Trip Start Jan 13, 2013
21Trip End Feb 05, 2013
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China’s construction of dams and a navigation channel along the upper reaches of the Mekong threatens this complex ecosystem. Five megadams have already been built, eight are underway, and several more are being planned. Laos has recently borrowed 3 billion dollars from China and over the protests of countries downstream, have begun construction of their first dam
Scientists studying the river have stated "serious and irreversible environmental damage", and contribute to growing inequality in the countries of the Lower Mekong basin with the poorer households along the river being adversely affected, while only the rich would feel the benefits. One environmental group reported that only 3 groups would benefit from the dams - "the people who constructed the dam, the government who will get money from the dam and the banks who loaned the money to build the dam."
A trip down the Mekong gives an impression of the value of the river to the families along the Mekong. The banks are lined with small gardens where sustenance farmers grow crops for food and to sell in the markets in Luang Prabang. We saw many, many people fishing, the river was busy with boat traffic, and families were bating, doing laundry and panning for gold in the river.
It is hard to see any outcome except a complete social and environmental catastrophe!
Our boat, and the others we saw on the river, are owned by families and provide their income
Most of the boats were filled with tourists going to visit Pak Ou caves. Quite an amazing place. Filled with thousands of old or damaged Buddha statues placed there by local people over the last five centuries.
After lunch across the river, visited Ban Muangkeo, a rural village that has been adopted by Road Scholar. Quite a different picture of Lao life than in Luang Prabang. Incredible poverty with no access to clean water, sanitation, health care, etc. We took school supplies to the children, who sang a song for us. We then sang Row, Row, Row Your Boat to them. From the expressions on their faces, I suspect they thought we a bit strange.
This evening attended a performance at the Royal Ballet Theatre. For many years, the Royal Ballet troupe performed Phra-Lak Phra-Lam, the Lao version of the sacred poem, the Ramayana, in the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang. Then in 1975, after 15 centuries of annual performances, the Theatre was banned and the master artists and teachers had to look for other work
Finally to bed - these Rad Scholar trips are exhausting!! Feel asleep to the sound of crickets and a really cool-sounding owl.