Posts Tagged ‘Laos’
Life on the Mekong River in Cambodia and Laos hasn’t caught up with the 21st Century. Yet. There is still a connection to quieter times, a slower pace of living, that belies the dramatic changes that will occur on the Mekong. From China to southern Laos, there are plans for over a dozen dams that the authorities say will benefit all the people of the region. They come up with a myriad of benefits, from cheaper electricity to reduced flooding. In looking at this future, I have a hard time envisioning the simple life that exists there now. I recommend that you visit this area before it’s all gone.
Photos taken with a Nikon D700 and Nikkor AFS 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens and a Nikon D300S and Nikkor AFS 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens.
Just outside Kratie, Cambodia, on the Mekong River is a very deep pool of water that is home to a “pod” of Irawaddy Dolphins. There are a couple dozen of these very rare dolphins that used to number in the hundreds before the Khmer Rouge decades back slaughtered most of them. The dolphin is not considered an endangered species as there are several thousand in Bangladesh although their numbers in Southeast Asia are very small. There is also a small pod in Laos on the Mekong just above the border crossing.
These dolphins are very shy and difficult to photograph. Combine that with a rocking boat in the river current and it makes for trying conditions.
The dolphins live in this deep pool, perhaps 800 meters deep. Its depth allows the mammals to adjust to the changing temperature of the water throughout the year. And because the pool is downstream from very shallow water, food is ample.
The river guides are attuned to the comfort of the dolphins so that they maintain a distance of 50-100 meters. And the guides drift with the current, again to not frighten the dolphins.
All photos were taken with a Nikon D700 and Nikkor AFS 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens or Nikon D300s and Nikkor AFS 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR zoom lens.
The Mekong River in Southern Laos tumbles over numerous waterfalls that stretch approximately eight miles across. Phapheng Falls is the easiest to reach and therefore the one that attracts numerous visitors on the weekends. We visited during the week and there were just a handful of visitors. This made for a more relaxed time. The nearby Khone Falls is always popular but requires more of an effort as you do have to take a boat to Don Khone (Khone Island) and then walk to the falls. The most spectacular falls is the Somphamit Falls which stretches about 2 kilometers from side to side. During rainy season, the waterfall is a powerful torrent of violent water crashing over the escarpment. During dry season, its a multitude of smaller falls rushing downhill. This waterfall is the most difficult to visit as you have to hire a boat to take you about 15 kilometers upstream through patches of rough water before you reach the falls. However during the dry season, it’s relatively easy to visit. The trip is well worth the effort as you will probably be the only one viewing the grandeur of the vista.
Photos were taken with a Nikon D700 and Nikkor AFS 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens and Nikon D300s and Nikkor AFS 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens.
The waterfalls and rapids across the countless streams of the Mekong River in Southern Laos are located in one of the richest and most bio-diverse areas in Asia. And it is always under threat due to the hydroelectric potential of the Mekong. Several dams have been built in China and in Laos and Cambodia, studies have been completed to determine the feasibility of dams in the Southern reaches of the river.
I believe its only a matter of decades before the Don Khong, Laos to Kratie, Cambodia stretch is dammed and therefore life as we know it on the river will be gone.
I had been thinking about making this trip for several years but had only recently decided to make this trip happen. This area, which is referred to as Siphandon (translated in Lao as 4,000 islands), can be visited from one of two routes with the northern route from Ubon Rachathani, Thailand through Pakse, Laos being the easiest to make. You can fly into “Ubon” from Bangkok and then arrange for car, van or bus to journey the rest of the way to Siphandon. From Ubon, the journey is approximately 300 kilometers. The highways from the Thai border are quite good in contrast to the roads along the southern route from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Siphandon.
As I find Cambodia one of the most enchanting places on Earth for photographs, I decided to take the 700 kilometer southern route. Through the towns of Kratie, with its endangered Iriwaddy dolphins, to the northern wetlands capital, Stung Trung. Along the way, there are so many opportunities for photographs that one is never lacking subjects.
In the coming weeks, I will be posting photographs of the entire journey, from beginning to end. And back again.
As noted last weekend, I have a trip planned for next week to visit some areas of Cambodia and Laos that receive very few visitors. Rather than visiting Angkor Wat and Luang Prabang with its high volume tourists, I have developed an alternate trip. I will travel overland up the Mekong River from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Don Khong, Laos. Between the two points are some of the most spectacular scenery in Southeast Asia. From the flooded forests of Steng Trung to the waterfalls south of Don Khong, one will be at a loss for words when faced with nature’s beauty.
I have spent the last two weeks, using, testing and evaluating my equipment for this journey. Space is not an issue, however I wanted to downsize my kit for this trip. So far, I have decided to bring:
Nikkor AF-D fisheye 16mm lens
Nikkor AF-S 14-24 f/2.8 zoom lens
Nikkor AF-S 24-70 f/2.8 zoom lens
Nikkor AF-S 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens
Nikkor AF-D 85mm f/1.4 lens or Sigma 50 EX DG HSM f/1.4 lens
Obviously the three zoom lenses were selected so that the focal range from 14mm -450mm (DX 1.5 crop) is covered. I was not so concerned with the 70-300 lens’ lack of wider aperture as much as the weight of my 80-200mm f/2.8 or the 70-200 f/2.8. I expect the lighting to be sufficient so as not to cause the 70-300 any issues. The 85mm or the 50mm will come along for their lower light capabilities as a hedge against darker conditions along the water. And the fisheye solely because I enjoy the results of that lens.
Beyond the cameras and lenses are a whole host of other gear which I will discuss in my next posting.
Photographs were taken with a Nikon D700 and Nikkor AF-D 80-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens and Leica M8 and Summicron 35mm f/2 lens.
Several years ago I began thinking about a trip up (or down) the Mekong River from its source on the Tibetan Plateau 4350 kilometers away from its delta near Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. It’s a river diverse with flora and fauna, sadly under attack by countries along its length for its hydroelectric potential. Of course “hydroelectric potential” translates into damming the river.
Before the Mekong “disappears” under one dam project after another, I decided that I must see the river. The upper reaches of the river have been subjugated by dams in China. The lower reaches are still dam free although for how long is subject to discussion.
I am kicking off this discovery in early February with a leg known for its magnificent waterfalls in southern Laos and the Irawaddy dolphins, a endangered species that still lives in small numbers in this area of the Mekong River. I will be traveling by car from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Pakse, Laos. Along the way I intend to tweet my journey and post to this blog. The objective of the trip is to photograph the waterfalls, the river, and life along the river.
This trip will head north east via highway 7 to Kratie, famous for its small pod of Irawaddy dolphins, then thru the town of Stung Treng before crossing the border into Laos. Between the border and Don Khong are the mighty waterfalls that brought the French ambition to travel by ship to interior China to a dead end.
In Part 2 of this series, which I will post in the coming days, I will discuss the equipment I am bringing on this trip.
My friend Foofookie has adventure in her veins. Check out her blog “Make It Worth… By Foofookie” about her recent 2100 km five day overland trip from Bangkok to Luang Prabang, Laos and back. By bus. If you haven’t read her postings, you are missing a treat. Lots of information with a feeling of adventure and a wry sense of humor. In reliving her journey, you feel like you are also there. It’s a multi-part report so be sure and read them all. And of course if you have any questions, I recommend you contact her.