Mekong River, Isaan, Thailand

Mekong River

The Mekong River, at 4,350 kilometres or 2,700 miles, is the twelfth longest in the world and the eighth longest in Asia. It flows from Tibet, through China (Yunnan Province), Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. However, the upper Mekong is not navigable for it’s entire length because of the seasonal rainfall, waterfalls and rapids in southeast Asia affecting the water level.

The Mekong River is called Mae Naam Kong in Thai, ‘Mae Naam’ (‘Water Mother’) meaning river and ‘Kong’ large.

The origins of the Mekong River are in Tibet in the ‘Three Rivers Area’ where the Yellow, the Yangtse and the Mekong exist almost side by side. From China, it meets Laos with Burma and forms the border between the two countries for 100 kilometres or so until it reaches the infamous drugs-related ‘Golden Triangle’ between Laos, Burma and Thailand.

From there, it flows between Laos and Thailand for a while, then heads off into eastern Laos, before returning to form the border between Thailand and Laos once again. From there the Mekong River flows into Cambodia. In southern Cambodia, the river meets up with other waterways to form the beginning of the Mekong Delta.

As the Mekong River courses southward to the sea, there are two basic forms of tributaries that contribute to it: those from Laos from the east bank that are made up of seasonal rainfall and those from Thailand to the west that drain Isaan of its mountainous waters.

The Mekong Delta lies mainly in Vietnam and is farmed by millions of the local people for both fish and rice, both of which can be disastrously influenced by both governmental mainstream damming and seasonal weather systems causing flooding and drought.

The Mekong basin is the second richest area of biodiversity internationally with only the Amazon boasting a higher diversity of life. Biota estimates for the environment of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) include 20,000 natural plant species, 430 mammals, 1,200 birds, 800 reptiles and amphibians and an estimated 850 fish species.

Not only that, but in 2009 alone, 145 new species were discovered in the Mekong Region, including 29 fish species previously unknown to science, two new bird species, ten reptiles, five mammals, 96 plants and six new amphibians. The Mekong Region contains 16 WWF Global 200 ecoregions, the greatest concentration of ecoregions in mainland Asia.

“No other river is home to so many species of very large fish. The biggest include the giant river carp (Probarbus jullieni), which can grow up to 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) and weigh 70 kilograms (150 lb), the Mekong Freshwater Stingray (Himantura chaophraya), which can have a wingspan of up to 4.3 metres (14 ft), the giant pangasius (Pangasius sanitwongsei), Siamese giant carp (Catlocarpio siamensis) and the endemic Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas), all three of which can grow up to about 3 metres (9 ft 10 in) in length and weigh 300 kilograms (660 lb). All of these are in serious decline, because of dams, flood control and overfishing.


“One species of freshwater dolphin, the Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), was once common in the whole of the Lower Mekong but is now very rare, with only 85 individuals remaining.


“Among other wetland mammals that have been living in and around the river are the smooth-coated otter (Lutra perspicillata) and fishing cat (Felis viverrina).


“The endangered Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) occurs in small isolated pockets within the northern Cambodian and Laotian portions of the Mekong River. The Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) once ranged from the Mekong Delta up the river into Tonle Sap and beyond but is now extinct in the river, along with being extinct in all of Vietnam and possibly even Cambodia.” [Wikipedia].

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by +Owen Jones

Thai Country Parties

Thai Country Parties

It is never cold in Thailand for a Westerner, no matter what Thais may tell you to the contrary, but it is cooler in the mountains and around Christmas time. Given this, and the fact that most Thais practically live in the garden anyway, it is not surprising that most Thai country parties are held outdoors.

Not ‘as a rule’ – always.

Country Thais cook outside, eat outide and generally spend all their time outside, only going in to shower and sleep and then only for the sake sof modesty and privacy and the fact that mosquitoes would eat you alive if you slept outdoors.

Thai country parties tend to start early, a bit like children’s parties in the West, maybe at noon on the weekends or five-thirty during the week. This is because farmers tend to get up early and go to bed at around 21:30.

At an ordinary birthday party, people will sit on the family table, which is normally quite large (ours was 2.5m x 2.8m). Children will sit on a mat on the floor nearby.

The hostess and a friend, daughter or maid, will have prepared something for the punctual guests, although Thais are not renowned for being on time. The cooking begins in earnest, when most people start arriving, which might be thirty minutes ‘late’.

All female friends will want to help prepare the dishes cooked after they arrive, so it is very easy to spot the hostess’ friends, because they will not be the ones sitting around talking!

There arenot usually any sweet courses at Thai country parties (except birthday cake) as a general rule, not even at children’s parties, so all the dishes will be curries of various heats and flavours made from fish, pork, chicken and vegetables like sweet corn, bean sprouts, flowers, beans, lentils, mushrooms and cooked unripe fruit.

Women co-operate on peeling and chopping, but one woman usually does the actual cooking of her signature dish alone. There is huge regional variation, but many people adapt recipes from other areas to suit local tastes for Thai country parties.

The said rule of thumb is that there will be at least one more dish than diners, but I have nevr counted to sene whether they adhere to that around us, there is always plenty of food and variety and that is good enough for me.

Some men also like to cook, and I think that all can,, but they usually do all the slaughtering, while women clean the fish. It is quite common to see people arrive at a party with a live cockerel but leave without it!

Non-Thai peopletend to think that rice is a stapl of a Thai diet, but it is not usually eaten in the evening, so it does not often become part of a Thai country party bill of fare. The exception is at a wedding where there may be hundreds of guests, but the rice will then be presented in a very exotic form of fried rice.

Rice tends to be eaten during daylight hours and as a sort of porridge at bedtime.

At a typical Thai country party, most people of both sexes will drink ‘Thai whisky’ or ‘lao deng’ (red spirit) or rarely ‘lao khao’ (white spirit, but not like in the West). Lao deng is considered superior.

Some women and very few men will drink beer, but the trend is swinging that way slowly as Thais become more prosperous.

Above all, Thai country parties are relaxed, friendly and very enjoyable.

by +Owen Jones

Giving Presents in Foreign Countries

white gold claddagh ring Giving Presents in Foreign Countries

Giving Presents

Giving Presents

My wife is a firm believer in giving presents when she visits family or friends. She is Thai and when we are in Thailand, these presents take the form of fruit or home-made dishes of food, especially if we are travelling out of the area where we live.

So when we went to Britain for a holiday three weeks before Christmas last year, my wife took over gifts of Thai craft goods, Thai silk and Thai fruits. She took a present for all the women and children that she had met on our last visit and also for all those that she knew of born since then.

However, she is used to giving presents as soon as she meets people, so that is what she did. They could not understand because Christmas was only a week or so away, but being Buddhist, she did not understand our tradition completely either. Nobody wanted to be giving presents to her at that time of year, because they wanted to give them on Christmas Day, when our family and friends were all due to get together anyway.

It was not really embarrassing, because she was not expecting to receive a present in return anyway and my family and friends all knew that she was a Thai Buddhist as well. However, when Christmas Day came, it was a different story for some.

Some children didn’t understand giving a present and receiving nothing back in exchange although they had already had theirs and opened them. Not all children were like this, but some were and that was awkward. Thai children are amazingly undemanding when compared to Western kids.

It is very hard to tell whether a Thai child is happier with 100 Baht or 10 Baht, although logic tells us which. They are brought up to be happy with whatever they are given – even nothing. They are taught to be grateful for small mercies.

Otherwise, perhaps it was just embarrassing for me, because we had nothing to exchange as a gift on the day, and that is what I have been used to. My wife was not used to our tradition of exchanging gifts and so did not have the slightest difficulty. She had given her presents when she had wanted to and so had everyone else.

However, although I agree with being able to give a gift of whatever you want whenever you want to, I would recommend that couples of mixed races and beliefs stick to the cultural traditions of the country they are in, because it is far less confusing for everyone in the end.

It is nice to meet other people fulfilling their own cultural traditions – it is very endearing, but it is also important to fit in with the traditions and customs of the local population wherever you happen to be in the world.

The children just did not understand, although I dare say that it was explained to them later that my wife is foreign and has different ways of doing things. This also involves being selective with whom she gives a gift to. She would not give to an adult man ever, not even always her own son now that he is married.

My step daughter gives me something sometimes, usually for New Year, but it is quite unusual rather than the rule – she knitted me a scarf last time. My wife has never given her mother anything ever. She doesn’t even know her birthday, because she was brought up by her grandmother.

Giving presents is very different in some countries compared with others and we should not assume that every culture around the world sees giving gifts in the same light. Gift giving may be done in some cultures for different reasons unrelated to religion or the time of the year.

(Copied from the website ‘Behind The Smile‘)

by +Owen Jones