This is the story of the Mekong river, as it crosses the countries of south-east Asia, a region full of legends and forgotten cities, lost empires whose remains have survived to the present day, and tribes hidden in the depths of the jungle. But it is also a land scarred by the horrors of human savagery. The Mekong is the river of Buddha, as we can see from the thousands of temples, pagodas and statues along its banks. 60% of Laotians practice Theravada Buddhism, which was apparently introduced into the country at the end of the eighteenth century. Little by little, it was adopted by the people of the lowlands, who at first resisted accepting this religion along with their own, Pii, the spirit of the earth.
As the Mekong enters Laos, the first city it encounters is Luangprabang. It stands at an altitude of 700 metres, and is only now starting to come back to life, and entering the modern world, after several decades of wars and revolutions. Buddhism, more than a religion, is a philosophy or a path whose final and only aim to reach Nirvana, the negation of all causes of suffering, dissatisfaction and illness. After crossing the territory of Laos, the waters of the Mekong enter a country plagued by violence and poverty. The scene of political convulsions, the atrocities of war and terrible genocide, very little now remains of the powerful empire of Cambodia which, for five centuries, remained invincible, ruling over a considerable area of south east Asia. In the jungles of the north of the country lies hidden the most incredible legacy of the once supreme Khmer Empire. This is Angkor, “the city of the sleeping forest”, one of the most incredible architectural monuments on earth. Founded at the start of the ninth century by king Jayavarman II, Angkor was the capital of Cambodia until the fifteenth century. In 1431 it was sacked by Thai invaders and, for over 400 years, the city remained, forgotten, lost in the depths of time. The beauty and femininity of the apsaras, celestial nymphs and dancers of the universe, accompany the visitor as he walks around Angkor Wat. But the recent history of Cambodia is very different from the splendour of the past.
Before flowing into the China Sea, in Vietnam, the river forms an extensive and complex delta, known as The Nine Dragons. A network of 5,000 kilometres of natural and artificial canals carries the waters to the rice fields. Rice is the most important crop in Vietnam, and provides a living for 70% of the population. Each hectare of land produces 8 tonnes of rice a year. All land belongs to the government, which leases it to the peasants, who work it. In exchange, they have to give 10% of the harvest.