The Khon Phee Lhong rocky shoals on the Mekong River pose a dangerous stretch for navigators

The Khon Phee Lhong rocky shoals on the Mekong River pose a dangerous stretch for navigators but also provide habitat for fish and help sustain the river’s ecosystem.

Residents stare at uncertain future as Cabinet gives nod to blasting of Mekong River rapids

THE rough hands of veteran ferry driver Chalin Cheableam steer a small boat up the river to the Khon Phee Lhong rapids on the Mekong River. In his late 50s and having navigated boats on the Mekong River since he was teenager, Chalin has many stories about the geographical signatures of the river and connections to local lore.

Residents stare at uncertain future as Cabinet gives nod to blasting of Mekong River rapids

  PRATCH RUJIVANAROM

Many rocky shoals (“khon”), sand-dune islands (“don”), and steep rocky riverbanks (“pha”) can be seen while travelling along the river. These geographical characteristics are unique to the Mekong River from Chiang Saern district in Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang in Laos, and for a long time local people have developed their culture and way of lives to be in harmony with the nature of the river.

However, he fears that everything is going to change, as an international project to improve the river’s navigation route, allowing barges larger than 500 tonnes gross to travel along the river all year round was approved by the Cabinet this month. This has caused wide concern among locals living along the river in Thailand.

Residents in Chiang Rai’s Chiang Khong district fear that the plan to improve the navigation route will kill the river’s ecosystem and destroy their livelihoods. They are concerned that their way of life and cultural identity, which is strongly associated with the river, will become history.

Khon Phee Lhong, a group of rocky shoals around a kilometre long in the river, can be seen above water during low tide and is an obstacle preventing large barges from passing through that area. It is on the list to be demolished.

“Khon Phee Lhong means the rapids [Khon] that the corpses [Phee] cannot make their way past on the river [Lhong],” Chalin said. “In the past, if someone drowned in the river upstream, the people would come here to search for the body because the turbulent current and whirlpools caused by underwater rocky rapids would bring the body from underwater to the surface and float in the area.”

Read continue: TheNation

 

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