Friday, June 22, 2012

Deeper into the Mekong River Delta




Is there anywhere on planet Earth that so teems with life and industry as the Mekong Delta? Anywhere where agriculture and fish farming are so intensively practiced? In thinking that one day I'll come back here and find multi-storey rice paddies stretching to the horizon, I suspect I'm only partially dreaming.

Not for nothing has the delta of the Mekong River been termed the "rice bowl of the Universe". Six countries and well over fifty million people depend upon the Mekong for their very livelihood. And in no country is this dependence so profound as in Vietnam.

Flying into Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) gives as good an introduction as any to the wonders of the Mekong. From the air the landscape resembles an intricate anatomical chart, only in shades of green and brown rather than white and red. Every tributary of the Mekong River bifurcates, then trifurcates and multifurcates into thousands of veins, arteries and capillaries. Then, linking this vast drainage network are hundreds of manmade canals, giving the countryside the appearance of an Eastern Venice.



Tuesday, June 19, 2012

5 Things I’ve Learnt About Lao People While in Laos

I found the Lao people to be the most fascinating part of traveling through Laos. I was happily surprised to see how rich their culture was and how so many people were still living according to their old traditions.

Laos is NOT known as the land of smiles, but the people here are still so special, and very genuine in their own way. Below are 5 things that sum up my experience with the Lao people – and just to make sure, these are not facts but my own perception and experience from spending 3 weeks there.

1. Men Are Very Homely

Something I found very refreshing was how much time the men spent at home and with their children.


It was a very common sight to see men of all ages carrying around babies on their backs and in their arms, feeding them, hushing them to sleep and just general baby sitting – without the mother in sight.

They really took time with their kids and gave them attention, playing with them.
They also seemed very interested in other people’s kids, always toddling with the babies when sharing a songtheaw (bus á la tuk tuk style) ride.

2. The Kids Are The Most Adorable I’ve Ever Met

These little people are just the sweetest! Their doll faces and curious eyes are simply irresistible.
I’ve never met so many kids in a country who shyly whisper or loudly yell ‘hello’ to you from the street, river, moped or home.


They were so curious, and those who were brave enough – smiled, laughed and said hello to you over and over again until you were out of sight.
You cannot help but to smile and say hello back …

3. The Bus Drivers Have a Death Wish

When I mentioned the things I’ve learnt about Thai people someone asked why I didn’t mention the driving.

The Thai people are known for their careless driving, and the streets there were chaos, but at least the bus drivers had some common sense.
In Laos – they didn’t.


70 people in a 50 seat bus does not make sense, especially when you’re not using your breaks on the steep, windy mountain roads…
Chickens and roosters on the road? Who cares, they had it coming! Feathers were constantly sweeping past our windows … travel around Laos really isn’t for the faint-hearted!

4. They Want To Avoid Any And All Confrontation

The people are very gentle and kind in Laos, similar to the Thai people – but different.

It’s not the most obvious friendliness and they don’t take you in with open arms, they are more stand-offish. However, if you gain a little bit of trust, you will see that they’re actually very friendly people.


They are also, like the Thai people, afraid of confrontations. Sometimes it’s really refreshing, other times it’s really frustrating, especially when you just want to get a straight answer to a question.

Their way of dealing with it is usually to laugh it off as a joke – which makes for a pretty funny and confusing situation. You might not get a straight answer, but you always leave with a confused smile on your face.

5. Women And Men Work Together

This is something that I find very rare around the world. Usually women and men have their own places in which they work; but in Laos the roles are very mixed. The men and women work together.


It’s not uncommon to see men standing in stalls cooking street food and banana pancakes, and women working the street as road workers.
Both women and men work on tea and coffee plantations, and they both take care of the family.

It seemed as though they did what they were best at, if the man cooked better food, he was the chef, and vice versa.