Posts Tagged ‘Mekong River’
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.
You never know where your next decent photo will come from. While on a recent trip by boat up the Mekong from Cambodia to Laos, we passed this small hut on a remote island. This part of the island was beautiful with crystal clear water and a beach of sorts. Really didn’t it give it much mind as we were heading up the river to see a series of waterfalls that are hardly visited.
On the way back down the river, we were so dehydrated and exhausted by our visit to the falls that we decided to stop for drinks and a bit to eat. The hut was run by a young couple with three small chidren. It really wasn’t much but it was shady and the ice-cold drinks hit the spot. The kids were so photogenic that between big gulps of water and soda, I shoot off a few photos. They acted like they had never seen a camera before so I spent some time shooting and then showing the photos to the kids. This interaction became of source of fun for them and me. As it should be.
All photos were taken using either a Nikon D700 with a Nikkor AFS 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens or a Nikon D300s with a Nikkor AFS 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 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 trip from Phnom Penh to Stung Treng took around 9 hours instead of 7 hours due to an unexpected 30 kilometers through a construction zone and a flat tire in Kratie. By the time we got there, it was nighttime. After checking into the best hotel in town, we went for a bite to eat at the above restaurant. The food was quite good although a bit pricey when you consider where we were. (In fact, I found the cost of the meals on this trip to be pricey.)
Afterwards, I went back to the room and quickly fell asleep quickly.
The next morning I awoke for a sunrise walk in the downtown area of Stung Treng. As the town rests on the confluence of the Mekong River and the Se Kong River, water dominates views of the town. I headed over to the jetty that extended into the river as there was plenty of activity dominated by people bringing produce and fish to merchants who bought the goods, presumably for the market that sat in the middle of downtown.
Cambodia is a very vibrant locale for color photos and the scene at the river accented that. From the bright orange glow of the sunrise to the picturesque clothes worn by the people, the scenery jumped out.
Photos captured with Nikon D700 and D300s bodies and Nikkor AF 85mm f/1.4, AF TC 135mm f/2 and AFS 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses.
We were still on our way from Kampong Cham to Kratie when we crossed this single-track bridge that spanned a river flowing into the Mekong River. As the sun was beginning to set and the pace of life surrounding this bridge capable of producing good images, we decided to stop.
The sunsets in Cambodia can be quite vivid and in concert with the color of the iron-laden soil can be spectacular. Even when shooting everyday scenes.
We ended up walking across this bridge, an act that turned out to be a bit dangerous as we ended up encountering a truck that was so wide, it passed without a couple of inches of my nose. On the return walk across the bridge, we did so with dispatch.
Photos taken with a Nikon D700 and Nikkor AFS 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens or a Nikon D300s and a Nikkor AFS VR 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.