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Published: December 9th 2010
The Mekong is one of Asia's longest and most storied rivers; from it's beginning on the Tibetan Plateau it winds it's way 3,000 miles through China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to it's mouth at the South China Sea. We've encountered the Mekong on previous trips to South East Asia but these have been fleeting glances, mere moments in time. The mystery of the river enthralled us and the idea was born - to travel along it's length, to move through South East Asia as a whole and to see what - if anything - binds the region together. We want to experience the old and the new Asia, revisit past favourites and discover some new ones. The Mekong region has it all. Bangkok with it's skytrain and modern shopping malls. Luang Prabang with it's timeless temples and monks clad in orange robes wandering the streets with alms bowls. Natural beauty such as the Yuanyang rice terraces, and the patchwork green fields in the Mekong Delta. Frantic, fast paced cities such as Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City and oceans of countryside where life seems to carry on as it has done for centuries.
The region has a chequered past. Colonialism has long since gone and although the wars are over, Laos and Cambodia both bear the scars of the Vietnam War. Cambodia is still trying to recover from four years of genocide, while Tibet is trying to survive the political and cultural terror imposed by the Chinese government. More recently there have been other concerns. Bird flu, swine flu, and lack of democracy in China, Laos, and Vietnam. Thailand is rocked by a struggle between the red and yellow shirts. The Mekong slices through all this history.
Besides rivers are just interesting. They mould landscapes, cutting through them with canyons and gorges. They nurture wildlife, fertilise land, and feed people along their courses. They are trade routes, a means of transport, places to wash, playgrounds for children. Sometimes gentle, they can as easily be destructive, flooding, sweeping away lives and livelihoods. Rivers move. They suggest renewal and rejuvenation. Change. Yet there is also something calming about them, the idea of just watching the water flow by. I always harbour a wish to slow my life down and even now I no longer work I find time often escapes me. Jim accuses me of being manic. Maybe on this river trip I'll learn to let go a little.
We don't expect to be able to follow the river closely. There is no trail along the Mekong. We'll probably begin our trip some 700/800 km from the source; we're content to use the river as a theme to try and get some understanding of the area and the people who live in it. We'll just see what happens, see what the river brings and go with the flow.
Tot: 2.126s; Tpl: 0.044s; cc: 19; qc: 99; dbt: 0.0464s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 1;
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