Sailing Up the Mekong, Lifeline of Asia, Through 4 Countries (2007)

Sailing Up the Mekong, Lifeline of Asia, Through 4 Countries (2007)

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Sailing up the Mekong is a fascinating way to get to know Asia. Mekong is the nerve centre from which radiate a host of countries nourished and sustained by its bounty.  Springing in the highlands of Tibet, this mighty river courses through five other countries – Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam before it joins the South China sea. As you sail up the river from Vietnam, cameos of unedited daily life lived in the bogs, creeks, lakes and the delta of this mighty river unfold, giving you insights no other journey would.

That’s why I decided to make the journey through Asia by river. I managed to rope in three other friends of mine – all women – and we had a blast. This was no package tour where every minute is accounted for and you’re whisked from location to location by an efficient guide. This was a leisurely discovery, deliberately left unplanned to a large extent. We flew to Bangkok and from there, landed in Hochi Minh city and worked our way across to Chau Doc on the Mekong Delta, looking for a boat to take us upriver. It took a couple of days to materialise, time we used to roam around these unspoilt riverside towns. We did our immigration on the river, got off frequently to visit local sights and specialties, but always came back to the river to continue our journey.

Rickety homes held up by stilts, people going about their daily chores unmindful of the curious lenses protruding from the passing boat, the river serves up a rich tapestry. Rusty barges, rickety dinghies, crumbling craft, nimble canoes, occasional swanky steamers all clog the river. Fog horns blare, a miasma of smog hangs over the river in most places. On the far bank, women wash utensils and clothes in the river, men lounge around in their sarongs smoking or play ma-jong, kids hurry off to school in smart uniforms, a floating library glides past, dinghies hawking daily needs including pots, pans, flowers and veggies weave expertly between the bigger craft looking for custom;  we even spotted a couple of young boys even pulling snakes out of the river and pile them in their dinghies twitching with live catch. Indeed, the Mekong dominates the lives of those who live on its banks.

We stopped in Phnom Penh to visit the Tuol Sueng Genocide Museum. It was the most sobering moment of our ten-day journey. A school which should have nurtured children became a killing field for the evil Khmer regime.  We came away deeply saddened.

Siem Reap, our next stop, was the other extreme – it showcases the heights to which human aesthetics can rise, given the right environment. A hydrological civilization enjoying the prosperity enabled by the generous Mekong and Tonle Sap, found the leisure to build the world’s most magnificent temple; we sauntered through the streets of a very French Vientiane and moved on to a very eclectic Luang Prabang whose pagodas are a testament to unparalleled sense of Asian aesthetics.


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