A Little Photoessay … Life on the Mighty, Mighty Mekong River

Originating high in the Tibetan Plateau, the Mekong River is the life-blood of activity throughout the history of southeast Asia. Locally known as the Mae Nam Khong, the literal translation is Mother of Water River. The river runs through China, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and over the centuries consistently remained an important focal point for locals, governments, and foreign countries.

Locals use the River to sustain life–food, transportation and local trade.

Sunset on the Mekong in Luang Prabang, Laos

Boats are already docked in the gently swaying waters by the time the sun is setting. The boat workers must have left to find dinner because the banks of the Mekong River in Luang Prabang were nearly empty this time of day!

Governments dam and re-route the river in political power struggles between the nations sharing the Mekong River’s natural resources, and international political struggles have relied on the power of the Mekong to push goods out to foreign ports for profit and trade.

There’s a lot to this powerful river and it’s with good reason the the poetic and alliterative description the Mighty Mekong fits so well.

Over the past several years, I’ve seen various parts of the Mekong River–within Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia to be exact, and below you’ll find a slice of that life I witnessed as locals use the river waters and mineral-rich banks to sustain their lives and livelihoods.

monks on mekong river

Just before sunset in Luang Prabang, Laos, young monks c00l off from the afternoon heat in the river waters where the Nam Khan and Mekong intersect; their giggles and shouts echoed out over the nearby river banks.

mekong river

These children swam to a sandy island in the middle of the river for a lively game of kick ball. When the other team really got a good kick in, the losers had to dive into the river to retrieve their ball! Luang Prabang, Laos

boy in river

A young boy was excited to see me so far from town as my niece and I walked the banks of the Mekong River near Luang Prabang, Laos. Clearly he was familiar with the camera though and hammed it up with different poses!

Slow boats in Luang Prabang, Laos

The iconic wooden slow boats dot the Mekong River all day long as tourists come and go, and locals transport their goods from one town to another. Locals use the small uncovered boats for fishing and quick trips across the river.

slow boats

Satellite dishes adorn traditional wooden slow boats (which are also used as houses for some Laotians) in an odd display of modernity as a man extricates his boat from the docks in Houay Xai, a border town with Thailand.

Several huge semi truks wait to cross over the Mekong River from Thailand into Laos at the border crossing between Chiang Khong and Houay Xai.

Several huge semi truks wait to cross over the Mekong River from Thailand into Laos at the border crossing between Chiang Khong and Houay Xai, the border towns on each side of the Mekong.

slow boat Mekong River

Our captain carefully guides the slow boat down the Mekong River, watching to avoid the huge rocks and swift current in some areas as we make down river from Pak Beng to Luang Prabang, Laos.

huts on river laos

The slow boat occasionally stopped at small smatterings of wooden and bamboo huts lining the Mekong.

laotian boys

Young boys board our slow boat at the tiny towns and sell snacks and cold drinks to the tourists on board. They come on for just two or three minutes and swarm the boat to make sure they hit every possible sale.

Child on the Mekong River, Laos

A little girl with hand-woven baskets looks at me quizzically as I slowly float by her home while she prepares dinner on the banks of the Mekong River.

sunset laos

Ana plays with the light from the setting sun on Mount Phousi in Luang Prabang, Laos.

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  • http://sandboxromance.blogspot.com/ Genevieve

    These photos are absolutely beautiful. I love the one of the wooden boat with the mountains in the background!

  • Anonymous

    Gorgeous photos! Particularly love that one of the colorful boats with the mountains in the back :)

  • Andi Perullo

    That last shot is just incredible! I loved the entire photographic narrative. What a special place in the world!!!

  • Chais Meyer

    You’re incredible, thank you for sharing this with us!

  • http://travelexperta.com/blog Marina K. Villatoro

    What a great and totally different lifestyle. Love the heart and sun – that tells the story of how great it is there:)

  • http://www.budgettraveltalk.com/ Jan

    I have been to Luang Prabang and loved it.  I really enjoyed seeing glimpses of your trip down on the slow boat, as that was something I wanted to do but couldn’t pull it off in the time I had, although I did get to go to Pak Ou caves.  I am glad you changed your mind about them by the way!

  • Bula

    Gorgeous pictures! In a few weeks, I am going to be leaving Vietnam to go into Cambodia and Laos. This was a great taste of what’s to come. 

  • http://www.thecultureist.com/ Maria of Culture-ist Magazine

    Love the wooden slowboat photo. Takes one to another place and time.

  • Jeff C.

    Beautiful series of images showing us glimpses of life different than mine.

  • http://www.worldwalkabout.wordpress.com/ Andrea

    What you and your niece are doing is so inspiring, what an awesome childhood you are helping to give her! Love your blog, keep up the great work!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7HGT2XUQZJIYKWY67FZG2MX4TU Cyrus Holiday

    Hi………….

    great post.

    I would say just fantabulous thoughtful post… just Woowww…!!!
     
    thanks for the info.

    regards,

    Regards,Cyrusholidayhttp://www.veemoy.com

  • http://smilingfacestravelphotos.com/ Nomadic Samuel

    These are lovely shots Shannon.  I love the diversity in your selection.  My favorite is of the child excited to see you in the water.

  • http://twitter.com/awanderingsole a wandering sole

    These photos are lovely but they make me miss Laos SO much!

  • http://twitter.com/Matt_and_Caro Passport+Toothbrush

    Now THAT is what I call a photo essay! Full of stories, great images! Good job!

  • Danil [Duneel]

    I agree that the there is a great holiday. But in Siberia, too many beautiful places … and I do not understand why foreign people do not come here to relax. We do not bite :) I am pleased to be talked to …

  • http://www.diwyy.com/ Jerri

    Love these photographs. Having just been to the Mekong in the Golden Triangle region in December these photos are very meaningful. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.kohtaoheights.co.uk/ Koh Tao

    Nice photographs. It gives me an idea where to go next. :) Thank you for the lovely photos.

  • http://twitter.com/MaggieLRo Maggie L R

    A wonderful post, I love all the images. Your blog is great. I love hearing of others travel adventures.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you Maggie! The country was so beautiful it was easy to photograph. :)  Good luck on your own adventures in retirement!