Right after the border with Cambodia is a marvellous part of Laos’ nature: The 4000 islands. They show the power of water, and how water can be used as power.
The 4000 islands are an archipelago in the middle of the Mekong, I’m not sure if they really count them, but I can imagine it are a couple of thousands. Especially now when it is dry season and all islands are above the water level. Especially the smaller ones might be completely inundated as soon as the water level starts rising, fuelled by the heavy monsoons.
The islands show the power of water. The mighty Mekong flowing in between them, serving as the source of water, food, fish, irrigation for the fields, and hence serving the agriculture. The water buffalos with only their heads sticking out of the water, and all other animals who approach the river side to drink and bath. The Mekong means life in many different ways.
On the islands as well, the Mekong shows off with the astonishing waterfalls, showing the power of a river flow. Watching the Li Phi falls, which looks like a thundering river flows through the Grand Canyon, one might understand how powerful water is. Moreover, at the side of the river, two old school watermills showcase a pre-historic way of how the river’s power could be converted into electricity.
Nowadays the water mill isn’t used anymore, slowly he becomes part of the scenery, and one day its wooden parts might become part of nature again. Yet, by no means that mean that the power of the river isn’t used anymore. In contrary, hydro-electricity is more than ever on the forefront of Laos’ electricity production.
Slightly around the corner between two islands of the 4000, is one dam constructed with the purpose to produce hydro-electricity. It is the first dam after the Cambodian border I will encounter, but definitely not the last. Laos is planning to have 100 hydro-electric plants constructed around the country by 2020. Moreover, Laos wants to become the battery of South-East Asia, providing sustainable energy for the entire region, exporting it to Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.
However, hydro-electric plants are often questioned as being really sustainable. Especially if you count on the accumulated impact of all dams on the Mekong river – including the ones constructed in the other countries around the Mekong, starting in China and as I wrote about in Cambodia. And the impact of the dams constructed on land are not less, as you can read in the next post.