Let us not discuss the fourteen hour bus trip that brought us, bumpily, to these beautiful islands.
I thought, at our first stop, we were going to be asked to help assemble ‘The Waltzer’, luckily, it was just a swift stopover to collect something alive in a sack.
I didn’t ask!
‘Four Thousand Islands’ in the far south of Laos on the Cambodian border. Or Sim Phan Don to give it the correct nomenclature.
I Grew up in London close to the river. It was always present. In history, myth and legend, boat-trips to Westminster pier or up to Hampton Court Palace and of course the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race.
All this light blue zeal, in spite of the fact none of us had yet been near a university, let alone Cambridge.
I think it was the colour nanny favoured and so we all took our lead from her.
After all, ‘Oxford Blue’ can be so funereal.
I’m rambling about good ‘Old Father Thames’ because he has never left me. Whenever I return to London he’s there to remind me of times past. Good, phenomenal and terrible, yet always familiar. I feel like a pearly salmon arriving once again at my riverine beginnings.
Well now that old familiar stretch of water has a rival for my affections.
A strange old bird. At times dirty, muddy and most uninviting. A viscose avenue of churning water.
Unpredictable currents that would have even ‘David Walliams’ yelling for the safety boat.
Yet, in other parts, green and soporific, the place where the famed ‘Naga’ serpents probably do hang out.
And now, this beautiful snake of water has broadened into a fourteen kilometre stretch of calm blue. Punctuated by thousands of tiny islands emerging from the river – green, partially submerged, hippopotamus as far as the eye can see.
Old Buddha certainly did a good job when he whipped up this place.
Not even David Copperfield could have done better!
It’s quite heavenly.
The Mekong must be one of the worlds most majestic of waterways.
But the way of the water may be changing soon.
According to ‘International Rivers’ about 2,100 people would have to be resettled, and more than 202,000 people living in the dam’s area would lose most of their land for farming and riverbank gardens. It would also mean less access to the forest and an end to gold-panning in the region.
Apparently this ‘great leap forward’ is also gonna fuck up the fishing too!
Because the Mekong is a unique and particularly complex ecosystem that hosts the most productive inland fisheries in the world, the change in fish biodiversity and abundance would greatly affect the tens of millions of people in the Mekong region who depend on the river for their food and livelihood.
According to the WWF way over two hundred fish species will be buggered!
Something fishy may be going on here perhaps.
I pulled on my ‘Tintin’ shorts and left ‘Captain Haddock’ audibly sleeping off his hangover in a nearby hammock – he’d imbibed a little too much of the local grog last night and got overexcited.
The culprit, a really cool guy called Adam, who has his own bar here. After sharing a brief conversation Andrew is already in the forward stages of planning a new ‘Lola’s Showbar here in southern Laos. He is convinced our ex-team, Lorraine, Jan, and the rest of the supporting cast, would follow.
Sadly not his father though – he hates long haul. Damn!
Which brings me back to the dam.
Too much time on my hands, a happy shake, and an obsession with ‘Herge’ and I was well on to the case.
Nowhere in the tropics has a dam on this scale ever been completely successful – they are effective at just two things – making electricity and decimating the fish stocks further downstream.
In Laos and Cambodia, fish is the staple diet. In the latter it makes up 80% of the national diet – and there is nothing with which to replace it.
So, more heat for the stove but nothing to go on it! Crazy!
I believe China are the major financier of this controversial project. An experiment that must seem all the more attractive to them as the profit will soon be flowing upstream and, undoubtedly, all of the chaos in the other direction.
So we leave Laos with a heavy heart and an equally heavy pair of rucksacks and cross the almost, non existent, border with Thailand.
I, politely, decline and nip behind the nearest Palm to use my own.
No dam in the world could have held me back.
I hope and pray it’s the same for the lovely Lao people when they want to ‘spend a penny’ in the future.