By the river of Babylon … is how the song should go, but I am as from now by the river Mekong. Sounds similar, however it is not. Before I tell you about the amazing river dolphins in Kratie, I take you to Kampong Cham.
The Mekong is impressive. Every time I see this river, in every location, I am astonished by this marvel of nature. Moreover, I am astonished as well by the resilience of the people living along it. The Mekong gives them life – in terms of fishing and agriculture – and determines their life.
As I described before the floating villages of the Tonle Sap Lake, the capability of human beings to adapt to the will of nature here is admirable. As around Tonle Sap, you can see houses built on stilts, and little huts on the dry river banks of the Mekong itself.
Since it is dry season, the Mekong has shrinking considerably and its river banks are bigger than the river itself. This gives the opportunity for the inhabitants of Kampong Cham – as in other places along the Mekong – to use the freed-up space as beaches, additional commercial spaces or leisure space.
In addition to that, there are the constructions of bamboo bridges, who will be swept away when the Mekong rises to its wet season levels. However, it is not too bad, since bamboo is a natural material taken from nature temporarily and nature will take it back when its time is over.
In Kampong Cham is one of the biggest bamboo bridges of the country, which connects the village with the island Koh Pen. During the dry season the water level becomes too shallow, so the ferry can no longer connect the 1,000 families on Koh Pen with the mainland. The bamboo bridge is not only a strong example of adaptation, but it is an organic and sustainable engineering example as well.
When Modern Times Come in
Even though the government of Kratie constructed in the meantime a concrete, permanent and higher-level bridge [literally in comparison to the flow of the Mekong], the bamboo bridge is still re-built every year. To collect and assemble the more or less 50,000 pieces of bamboo to a bridge, the province needs to collect about $50,000 to $60,000 a year.
Besides asking an entrance fee to cross the bridge and cover the maintenance and construction costs, many villagers have created business by the entrance and exit of the bridge. Hence, the newly constructed bridge would not only be less sustainable in terms of ecology, but in terms of social and economic interests as well.
Hence, as long as it lasts, I like to cross the bamboo bridge, buy a coconut at the end of it and pay the $1 fee to cross, knowing it goes to a sustainable project, and to the local families. And on the meantime while crossing the Mekong I can enjoy the mighty river and the mighte resilience of its people.