Laos is an incredible beautiful country. Lush greenery, hills, flatlands and of course, water. The huge Mekong River spends a lot of it’s time here, more than in any other country. It travels through China, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. Maybe it too, realises that Laos is the most beautiful. Water is everywhere in Laos, the rivers weave all over the country and bring life giving nutrients to the flood plains. There are lakes and many waterfalls.
Waterfalls are loved by Laotian people they sing folk songs about them and hold them in high esteem. The songs speak of their love for particular ones. One famous folk song tells how the “most beautiful of them all”, the Tat Pho Waterfall, calls boys and girls to fish in its waters in April and May. The songs goes on to say how the fish here are the best in the country, “beautiful beyond words”.
The water has special religious meaning to the people, being Buddhists, they believe that all things in nature are to be honored. The fish are caught in traps but held very dear to the people. It is after all a life saving partnership for them. The weather means that they can only fish for a small part of the year, so fish is fermented in order to prolong its use. The fermented fish paste Pa Daek, is a staple food in most parts and is eaten every day.Pa Daek can be kept for more than a year.
At the start of the wet season the rivers, lakes, pond and wetlands start to food, bring with it and abundance of fish. This is when the fishing season really starts to get going. As fish arrive to spawn they are capture in huge numbers. This is a symbiotic relationship. The fishermen take what they need and make sure there is enough left for next year. The waterways are looked after providing ideal spawning grounds for the fish.
The fish is salted and cooked then stored for a month. Other ingredients are added then it is stored for at least another month. The resultant brown stew is highly pungent and its taste may seem bad to western taste buds. But to Laotian people, the longer it is stored the more tasty it is. Lao families depend on it. Especially in the South and Central regions where it is the main food.
The Mekong River Commission has praised the way in which Laotian fishermen go about their business. This requires very little investment, meaning that local people are not forced into debt, as in other countries. Some fish is fermented, some is eaten fresh and some is sold at local markets provide additional income to supplement their simple lifestyle.
Water is the life blood in this country. As long as the Mekong flows, the people are safe. It looks like things are in good hands.