Nongkhai to KHorat and Bangkok (April and May, 1893).
we left in regular rainy weather for Khorat, with 14 " kiens " or
ox-carts, there being two oxen and a driver to each. Twelve of these
are about equal in carrying capacity to sixteen elephants as loaded for
hilly country—two extra we had for sick men, of whom we still had two
unable to walk ; and these two, moreover, were the best protected with
charms of all the men with us. These charms were small wooden prahs, very
roughly cut, which they sew up in a bag of calico and wear round the
neck and arm. No amount of chaff will persuade them that these things
will not protect them from falling trees, and dhdp (or sword) cuts, as well as the Pi of
the forest or river. Another danger from which they declared these
things protected the whole party, were the mermaids in the Mekong.
Against these creatures I was constantly warned when having a swim,
especially above Luang Prabang; they described them as the "women of
the water," who would drag a man down and drown him. Where could this
notion have come from, so singularly like our own stories ? * South of
Luang Prabang, one heard very little of these damsels, and much more of
the pla buk. On one occasion I pitchtd one of these charms
overboard, and the owner, who was sick, promptly got well next day, to
his no small astonishment. Following the telegraph line, the great
trail to Khorat is 211 miles or so, but detours have often to
be made in search of villages which are generally off the main track
some little distance, and this is necessary for commissariat purposes.
For traders, the journey generally occupies 16 to 21 days, according to
the condition of the oxen and state of the weather. When it rains, no
advance is possible, as, unlike the buffaloes, the oxen cannot work in
* It no doubt primarily arises from the danger and strength of the eddies.