There’s a thunderstorm to the south and the skies are going dark. Intermittent rumbles wander up the river. The winking lights on the other bank are another country. The river is the Mekong, the watery eye of Southeast Asia, having spilled down from its headwaters deep in mountainous China. This land was built on its spoils, and many kingdoms have flourished and decayed under its gaze. The culture of this place, of all the places for hundreds and hundreds of miles, are linked to it inexorably. They are merely fish.

I’ve come to another border, the border between Thailand and Laos, but it’s like many of the others that I’ve crossed in recent months. When borders are wide rivers between rice plains the crossing is at once more satisfying and less dramatic than when they’re high peaks between alpine valleys. In my mind, the river is the perfect, benign boundary. The people will be much the same in Laos as they were in Thailand, separated only by that fine thread of water, that prophet of seas, coffer of kingdoms. Their competing destinies are shaped by the politics of their boundaries and the cohesion of their tribes, but their faces will slowly take on the same aspects until I’m no longer sure which was which.