Laos and Mekong

“Mother of Waters or Tumultuous River, the Mekong River has not ceased raising people’s minds and imaginations, nor provoking men’s desire to tame or enslave it.”

Mae Nam Khong means the “Mother of Waters” in Lao, and is where we get our name for the Mekong. Its source is located about 5,000 meters high on the Tibetan massif, and it runs 4,800 km long making it be the third longest river in Asia after the Yangji Jiang River in China and the Ganges River in India. The Mekong crosses (in order) China, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, and finally empties into the sea in Vietnam.

A source of myths and ancestral rites for many centuries, countless legends refer to this sacred and venerated river. The “naga”, for instance, is a famous giant snake and protector of land treasures. It is said to have been seen along the Mekong River between Laos and Thailand many times. An annual tradition taking place in Vientiane, seeks to unite the inhabitants as they celebrate the offerings (fireballs coming out from the water) made by the “naga” in thanking the human beings for preserving the river.

The Mekong River supports a population of more than 242 million inhabitants spread over six countries, and about 90 million of them directly depend on its watershed. The river’s abundant water resources indeed allow for important agricultural production like rice farming, fishing and fish farming efforts. It is also an important transportation route for the freight and domestic passenger transport.

In Laos, the Mekong River runs from North to South over 1,800 km. The river flows through the Golden Triangle, Houay Xay, Pakbeng, Luang Prabang, Vientiane, and lastly through the 4,000 Islands. Up north, the banks are surrounded by lush vegetation on mid-to-high elevation hills, whereas in the South, more flatlands can be seen. Countless rapids and waterfalls also shape the river, making the boat travel very difficult, especially in the South. For instance, the impressive PaePheng and Li Phi waterfalls in Southern Laos make this stretch of river impassable.

The Mekong River possesses a priceless fortune and remains the vital and essential element of this landlocked country. Mainly depending on agriculture, Laos has fertile lands favorable for rice production and livestock farming. The river yields of a wide range of fish including the famous catfish of Northern Laos, where the most ethnic minorities are registered. Laos counts more ethnic minorities than any other of its border countries (Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam) making it the most diverse country in mainland South-East Asia. It embodies a complex canvas that numbers some 130 ethnic minorities, sub-minorities and various clans, sub-clans and lines of descent. Hmong, Yao, Khmu and Tai Lu are the minorities that live on the riverside villages of Northern Mekong River. In Bokeo and Oudomxay provinces, a bigger presence of Khmu is registered than Hmong, whereas it is the other way around in Luang Prabang and Xayabouri provinces.

More info on Mekong,

  • The Mekong River : a river, many names :

    In China, at its source in Tibet, the Mekong is called ZaQu which means "water of rock". Following its pathway in the Yunnan province, the inhabitants name it Langcang Jiang, the Tumultuous River. With its 4500 m vertical drop, its narrow watercourse and its infinite number of rocks, the river breaks at an impressive speed. Clearly, this title for the Mekong is no misnomer!
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  • Rich and varied fauna

    Peaceful buffalos lounging on the banks, numerous birds lighting on lush vegetation, this is the landscape the Mekong River offers us.

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  • Main environmental issues.

    The regions of Northern Lao suffer from timber exploitation, an issue that is becoming less and less controlled by local authorities. Consequently, these are the primary environmental problems that exist today: insufficient reforestation, global warming and biodiversity degradation.