Monday, July 11, 2005

Bye Bye Mekong

From the moment I crossed the Thai-Lao border at Huay Xai the mighty Mekong river has been a constant landmark (apart from a few side trips) snaking its way along with me through Laos, Cambodia and now Vietnam. But now, after over 2000km I have to say goodbye to my travel companion as it merges into the South China Sea. The Mekong starts breaking up in Phnom Penh into an upper and lower river, and by the time it finally reaches the coast the delta comprises 9 major branches and innumerable smaller ones. The delta region, although topographically very boring (flat, flat, flat), is extremely important. It produces the vast majority of the rice in this, the world's second biggest rice exporter thanks to the fertile, silt-laden waters of the Mekong. Plus, and this fact probably makes the Vietnamese very happy, this very same silt is extending the Vietnamese coastline by about 50m every year. As well as rice the region grows many varieties of exotic fruit such as lychees, rambutans, longans, dragonfruit, jackfruit and many others whose names I don't know. As soon as you cross the border into Vietnam there is a perceptible change in the surroundings: there are more people around, most of them whizzing dangerously about on scooters and bicycles (or little motorised canoes along the myriad canals), and the land is used much more intensively; not a single patch of land is not used to its full potential. Anyway, from now it's due north until I reach China (though what I'll do once I get there I'm not quite sure).

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