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Wednesday, December 11: Day 233 – The Sacred Tree

We are headed by boat to a famous area of the Mekong River called the 4000 islands. That’s only counting the inhabited islands. Maybe a salad dressing is in their future?? There are 10,000 islands in the dry season when the water level is the lowest.

This is the location of the widest part of the Mekong. It is eight miles wide during the rainy season and four miles wide in the dry season. Even though it is early in the dry season, the width at this time has already shrunk to four miles. I can only imagine how narrow the river will be in April.

Now here’s something that you don’t see everyday in the Mekong…a yacht!

And here’s a floating hotel.

Don Det is a backpacker party island. The accommodations are cheap at $5 per day, and there are many bikes to rent.

Don Khon is more of a chill island that retirees find very pleasant.

Here is a map showing the islands, the falls all around, and the white dotted railway line.

When France was here, they tried to figure out how to get through the rapids. Many people died trying to find a way. They ended up building a railroad across the island using Vietnamese labor. Many of the local people were forced into labor and died.

Goods were collected for shipping to and from France. Here was the loading dock.

The French bridge had a railway that was operational from 1910 to 1954.

From the bridge one can see Laos in one direction.

and Cambodia in the other direction.

The local people have used some of the railroad tracks for fencing.

This engine was found abandoned in the forest.

One month ago the water got so low that the people complained and protested so the Chinese opened up the dam and sent more water down river.

Next we drive to the Grand Canyon of Laos. During the dry season, it is green with white bubbles and is very peaceful.

During the rainy season, it is loud and powerful. The color is brown. Liphi Waterfall has lots of visitors. Here is a spider web hammock. I can’t figure out how one would reach it.

On this island they grow rice for one season. The second growing season they can make more money from tourism. Today Jimmy takes us on a tuk tuk ride. This one is different as it is more of a sidecar. Kai sat behind the driver on the motorbike.

On this island is a temple built around a sacred tree called Manikhoth.

There were only two known trees of this type in the world. The other is in India. This tree had stood for 2000 years in the middle of the rapids of the Mekong until it unexplainably died in 2012. In our feature picture, Rob is overlooking the location where the tree was last seen alive.

It was very difficult to move to its nearby resting place and involved helicopters and the military. Today the tree has music played in her temple to keep her happy. Note the speaker on the left. How do we know that she likes this type of traditional music? Might I suggest an audio program of rushing water to more replicate her life in the river???

This sacred tree is important to all Laotians as it is mentioned in the national epic of Laos.

Phra Lak Phra Ram is the national epic of the Lao people, and is adapted from the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. Does America have a national epic?? Hmm. An Internet search says No. What is a national epic anyway? A national epic is an epic poem or a literary work of epic scope which expresses the spirit of a nation.

The term Great American Novel (GAN) which captures the spirit of American life is sometimes considered America’s equivalent of the national epic.

There is no consensus on which novel or novels deserve to be called the Great American Novel but Moby-Dick, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Great Gatsby are often mentioned. What would you choose??? Here are some other contenders:

Great American Novels

Next we head to the largest waterfall in the world, Khone Phapheng. This is based on width…but it must only be able to make that claim during the rainy season.

Here is an informational photo to compare it against other famous waterfalls in the world.

In 2013, the Chinese built the bridge in order to transport products from Laos into China. Prior to that, goods had to be ferried across.

Lao Recipes

To make Lao beer, one needs rice, corn, water, and yeast.

Here is how to fix a fresh tapioca treat: mix coconut cream, sugar and sesame seeds with tapioca root and bake like a potato.

Taro has more taste but makes your tongue itchy if not well done.

A fresh cashew will make your tongue itchy so don’t use your teeth to open it.

I plan to stay away from all itchy tongue foods…an itchy nose is bad enough!!! I am sneezing more each day.

There is a beautiful shade tree called the rain tree that grows near the water. Water buffaloes love this tree and eat the fruit. They also love to swim and eat the river weed. Water buffaloes are led around by a rope threaded through the pierced hole in their nose. Ouch!!

I want to share a previously unknown intellectual mystery that has now been solved: the difference between a palm tree and a coconut tree.

The leaves of a palm tree are sharp and pointy. They radiate from the same place and resemble a many fingered hand.

The leaves of a coconut tree are long and feathery and of course there are coconuts.

My confusion comes from many years of waving “palm” branches on Palm Sunday that were not really palm branches. I am assuming that real palm branches would have been too sharp and dangerous for the little children of the church.

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