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1,200 miles down the Mekong River, by boat
In early 2012, friends of ours told us about a trip they had read about in National Geographic Traveler. Along with our friends, we contacted a tour company, Journey’s Within, based in Siem Riep, Cambodia, through their California office and began the process of getting required visas, medical checks and doing our usual cultural research before we travel to a new region. Our group consisted of seven travelers along with an American tour leader.
In November 2012, we embarked on a 'once-in-a-lifetime' journey down the Mekong River through six countries beginning in southern China and, after 30 days and 1,200 miles of travel on an amazing variety of small boats, arrived at the mouth of the river in southern Viet Nam.
We think the smallness of the group added to our enjoyment. Brandon Ross, the tour leader, and his wife are co-owners of the tour company. As far as we know, Journey’s Within is the only tour operator that has put this sort of trip together. Brandon had done this six-country trip only three times before and told us that because of changes taking place on the river, it is unlikely that he would be able to find enough boats to make the full trip again in the future.
The Mekong has been both a link and a barrier for the countries that it passes through. China holds the upper regions of the river. It passes through remote areas of Laos and Myanmar and gives important transportation links to Thailand and Cambodia. And it forms the massive Mekong Delta, the major agricultural and industrial region of Viet Nam.
Our amazing adventure included travel by more than 25 small boats and visits to some of the many different ethnic communities in the region. We saw firsthand the changing geography of the river, once dominated by water travel but now being changed forever by the construction of roads, bridges and dams.
Environmental concerns also became apparent as we witnessed the plight of endangered species, river dolphins and Asian elephants. There is a paucity of wildlife along the river. Serious degradation of the native forest by slash-and-burn agriculture was obvious, especially in the upper reaches of the river in Laos. A further threat looms, as there are more than 20 hydroelectric dams in place or planned for the river and its tributaries.
The main stem of the river remains undammed, but construction of a first dam in the Laotian portion of the Mekong itself apparently has begun. One of the major concerns with regard to dams is the impact on migratory fishes, reminiscent of issues with dams on Northwest rivers.
Our favorite city on the trip was Luang Prabang in Laos. It is a city with a history of Laotian royal residences and, although currently under the Communist government, it is center of Buddhist education. We enjoyed seeing the Buddhist architecture and even enjoyed an opera that recounted parts of the “Ramayana,” an ancient narrative, popular in the region.
Needless to say, our “Mekong Adventure" was memorable beyond our expectations and we hope that our presentation conveys a sense of our experiences and enjoyment.
About the presenters:
We are both retired and share professional backgrounds in fisheries and natural resource management.
Eileen is a lawyer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric and Administration and Chris is a fisheries biologist and a commercial fisherman off the west coast of the United States.
We love to travel to experience, other cultures, witness the world’s natural history, and, of course, enjoy local food. Together and separately we have traveled for work and pleasure in more than 40 countries.
Aside from the Mekong trip, in the past five years, we have visited Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, Croatia, Ireland and Belize, all for recreational travel.
About the presentations:
Traveler’s Journal is a presentation of the Peninsula Trails Coalition. All of the money raised is used to buy project supplies and food for volunteers working on Olympic Discovery Trail projects.
Shows are each Thursday in February and March and start at 7 p.m. in the Sequim High School cafeteria at 601 N. Sequim Ave. The cafeteria benches are hard and people should bring their own cushions.
Suggested donation is $5 for adults. Youths 18 and under are welcome for free.
Rainshadow Coffee Company is providing free coffee.
One selected photo enlargement will be given away each week as a door prize. Creative Framing is donating the matting and shrink-wrapping of the door prize.
Call Dave Shreffler at 683-1734 for more information.