Mekong: A Journey on the Mother of Waters by Michael Yamashita

by Sarah Tilton, Feb 1, 1996 | Destinations: Vietnam / Mekong River

One of the world's great rivers, the Mekong stretches almost 3,000 miles from the Tibetan Plateau through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Michael Yamashita spent six months tracing the river from its source at 17,000 feet to its mouth in the South China Sea. His new book records this remarkable journey using notes from his personal journal and truly spectacular color photographs of the river and the life that surrounds it.

Yamashita's pictures of the river's source are the first by a Western photographer. And while his camera captures the breathtaking landscapes, his journal discusses the details of actually reaching the plateau (be prepared for altitude sickness and long negotiations with the Chinese authorities). His intimate portraits of the Tibetan people introduce us to yak herders, yak-butter tea, yak-dung fires and yak-skin tents.

Traveling down the Mekong, we meet members of the Bai tribe in China's Yunnan Province, watch a Hmong farmer in Thailand prepare an opium pipe, join young monks in Laos for an early meal, celebrate the Festival of the Turning of the Waters in Cambodia, and explore the waters of Vietnam.

The informative text helps explain the politics and cultures of the Mekong. The book quotes a Cambodian saying, "The Lao live near the water, the Cambodians on it and the Vietnamese in it," as Yamashita shows us the river from its untouched and barely accessible start to its fast-changing and rapidly developing lower reaches.

See Photos from the book