A little money can go a very long way in a lot of parts of our world.

In September, I visited three schools in Laos as part of a riverboat trip down the Mekong
with a group of friends I've known for 40 years.

Geoff Collins, a mutual friend, lives in Thailand and organised the trip. He helps raise funds to build and maintain these schools through the Bridging the Gap Mekong Trust, proof that a good education can transform lives.

When I got home I talked about the experience with Gregg Brown from Ride Rotorua and Paul Laing, Dave Joy and Gary Sullivan from the local Singlespeed Society. Their generosity will help fund new desks for one of the schools we visited in Keng Heng Yai.


Our crew came from different directions to gather in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand for a couple of days before driving north to Chiang Khong on the southern banks of the Mekong in heavy rain.

Keng Heng Yai in Laos. Photo / Faye Bland
Keng Heng Yai in Laos. Photo / Faye Bland

We stopped for lunch at the White Temple or Wat Rong Khun outside Chiang Rai. This isn't sacred, it's a very large art installation, designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a famous Thai visual artist.

From there we detoured to where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar intersect on the Mekong, the infamous Golden Triangle, a major source of heroin.

Then, after an overnight stay in Chiang Khong, we crossed the bridge to Huay Xai in Laos to pass through immigration, meet our local guide, Xangnoi, and be shuttled to the boat.

Long and relatively thin, this doubles as home to the skipper, his wife and two children and it soon felt like home to all of us…in spite of the rain still coming down.

As we cleared the Thai border the sun came out and stayed that way as we chugged between steep hills of verdant rain forest punctuated by villages and the cultivated rice paddies that surround them.

The river was high and flowing at between 8-10 kilometres per hour, requiring some serious navigation round whirlpool and shoals. The river is the main transport link with high-powered narrowboats and drivers in full-face helmets acting as very fast water taxis.

That evening we tied up at Pak Ben to overnight in a very comfortable lodge.


No one needed an alarm. At 6.30am a family of elephants, loudly trumpeting, descended on the far bank of the river to bathe.

Day two really got to the heart of the trip. We visited two schools that Geoff, Xang and the Trust help support, before arriving at Lan Bad Khammune, site of a third school.

The village fed us and then welcomed us with a Baci ceremony that was moving, humbling and inspiring.

The next morning we visited the temple and the school. This has strong Kiwi connections with funding from the Morgan Family Foundation.

The final day on the river was a run to the Pak Ou caves with Buddhist temples crafted into the rock, then on to Luang Prabang.

This is a beautiful riverside town with a blend of French colonial architecture and traditional temples. There is a very good reason it's a UNESCO world heritage site.


I'll be back – www.mekongkayaks.com