we traveled, and it has an impact on my work to this day. My Mien earrings honor the Cambodian Mien tribe who had to flee to Thailand for their own safety during Pol Pot’s systematic killing of Cambodians in the late 70s––¼ of Cambodians were killed in 4 years. You could feel the weight of the history, the sadness, in Cambodia. The Mien people fled to the hill tribes of northern Thailand and that is where the silver work is done from our Mien earrings. I hoped that naming the earrings after them would educate those who had never otherwise heard of them.
One morning as we started to pack to move on to our next location along the Mekong, someone we met asked us to stay another day and join him for his birthday party. A year traveling the world taught me how important it is to say YES to the unexpected and not be held back by your original plans.