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Drone images give false portrayal of the Ngum river

For Visit Laos-China Year 2019, Vientiane Times is publishing a series of feature articles and images promoting the two countries’ collaboration in tourism and hoping to inspire more people, especially from China, to experience the nature, culture, history and hospitality of Laos, the jewel of the Mekong.

An island nestled in the bend of the river at Saendin village in Naxaithong district, Vientiane.

Don’t be fooled by the seemingly beautiful views of the Nam Ngum river in Saendin village, Naxaithong district, as it makes its way south about 40 kilometres from Vientiane.
My friend who was controlling the drones flying above the river called me to see the images he had captured. They were certainly startling and revealed an amazing aspect I had never seen before. On the opposite side, I was standing on a large island created by the shrunken river.
My perspective from the ground was totally different from the aerial view captured from above.
Right now the river is low and people can make good use of the water for recreational activities. But this won’t always be the case. When the river rises, it’s best to stay away because it’s just too dangerous. Next month, the water will almost certainly be high.
But by all means go there now to enjoy the water and take a boat ride. You will have to hire a boat from one of the villagers because there’s no official boat service.
The boats that ply the river are used by locals for fishing, ferrying things from one side to the other, and getting to their farms so they can tend to their crops. You can negotiate with them to arrange a trip of about one hour. The money you hand over pays for fuel and their services as a guide.
A team from the Vientiane Times, including myself, visited the area last week. I wasn’t really keen on going because as far as I’m concerned the village has little of interest besides farming and is simply a suburb of Vientiane.
But I went because I had little choice, having been among those assigned to make the trip. Murmuring dissent, I joined my colleagues in the excursion.
After driving for about 50 minutes, we arrived at the Saendin junction, from where it is about six kilometres to the village. But this was the place for lunch, so we stopped to have some laap.
We ordered this perennial favourite, together with some soup, at a shop next to the intersection.
It was excellent. The meat tasted very fresh, as though it had been brought to the restaurant immediately after the cattle were killed. And the food was not expensive compared to other parts of Vientiane.
In some places, not only is the food expensive but the meat sold in some restaurants is not fresh and has been kept in a fridge for a few days.
After our meal, we carried on to the village. While we were there, at a spot near a temple, groups of adults and children could be seen engaged in various activities and playing in the river.
Meanwhile a drone was sent aloft to record images of the Nam Ngum river as it snaked lazily below.
Some of the villagers walked to the temple or headed to the riverbank where groups of young people sat leisurely under the big trees. They were there to gaze at the river and observe its very low level – a strange sight in the middle of what should be the rainy season.
As I drew close, people smiled at me and without exception remarked that this year the water level was extremely low. I watched young men urgently paddling a boat as they practised for an upcoming race, saw children swimming and young people sitting on the riverbank, and looked at the villagers who came to wonder at the receding river.
But as far as I could see there was nothing to explore or investigate. Half of the river alongside the temple had become land, and that was all there was to see.
So maybe it’s just better to admire the drone images without getting too close to the reality, which in my opinion is far less spectacular.

By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
(Latest Update July 30, 2019)

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