Vietnam_MekongDeltaI don’t think any river has captured my imagination like the Mekong. It is not merely that it travels through Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, but it is the lifeblood of those countries; providing the only reliable highway in Laos, feeding fish to the Cambodians who eat virtually nothing else and providing Vietnam with enough rice for its 90 million people while giving it a valuable export commodity.

 

But that is not what captures me. It was the war, what the Americans call the Vietnam War, and what they call here The American War. It was the thousands of soldiers who travelled from North Vietnam across Loas to the Mekong, and spent months travelling down that mighty river to the delta from where they mounted the southern front in terrain that was impossible to penetrate, let alone defend. The scale of that offensive, the tactical daring of it captured my imagination, and made me long to see the river that had made such heroic tactics possible.

Last year we travelled from Luang Prabang in Laos to the Thai border along the Mekong. It was an idyllic trip through lush teak forest, and a magical journey I will never forget. We have seen the Tonle Sap at Siem Reap, and sipped tea where it joins the Mekong at Phnom Penh. At that point it is now a mighty torrent that last year drowned the entire crew of one dragon boat in their annual international race. And now today I have seen the Mekong Delta.

It is massive. One arm of it alone completely dwarfs the Mississippi, and there are nine arms, known as the nine dragons. Twenty million people live here, twice the population of Ontario, and yet there are no structures higher than two stories. Millions live either on the rivers or along their shores, boat and jetties line every bank, and behind every house are the fields of rice stretching to the flat horizon. There is a timelessness to the river and its patient stoic inhabitants that alters your perception of the planet and its people. I have finally seen the Mekong, and it was worth the wait.

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