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*Photo: Fisherman of Bến Tre Province flung net over Tiền Giang River flowing through the delta of Nine-Dragon.


Following text is excerpts from ”The Mekong — a haunted river’s season of peace” by Thomas O’Neill, published in National Geographic Magazine, Feb-1993 Issue. A Vietnamese translation is provided in the ‘Discussions’ area, for your convenience.






From its source, the Mekong travels about half its length in China; then it borders or moves through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. I would find it called by many names: River of Stone, Dragon Running River, Turbulent River, Mother River Khong, Big Water, the Nine Dragons. Along it empires, kingdoms, and colonial realms have risen and fallen; successor states have been plunged into war and bloodshed. Death and hardship are its legacy.

Thought it all the Mekong has remained wild and free, moving to immemorial rhythms: the monsoon, the flood, the giving of its waters to nourish the land and people along it. For all its length, it has spawned only one metropolis, one dam, few bridges, and no industrial complex.

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For more than 2,000 miles the Mekong has seemed an aloof, single-minded river, rushing with a minimum of twists and turns toward the sea, only lightly touched by the communities scattered along it.

In Vietnam, the river luxuriates and sprawls. It enters the country in two channels, which the Vietnamese called the Tiền Giang (Upper River) and Hậu Giang (Lower River). As it traverses the vast and soggy delta — 15,500 square miles — it divides again. By the time it empties into the China Sea, it has seven branches. Two others silted up over the years, but the Vietnamese, mindful that the number nine is auspicious, still call the river here the Cửu Long, or Nine Dragons.

Countless small streams and canals feed into and out of the dragons; the length of the delta waterways is estimated at 2,000 miles, nearly the length of the river itself. These are the main streets, back roads, and irrigation canals of the delta. Rarely are they empty. Vietnam is the most density population country in Southeast Asia, and more than a fifth of its 69 million people crowded into the delta. They supply Vietnam, the world’s third leading rice exporter, with almost half its crop.

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Twilight came as we headed back to Ca Mau. Giant fruit bats swept across the darkening sky. Night herons flew toward the mud flats. Soon we fell into a slow current of boats, joining fishermen, timber cutters, schoolchildren, marketgoers, all sharing in the age-old rhythm of travel on the Mekong.

With darkness it was almost possible to forget the shadows of war and turmoil that have fallen so often across these ancient lands, and to imagine instead the waters of the Mekong flowing like a bright dragon — a benign, powerful, life-giving spirit — through the heart of Southeast Asia.

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