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SeKong River

river in Laos and Cambodia rising in the Annamitique Mountains in central Vietnam southwest of Hue. It flows between the Bolovens Plateau of southern Laos and the mountains in a southwesterly direction for 300 miles (480 km), picking up the Sou and Kamane tributaries at Muong May. Entering Cambodia east of the Mekong River, it continues southwestward across the northern Cambodian plateau and is joined by the San River just east of Stúng Trêng, where it joins the Mekong.



Mekong River

mekong at kampong cham

The Mekong River and Tonle Sap Lake is the home to hundreds of thousands of Cambodians. Living in shacks built on stilts or floats they live far below what we would think of as the poverty level. No electricity, no clean fresh water, the alligators and poisonous snakes, they all share the life and disease the river gives as an oasis from the dense jungle surrounding them. The River becomes the recipient of the processes of their living, they bathe in it, are born on it, and die on it. The heat is suffering, children in their innocence splash and play naked everywhere to escape it. Adults cover from head to toe to escape the sun and insects trying to feed on them. Still they ply the muddy brown waters in search of fish, debris or anything they can find to sell to bring home some food. There is no stress here from traffic jams, plunging stock markets or dropped Internet connections. Survival is from day to day, happiness is spontaneous, simple, and fleeting. Yet I received more friendly smiles and waves from these people than from any government official I met while in Cambodia. I witnessed police in Phnom Penh from my hotel window shaking down poor street vendors for money in the early morning hours while they set up their stalls. Never once did I see anyone on the river do this to their fellow River Dwellers. It was a great opportunity to witness the human spirit under such harsh conditions.Except for the smaller rivers in the southeast, most of the major rivers and river systems in Cambodia drain into the Tonle Sap or into the Mekong River. The Cardamom Mountains and Elephant Range form a separate drainage divide. To the east the rivers flow into the Tonle Sap, while on the west they flow into the Gulf of Thailand. Toward the southern end of the Elephant Mountains, however, because of the topography, some small rivers flow southward on the eastern side of the divide. The Mekong River in Cambodia flows southward from the CambodiaLaos border to a point below Kracheh city, where it turns west for about 50 kilometers and then turns southwest to Phnom Penh. Extensive rapids run above Kracheh city. From Kampong Cham the gradient slopes very gently, and inundation of areas along the river occurs at flood stage--June through November--through breaks in the natural levees that have built up along its course. At Phnom Penh four major water courses meet at a point called the Chattomukh (Four Faces). The Mekong River flows in from the northeast and the Tonle Sab--a river emanating from the Tonle Sap--flows in from the northwest. They divide into two parallel channels, the Mekong River proper and the Basak River, and flow independently through the delta areas of Cambodia and Vietnam to the South China Sea. The flow of water into the Tonle Sab is seasonal. In September or in October, the flow of the Mekong River, fed by monsoon rains, increases to a point where its outlets through the delta cannot handle the enormous volume of water. At this point, the water pushes northward up the Tonle Sab and empties into the Tonle Sap, thereby increasing the size of the Mekong river cambodialake from about 2,590 square kilometers to about 24,605 square kilometers at the height of the flooding. After the Mekong's waters crest--when its downstream channels can handle the volume of water--the flow reverses, and water flows out of the engorged lake. As the level of the Tonle Sap retreats, it deposits a new layer of sediment. The annual flooding, combined with poor drainage immediately around the lake, transforms the surrounding area into marshlands unusable for agricultural purposes during the dry season. The sediment deposited into the lake during the Mekong's flood stage appears to be greater than the quantity carried away later by the Tonle Sab River. Gradual silting of the lake would seem to be occurring; during low-water level, it is only about 1.5 meters deep, while at flood stage it is between 10 and 15 meters deep.

Tonle'sap Lake and River
Sunrise over tonle sap river

The Tonlé Sap (meaning Large Fresh Water River but more commonly translated as Great Lake) is a combined lake and river system of huge importance to Cambodia. It is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia and is an ecological hotspot that was designated as an UNESCO biosphere in 1997.
An old man rows a boat on the Tonle Sap Lake in CambodiaFor most of the year the lake is fairly small, around one meter deep and with an area of 2,700 square km. During the monsoon season, however, the Tonle Sap river which connects the lake with the Mekong river reverses its flow. Water is pushed up from the Mekong into the lake, increasing its area to 16,000 square km and its depth to up to nine meters, flooding nearby fields and forests. This provides a perfect breeding ground for fish and makes the Tonle Sap ecosystem one of the most productive inland fisheries in the world, supporting over 3 million people and providing over 75% of Cambodia's annual inland fish catch and 60% of the Cambodians' protein intake. At the end of the rainy season, the flow reverses and the fish are carried downriver.The receding waters also leave nutrient rich deposits of sediment in the surrounding area creating prime agricultural land for the rest of the year.The reversal of the Tonle Sap river's flow also acts as a safety valve to prevent flooding further downstream.The lake occupies a depression created due to the geological stress induced by the collision of the Indian subcontinent with Asia.

Baray lake in siem reap
Baray Lake Siem Reap

Leaving Siem Reap by route 6 in the direction of Sisophon towards the north-west, a branch in the road to the right after 12 kilometres, leading north, takes one in 500 metres to the south-west corner of the western baray. The view on arriving at this vast artificial lake is superb, particularly at the end of the day. The entire expanse of water is contained within a levee of earth which forms a dike, shaded by large trees and with the forest of Angkor as its backdrop - set against which is the verdant foliage of the western Mebon at its centre, with Phnom Bakheng off to the right. In the distance, Phnom Bok stands out in silhouette from the long line of the Kulen hills which bar the horizon. At sunset the whole is coloured in sweet pastel tones.The baray forms a vast rectangle of 8 kilometres by 2. At its present level, the water only covers its western two thirds with, in places, depths of 4 and 5 metres - the remainder having been turned to rice fields. The water is quite clear, and the gently sloping sandy bottom allows very pleasant bathing - though one should always beware of the weeds that sometimes grow at some distance from the bank. Previously filled only by the rains, it is now, since the construction of a barrage on the Stung Siem Reap not far from the temple of Ta Nei, replenished by a system of channels which make use of the north and part of the west moats of Angkor Thom.To judge by the small temple of the western Mebon which marks the centre - in the same style as the Baphuon - the baray must have been realised in the 11th century, with its eastern dike corresponding to the western limit of "Yasodharapura", the first Angkor centred on Phnom Bakheng. It is, to the west of Angkor Thom, the replica of the eastern baray that is similar in size and was excavated to the east of the capital towards the end of the 9th century, during the reign of Yasovarman.Traces of ancient pathways and the remains of buildings found in the baray - the bases of walls and the jamb stones of openings, brick steps, the remains of tiles and pots and copper jewellery - show that before the formation of the lake the region must have been inhabited. An eighth century stele (713) has been discovered, defining the rice fields Yeak Lom Lake in Banlung Ratanakiri Provinceoffered to a certain queen Jayadevi, who seems to have been a daughter of Jayavarman I. The discovery of some pieces of sculpture - pedestals, a large statue of a badly decayed dvarapala and an exceptionally large round colonnette in primitive style - also shows that at least one important sanctuary was submerged which must have belonged to the "city of the baray" of Jayavarman II (9th century), investigated by Philip Stern.Some think that the western baray, perhaps linked with the Great Lake by canal, could have served as a port for royal barges - besides its function as an immense reservoir and fishpond. On occasion, it has also provided an excellent landing strip for sea-planes.

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