The River’s Tale is a deeply informed personal chronicle of a remarkable journey down the Mekong River as it runs through China, Tibet, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. In it Edward A. Gargan tells a stirring tale of adventure that reveals the Mekong’s many worlds.
Beginning in 1998, Gargan was at last able to pursue his long-held dream of traveling the three thousand miles of the river and lingering where he wished. He was, in a sense, coming to terms with places and peoples with which he had already linked his life. His youthful opposition to the Vietnam War had been the first manifestation of his passionate interest in Asia, where he subsequently spent much of his career as a New York Times correspondent.
His travels show us a kind of modernity settling uneasily on regions still mired in backwardness and poverty, and shadows that linger so many years after the end of the Vietnam War. We visit Internet cafés in dirt-streeted towns near thatched-hut villages without electricity. The magnificent Angkor Wat, a hub of tourism, is surrounded by the ruins engendered by Pol Pot’s genocidal reign. We see plodding mule trains caravanning sacks of opium through Burma on their way to China to be processed and distributed to the West. Tibetan horsemen adorned in silver and amber jewelry herd yaks across endless grasslands as their ancestors did, though their culture is under siege by the Chinese. Vietnamese salesmen scooter around Saigon hawking American soaps, passing by outcast children fathered by American soldiers and left behind. Buddhism flowers in a Laos ravaged by communism. Sex tourism thrives in prosperous Thailand, a trade chiefly involving teenagers, who pay a deadly price.
And throughout, there is the Mekong—shaping landscapes, linking cultures, sustaining populations, showcasing spectacular beauty. Edward Gargan is an acutely observant, sympathetic guide to a fascinating world, and he has written a powerful and lyrical book.
About Edward Gargan
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Published January 22, 2002
Travel, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math.