Home | Contact Us | Current Issue | Back Issues

Vol. 24 No.1
January - March 2007

ISSN 0125-0159

Editor's Note
Special Feature
Sufficiency Economy
Dr. Sumet Tantivejkul: The Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy for the World
Pattani Salt: The Fair Trade Culture of Buy Ten and Get One Free
The Mekong: The River of Life and Culture
Biodiesel Comes to Fuel Users’ Rescue
In Focus
Recycling for Art’s Sake, at Wat Suwannaram
Apae Amor, the Outstanding Akha Guide at Akha Hill House
Thai Touch
The Diving Paradise of Ko Tao
Keyword Search

Photo Gallery    Text Print
The Mekong: The River of Life and Culture

The Mekong River originates from the Tibetan plateau, the Tanggula range in Qinghai province of China. Two stretches border Thailand and Laos. The upper section forms the borderline between Chiang Rai province of Thailand and Bo Keo province of Laos, and the lower section borders six Thai provinces of Loei, Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan, Amnat Charoen, and Ubon Ratchathani and the Lao capital, Vientiane, as well as the Lao provinces of Bolikhamxai, Khammouan, Savannakhet, Salavan, and Champasak. The river then flows into the town of Pakse in Champasak, exits Laos at Muang Khong in the same province, and enters Cambodia’s Stung Treng province. The Mekong River is an important lifeline, as it supports agriculture, transport, and cultural traditions of a large number of people living along its banks.

Seasonal tides of the Mekong River create varied lifestyles. During low tides, people grow vegetables close to its banks. Fishermen of the Mekong know well that the levels of their catches are related to the tides. When the tide is high between May and June, there are considerable fish in the river. Their number drops during the low tides between November and April, yet fishing is possible all year long. The Mekong is thus the long-lasting lifeline of people in its basin.

There are numerous islets and rapids in the sections along the Thai and Lao borders. The islets are sources of food and the rapids are breeding places of fish, including the giant catfish, which is the biggest freshwater fish in the world. Giant catfish exist naturally only in the Mekong River.

Rapids and islets function like natural dykes, regulating the flow and helping preserve water supply. Plants that grow on the islets provide food for local communities, and some of them are also made into herbal medicines. The islets and rapids, as well as the cliffs and banks along the river, provide beautiful sights, which draw tourists on boat trips to admire the beauty of the Mekong.

Apart from feeding local communities with plant and animal life, the Mekong River is also related to their beliefs, traditions, and cultures. For example, the Lai Rua Fai event, or the Floating of Illuminated, Boats Festival, takes place in the river at the end of the three-month Buddhist Lent. The day falls on the full moon of the 11th lunar month in October, and it is the time when great crowds of people gather along the river banks to witness “Naga fireballs” shooting up from the depths of the Mekong. No one can explain why balls of light rise from the river, sometimes as high as 200-300 meters up in the sky, on this date every year. Besides, these fireballs fly only after Buddhists finish their candle-lit procession on the occasion of the end of Lent. There are many such mysterious fireballs. One batch may have from 5 to 20 balls soaring one after another. The balls that fly up from the middle of the river usually go towards the banks, while those shooting up near the banks usually fly towards the middle of the river.

The phenomenon helps promote unity among Thai and Lao people living in the river basin. Thanks to the Mekong, they know they can depend on the river, and that it can depend on them. They know why their ancestors loved this river. Therefore, people living along Mekong have made this commitment:

“Any decisions that will affect fishing, communities, resources, lifestyles, cultures, and civilizations along the Mekong River must be made and approved by local people or those whose lives depend on the river.”

Story: Kitikorn Wongpanich
Photos: Annop Karnchanapanich

Foreign Office
The Government Public Relations Department

Rama VI Road, Soi 30, Bangkok 10400, Thailand
Tel : (66-2) 618-2323 ext. 1700 Fax : (66-2) 618-2358 E-mail : prforeign@gmail.com