Fish Sanctuaries of Mekong

School kids listen attentively to our talks in the Hway Luek village. Thai children are incredibly polite and calm. It is indeed rare to see a Thai kid to cry, and their curiosity surpasses the smartphones. At least here, in this village that hosts one of the fish sanctuaries, built as a result of community activism.

Hway Luek is a borderland village. It is situated in close proximity to the place where Thailand ends and Laos begins. Mekong river makes a sharp turn here into Laos and Thai people built a wonderful natural retreat of Kaeng Pha Dai. Dry season sees the Mekong waters low, trees are full of yellow flowers, and a huge Thai signature says one is leaving Thailand from this point. No guards, no police at sight, just some machines that build a new bank along the river. What is being built further downstream, in Laos, is far more dangerous. It is another dam, and Hway Luek community fears it will ruin everything they possess.

In this village there are many migrants from Laos. Some of them still don’t have Thai papers. Since the building of the dams in upstream Mekong, their livelihood changed. Before, they were sustainable with fishing and agriculture, but large changes in these sectors made them move on into other provinces of Thailand. With a big number of Lao population, they are being increasingly aware of the cross-border impacts from the dam development projects in Laos, and population on the other side of the border privately show same concerns. However, Laos is a strict communist regime and any communal gathering, non-governmental initiative or public questioning is prohibited and even dangerous.

After beautiful lunch in village’s school, we went to see the “sanctuaries” themselves. It is hardly a closed system. Parts of the river are populated with fish and they mostly dwell there where there is food. Best food is given by villagers themselves, so the fish stays around the boats docked on the riverbank. Fish is sold at the spot, the only question is whether the locals sell fish or tremendous amount of flies on them, as the scorching sun hits over the waters. Being curious, we stormed the fishing boats, while the fishermen were looking anxiously who are these people coming on their property in time of lunch. Nevertheless, no one said a word and lazy midday continued as usual on this grand river.