Rather than cross immediately into Laos, we wanted to see the area around the Mekong first. We traveled East to Beung Kan. Across the dirty, brown Mekong we could see shacks and dirt roads, and little evidence of development. How must the Laotians feel to look across at the paved roads, power lines and shiny pick-ups of the Thais? Near Beung Kan is a monastic retreat called Ban Ahong. Built on a bell-shaped red rock outcropping rising abruptly from the surrounding plains, plankwalks have been nailed and bolted to the sides of the mountain to represent the seven levels of Buddhist cosmology. We wandered around the deserted mountain, walking carefully on the rickety boards and admiring the views. During Buddhist lent the hermitages fill up with hermits. A lucky monk could barricade himself on his own rock spire, connected to the main path by a narrow wooden bridge, and circumambulate his rock pillar to his heart's content. On the back roads of the surrounding rural area, people lazed under their stilt houses, some weaving, others just lying in hammocks. An old man sat under his house weaving a basket. His jaw dropped as he saw us ride by. Seeing two tourists on a tuk-tuk was apparently the highlight of his day!
The local market sold ant eggs, a local delicacy, along with our favorite - mango sticky rice. We quickly learned to say this in Thai, to the delight of the market ladies. The advantage of traveling during the hot season in Thailand is that the best fruit is available - mangoes, rambutan, mangosteen and, best of all, durian. That night we ate our dinner sitting on a plastic mat on the sidewalk overlooking the Mekong . The only guesthouse in Beung Kan was also the hangout for the local ex-pats, mostly Australians who sweated into their beer as they rambled on about the downsides life in Thailand . The owner was categorical - it was impossible to cross the border here, but at the immigration office, after looking at our passports and Lao visas, they waved us on to border crossing up the road.