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Mekong River

Mekong River   |   villages   |   Pak Beng   |   etc.

Laos photo.

August, 2004

Laos photo.
1. The Mekong River
Laos photo.
2. Dangerous rocks
Laos photo.
3. Selling snacks
Laos photo.
4. Buddhist temple

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The Mae Khong (Khong River), better known as the Mekong River, begins in Tibet. It then runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Viet Nam to end in the South China Sea. In Northern Laos, it is a big, strong river that carries a great deal of sediment eroded from the surrounding mountains (see photo #1, at left). We were surprised, however, to see how much the river is constrained by the narrow valleys through which it passes. This is very much a mountain stream on a grand scale.

We made the trip from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang during the rainy season when the waters of the river were fairly high. During the dry season the water can be as much as 8 meters lower, exposing many large rocks. The navigable portion of the river becomes quite narrow, with many rapids. The larger boats cannot operate at that time of the year. Even during our high-water trip, we saw many exposed rocks (photo #2). We also saw the surface of the water disturbed by the rocks that were not visible just below the surface. Navigation of the river requires both local knowledge and a close eye on the river. The boats only operate during daylight hours. And, there are a number of boats that get into trouble each year. Our trip, however, was completed without mishap.

The river is the center of life for the people who live near it. Most of the small villages we passed during our 2-day trip have no road access to the rest of Laos. The river is their only contact with the outside world. People who live beyond the first hills must simply walk. All along the river, people make their living in ways that are connected to the river and its water. At each stop, there were women selling snacks and other supplies to the river travelers (photo #3). We passed a saw mill that receives teak logs from the river, and ships lumber out on the river. Farming of rice and corn is the primary activity along the river, but there is also fishing, weaving, whiskey distilling, gold mining, and teak logging.

Laos is primarily Buddhist, and we saw many temples along the river (photo #4). Most were small and simple, appropriate for the small, poor villages that they serve. We were struck by the contrast with the beautiful temple we saw in Nahong Village in Thailand. There is clearly a big difference in the resources available to these different groups of people. Many Lao are also animists who worship a number of spirits from the forests. Their older animist beliefs are often added to the newer Buddhist beliefs.

Farmers along the river grow two kinds of rice. The traditional white rice, also called wet rice because the fields are flooded during part of the growing season, can only be grown on flat ground. There isn't much flat ground among the mountains along the river. Dry rice, also called sticky rice because of its consistency when cooked, can be grown of steep hillsides. The farmers spend a great deal of time tending to their rice, and build small houses in the fields. They live here during periods of heavy work and return to their villages after the harvest.

Here are some more photos from the Mekong River:

river  | canoe  | caribao  | rocks  | house
bamboo  | clouds  | boat  | forest


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Jim and Jamie Richter, http://gotouring.com/razzledazzle/
Website designed and created by Lois Richter, expanded by Jim.
Created 8/2004. All text & photos are © 2004 Jim Richter.