Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Xayabuli Dam

Before we leave Laos, I want to tell you about one thing I discovered after our trip. But, before that, I want to remind you... You're probably wondering why, if this is a blog about The Isaan, I'm spending so much time on Laos, Lao and the pathet Lao...

It is as I wrote earlier in 2012: Isaan people are ethnically the same as the lowland Lao. One of my dreams is to see families from across the border someday get in touch with one another. I mean, there's no coincidence that a town in Lao is named after my wife's family name...

Back to Lao...

Little did I know that when we visited Pak Lai in May 2012, we were in an area whose ecosystem is in great danger from daming.

Upriver from Pak Lai, the Xayabuli Dam is a hydroelectric dam currently under construction on the Lower Mekong River, approximately 30 kilometres (19 miles) east of the town/city of Xayabuli (aka Xayaburi, Sainyabuli). The main purposed of the dam is to produce hydroelectric power for internal and external purposes. Construction briefly began and was suspended in early 2012 but is purported to again be underway. The project is surrounded in controversy due complaints from downstream riparians and environmentalists who fear that implementation of the dam would put an end to the world’s largest freshwater fishery.

The daming of the Mekong is a hot political topic in this part of the world. By that, I mean that all the governments bordering the Mekong are in contention over their share of harnessing the river for hydroelectric use. By and large, the people in those countries could care less – even the ones who live along the Mekong and depend on it for their livelihood – except that they certainly like the electricity that’s generated by the dams.

No Mekong-border country is really against daming, per se, despite studies indicating enormous environmental consequences. They just want their fair share of the energy.

In August 2013, I updated my information and links to other information about the Xayabuli dam. Please visit: http://the-isaan.blogspot.com/2013/08/lao-trip-47.html

For more about damming the lower Mekong River, please go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mekong_River_Basin_Hydropower

Interestingly, I found out that back in our village in the Isaan, we get most of our electricity from the second phase of the Nam Ngum dam, within Lao.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lao Trip 1.4

Next morning, I gave the Mekong alongside Pak Lai a last look.

Our tuk-tuk arrived ahead of time and got us back to the Pak Lai bus station where we had begun our time in this town three days before.

Once on the bus and rolling, we discovered we were on a lesser-known bus route on roads that don’t even appear on maps. You can only see them if you ride them or if you zoom in on them using satellite photos or Google Earth.

Amazingly, not only did this Pak Lai to Vientiane ride feature a ferry ride across the Mekong, but took us through pristine Sayabuli province mountains and, later, right along the Mekong, opposite Thailand.

It was a very memorable bus ride; certainly my best one ever. By the end of the ride, our faces had a fine cake of red dust sprayed on them and we were in the Lao capital of Vientiane which I will have more to write about in subsequent visits. Right now, we’re itching to get back to The Isaan…

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Secret War, part 3

The last part of the 3-part series on "The Secret War in Laos," which took place during the 1960s and continued on up to the mid-1970s.

Keith Quincy wrote the best retrospective look at this struggle, in my opinion. More information about his book can be found HERE.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Lao Trip 1.3

[Continuing excerpts from my travelog, from our trip into Xayabuli province, Lao, May 2012 - look on the map I keep posted at the top of the sidebar and you can see the route we took from Nong Bua Lamphu to Pak Lai.]

On Day 3 and only our second full day in the town, I was beginning to lose Thip. She was getting bored with sleepy Pak Lai. Not me. I loved it and could have stayed several more days, for sure. Well, I knew we needed to find the market where they sold clothes and this we set out to do.

Up on the main highway that the town is built along, we stopped in for some food and beer. The owner was really friendly – the first Lao we had found to be such, so far. Not that any Lao we had come into contact with were unfriendly. They were just all a little stand-offish. I attribute it as scars from the Indochina War, what we Americans call “the Vietnam War” and what some have termed the “Lao Civil War.” The general personality differences between the Lao in Laos and the Lao in the Isaan made me appreciate our people – who are very friendly and a bit shy – even more.

Our friendly Lao woman directed us to the clothes market, later, and her directions proved accurate. There was a whole complex of shops set-up that we had missed yesterday. Nothing indigenous for sale, just stuff from Thailand, mostly…

On the way back from shopping, Thip arranged a tuk-tuk pick-up for tomorrow morning from a guy who I guess looked trustworthy to her. Then, we went down to the floating restaurant furthest from our guesthouse. We had some food, but it wasn’t that great. The Beer Lao’s were better.

I just loved being on the Mekong like that; watching river life outside the restaurant. Seeing Thiphawan was tired, I encouraged her to go back to the guesthouse and get some rest; I’d just hang.

After Thip left, the daylight slowly faded and the karaoke scene at the restaurant – more a bar, really – started to gear up. Well, I wasn’t really into that unless there were some cute girls to watch – which there weren’t. So, I went over to check the scene out at the other floating restaurant/bar closer to our guesthouse.

The scene at the second floater was dead, dead, dead; just perfect for my mellow mood this night. I had the place to myself, as far as customers went. The guy running the karaoke machine must have been pretty cool, cuz he played a bunch of “Songs of Life” music, including Pongsit and Carabao. I had a couple of Beer Lao’s here, just letting my mind wander…

Here I was travelling the haunts of my fictional hero Rick, the retired CIA operative (from my first and second screenplays written in 2008 and 2009). And here I was at last in Laos, after so many years wondering what it would be like… It struck me there in that floating bar on the Mekong that this would be the high point of the trip. Thip wanted to go to Vientienne and I just don’t have fun in any city. Santa Barbara and Nong Bua Lamphu are about as big as I can handle…