The Mekong

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Canals are the major thoroughfares through the densely populated Mekong Delta, with boats of all sizes cramming the waterways en route to the market in Phung Hiep, Vietnam.
A farmer takes advantage of the flood swollen Mekong outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia to fill his irrigation buckets. The river broadens to three and a half miles here, making it possible for even ocean-going vessels to pass through.
Fish farming is literally a cottage industry along the Mekong, with some 600 floating houses moored near Chau Doc on the Vin Te canal. Fish live under the house in large cages and are fed twice daily.
Free enterprise blooms in the Vietnam delta town of Can Tho, where peddlers sell everything from snakes and blue jeans to viivd marigolds.
The place the Tibetans call the sacred source of the Mekong is a frozen river bed at an altitude of 17,000 feet on the Tibetan Plateau. In search of a campsite, a guide crosses the three feet of ice under which the westernmost headwaters of the Mekong trickle.
The inhospitable gorges carved by the Mekong near Lanping, in northern Yunnan, keep the river unused and unnavigale until its final 90-mile stretch through China, as it spills into Laos.
man smokes opium
Guided by first light, a fisherman, plies the rock-studded Mekong on the Laos-Thailand border.
The dream of 19th-century French explorers to use the Mekong as a trade route to China was dashed on obstacles like Khone Falls, a six-mile chain of cataracts in southern Laos.
Victims of the thousands of land mines buried throughout Cambodia pass the time at the 1/79 Military Hospital in Phnom Penh, named for the date the Vietnamese liberated the city.
Two sisters at play splash in the murky waters of the Mekong as it churns through Phnom Penh, the largest city on the river, with a population of one million.
house on stilts
house on stilts
Traders meet at the confluence of five canals at Phung Hiep.
A fine-feathered cargo of live ducks heads to market at Can Tho along one of the delta's few hard-top roads.
Crossing these "monkey bridges," as these spindly structures are called, requires the agility of a simian.
At a rice mill in Soc Trang, the heart of Vietnam's "rice basket," women collect bran to sell as animal feed. The factory allows villagers, who allso use the husks for cooking fires, to haul these waste products away for free.
Deep in Vietnam's U Minh forest, an extensive mangrove swap once withered by defoliants, woodcutters seek trees for the foreign market.
Cormorant fishermen on Erhai Lake, which forms an important part of the Mekong's watershed, train their birds to retrieve their catch.
 Dawn in Qinghai reveals the Tibetan Plateau's dramatically beautiful skyline. Beyond these mountains of the towering Tibetan plateau lies the sacred source of the Mekong at an altitude of 17,400 feet.
A Tibetan family at an encampment near the sacred source of the Mekong. A yak-skin tent houses Meiga, a guide, Daji, his wife, their six children, and his brother-in-law, Bachairen.
As impervious to the bitter cold as her ice-encrusted yaks, a woman in Qinghai, China milks a dri, a female yak. With a hundred yaks, this family is considered prosperous in a culture that counts wealth by the size of a man's herd.
The yak is central to the livelihood of the Tibetan herders, providing milk for yak-butter tea, meat, dung for cooking fires, and skins for clothing an tents. Tibetan Plataeu, Qinghai, China.
The Mekong River outside Zadoi, the northernmost town on the river. The water's graceful bend belies the wild, uncontrollable rapids nearby. Qinghai, China.
Zadoi, the Gateway to Tibet. despite a climate so brutally harsh that washing becomes a rare event, daily life goes on.
Yak Herders drive their animals through treacherous narrow mountain passes on the outskirts of Zadoi, Qinghai, China.
With the closest bridge 25 miles away, villagers of the Lisu tribe still use this ancient and precarious form of river crossing to reach the far banks of the Mekong. Lanping, Yunnan, China.
Her wares on her back, a vendor - of the Bai tribe - takes her vegetables to Zhouchang Market on the shores of Erhai Lake. Zhouchang, Yunnan, China.
The village of Xizhou in China's Yunnan province, with its distinctive Bai-style houses build around a central courtyard, overlooks the quiet landscape of ricefields at the northern end Erhai Lake.
Bai woman working in rice paddies, Xizhou. Yunnan, China
A single umbrella protects a fashionable young couple during rainy season in Jinghong. Yunnan, China
Balancing buckets of fertilizer, a woman works in the rice paddies of Xishuangbanna, home of the Dai tribe. Yunnan, China.
The 100-year-old wooden Double Crane Bridge crosses a tributary of the Mekong at Daltien. Yunnan, China.
Once the rice crop is planted, the Bai tribe celebrates the Rao Shao Lin festival in Qindong Village in Dali.  Bai women pray for rain, a good harvest, money, and prosperity. China.
A diver silhouetted against the sky plunges into Erhai Lake, a popular tourist spot. Yunnan, China.
Boys paddle their dugout canoe through a polluted pocket of the generally clean Mekong in the village of Mengham. Yunnan, China.
Farmers moonlight during the dry season prospecting for gold along the banks of the Mekong. Most of the panners are women and children who yield a mere 100 baht ($4) per person per day for their efforts.
Their world rapidly changing around them, a displaced Hmong hill tribe family poses in traditional dress against a backdrop of Holland's Keukenhoff Gardens at a photography studio set up at the Banvinai refugee camp in Thailand.
To the accompaniment of horns and drums, amateur kickboxers go at it with feet, fists and elbows flying. Kickboxing is the main form of entertainment during Chiang Saen's planting festival to mark the beginning of the dry season. Chiang Saen, Thailand.
To the accompaniment of horns and drums, amateur kickboxers go at it with feet, fists and elbows flying. Kickboxing is the main form of entertainment during Chiang Saen's planting festival to mark the beginning of the dry season. Chiang Saen, Thailand.
Disco dancing is the amusement of choice among the youth of Chiang Saen in Thailand's Golden Triangle, where the Mekong forms the borders of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar (Burma).
A monk sweeps the courtyard of Wat Xieng Thong as part of his morning ritual of chores in Luang Prabang, the old royal capital of Laos.
Young monks share a communal breakfast at Wat Xieng Thong, after their daily ritual of binthabat, or rice collecting, throughout town. Every Lao male voluntarily trains as a monk for a least three months of his life.
The Mekong during the dry season is so shallow at Vientiane that people can practically wade across its entire width into Thailand.
Elephants like Toum, this 50-year-old female, outnumber cranes and bulldozers in Laotian logging operations along the Mekong. Hardwood is Laos' second largest export, just behind hydroelectric power generated by Nam Ngum Dam on a tributary of the river.
A former teak forest is reduced to skeletal branches piercing the surface of Nam Ngum Lake, Laos, formed by the daming of a Mekong tributary. Underwater loggers still cut the valuable wood, most if it bound for sawmills in Thailand.
Two fisherman confront the raging cataracts of Khone Falls, gingerly tossing their nets to catch fish as they jump through the rapids upstream. The falls, at the Laos/Cambodia border, thwarted the efforts of early explorers looking for an inland route to China.
The Khong Falls of the Mekong River at the Cambodia/Laos border thwarted the efforts of early explorers in search of an inland route to China.
Mountains resembling a Sung dynasty watercolor loom above the Mekong as it flows through Pak Ou, Laos.
A woman practices the ancient art of dip-net fishing in the shallow water along the banks on Vientiane, Laos' sleepy capital city.