Ferries: the Willamette to the Mekong


Ferry crossing the Mekong between Luang Prabang and Chompet Laos (May 2017)

Our dad loved ferries. We grew up ferrying across the Willamette River on the Canby Ferry, and back when I was little, we crossed the mouth of the Columbia by ferry between Astoria and Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula. While I have been lucky to work a few times in Thailand, it really wasn’t until this week when I was in a boat on the Mekong that my heart and soul felt a deeper connection to Asia. Rivers. Rivers fill me, through and through.

The Mekong is the world’s 12th longest river at 2,703 miles, with its headwaters in the Tibetan Plateau, running through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Our Willamette is no Mekong, as its main tributary flows a mere 187 miles as as it flows northward between the Oregon Coast and Cascade Ranges, before emptying into the Columbia. The Willamette’s tributaries make up our Willamette Valley. Both, however, are muddy rivers that carry special loads, stories and memories.

This morning I made a solo journey by ferry from the town of Luang Prabang, on the south side of the Mekong, across to the small village of Chompet. I walked through the dense forest on a narrow paved road that soon became hard packed dirt as it followed the river. This season’s monsoons have not yet hit. I then climbed stairs up to the still beauty of Wat Chompet, a quiet temple overlooking the river, the Luang Prabang valley and beyond. The ferry carried a single truck, a few motor scooters and a number of people on foot traveling between the larger town and morning market of Luang Prang. Unlike our Canby Ferry which creates a slower crossing between Stafford and Canby than bridges at Oregon City and Wilsonville, this Chompet crossing is limited to ferries and flat boats.

The Canby Ferry has only been around since 1914, with a temporary closure between 1946-1953. The Boones Ferry, also a cable ferry, was a much older ferry that our Dad rode to cross the Willamette near today’s Wilsonville. That early ferry operated from 1847-1954 and was a major thoroughfare connecting our early pioneers with the pre-territorial government of Champoeg, and later Salem, as well as carrying college students like my parents from Portland to Eugene and Corvallis prior to the interstate bridge’s completion in 1954.

While I know Asia would not have been a favorite travel spot for Dad – he hated the heat and didn’t like to fly – he would have loved crossing the Mekong on a ferry. So Dad, this one’s for you!


Looking down on Mekong River from Wat Chompet (May 2017).


Crossing the Canby Ferry with Russ, 2015.

3 thoughts on “Ferries: the Willamette to the Mekong

  1. Pingback: Stealing time with the Tea Girl | Dede's blog

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