Life flows through Mekong

THE first time I caught a glimpse of Mekong River was when my friends and I were crossing the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge from NongKhai, Thailand to Vientiane, Laos.

The next day, we were having a bottle of beer in a hut by the river bank in Vientiane, watching the sunset and the view of Thailand at the other side of the river.

Although Mekong River serves as a natural border among countries, it also binds six countries where it flows through: Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. Cementing what Mekong has naturally joined together, the Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Cooperation Program was established in 1992 with the support of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other stakeholders.

Thinking of Mekong brought me back to the times I traveled to Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, on different instances. I have been to China’s major cities. The closest part of China where Mekong lies, specifically Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Mekong Yunnan Province, which I have visited were Guangzhou and Shenzhen in the Guangdong Province.

Going back to our Thailand-Laos trip, we took a 12.5-hour train ride from Bangkok to NongKhai to cross over to Vientiane. It was right smacked into the Songkran Festival.

Water-throwing were everywhere on both sides of the Mekong River. Even though we were recipients of that water splashing spree and were mostly wet during those days, we still enjoyed the celebration immensely.

I made new friends in Vientiane, even joining some of the Songkran gatherings. It wasn’t just food and drinks that were free-flowing. Even laughter flowed fluidly among locals and visitors.

As if these were not enough, we crossed back to Thailand towards NongKhai and headed to Udon Thani, then took an overnight bus to Chiang Mai where the Songkran festival was even grander.

The next travel that got me close to Mekong was when I visited Cambodia and Vietnam. Flying into Siem Reap, the view of Tonle Sap from the air was breathtaking. Boats looked like tiny moving insects while houses dotted the waterway. Tonle Sap is connected to Mekong, with water flowing to and fro between these two bodies of water.

Siem Reap is a juxtaposition of tranquility and vivacity. When we roamed it at daytime, the city was quiet and movement was slow. I reckon that most of the people, locals and tourists alike, were probably out exploring the Angkor Archaeological Park. When nighttime came, Pub Street and the Night Market were suddenly filled with so much people, as if they suddenly sprouted from somewhere.

After our Siem Reap and Angkor adventure, we hopped on a bus and took the road for six hours onwards to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. Upon our arrival, we made our way towards the Royal Palace, which was already closed by the time we got there. Walking outside the palace late in the afternoon, we opted to watch the sunset by the Sisowath Quay. It was also the point where portions of Tonle Sap River and Mekong River meet.

We sat there watching tourists enjoying a rickshaw ride and locals having a picnic on the grassy parts. More and more people arrived and some started dancing for their afternoon exercise. Vendors began setting up their stalls. Some were fishing by the river banks, while ahead, boats of different kinds were passing by. One docked to let some passengers on board. Looking around, there was a certain vibe that showed the joy of people moving to the rhythm of the city.

Life by the Mekong is not just about getting food and sustenance from the river. It was a means of transportation connecting people and communities. It is where activities happen, where people are brought together, where they converge and share some laughter. We followed the direction of Mekong and continued towards Vietnam, specifically to its capital, Ho Chi Minh City. Like the water, we just went with the flow.

All photos are by this author. Claire Marie Algarme blogs at Follow her as @firsttimetravel on Twitter and Instagram and like her Facebook page First-time Travels blog.
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