If you're planning on crossing between Cambodia and Laos via their overland crossing, you'll have no choice but to pass through Stung Treng, the capital of the same-named province that straddles the northern reaches of the Mekong River.
Many who arrive here tend to pass on through, rushing down to Kratie or even onto Phnom Penh, but, as with most Khmer towns on the river, Stung Treng has enough back alleys and loads of pleasant waterfront that an overnight stay is anything but a bad idea.
Within thirty minutes of arrival I struck up a conversation with a local guide named Darin who proceeded to spend the afternoon with me. We headed north to the yet-to-be-completed and Chinese-funded bridge over the Mekong and then onwards to Mekong Blue -- a local NGO supporting women in the province, providing them with weaving skills and an outlet to sell some of their very impressive creations.
Stung Treng is a tremendously friendly town, during the ride up to the weaving centre we stopped for sugarcane juice and chatted with numerous locals along our way -- all the time with Darin giving me a running commentary on the whos who and whats what of Stung Treng -- it is a small town, but certainly not short of gossip!
As the day wore on, we headed south of town to a bend in the Mekong where,from a grassy riverside setting we had a couple of cold beers and watched a jaw-droppingly beautiful sunset. As we sat there for a couple of hours, Darin told me of his many plans to try to to encourage visitors to spend more than a night or two in Stung Treng -- from customised rice-barges to homestays on the other side of the river, he had a seemingly endless array of ideas -- it was really encouraging to hear so many ideas -- here's to hoping some of them get off the ground.
Once darkness fell we headed back into town to the Riverside Guesthouse -- owned by Stung Treng's main fixer, Mr T. With its rooftop bar, cheap beers and affable staff, this was a great place to while away the hours and meet other travellers, though next time I'm in Stung Treng, I'll spend the extra money and stay at Sok Sambath Hotel
which has rooms a million times better than the dingy wood-paneled offerings at Riverside.
The Water Festival is drawing near and time is running out, so it is an early morning departure the next day for Kratie.
If you want to get in touch with Darin, you can contact him by phone on (011) 226 828 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org