Laos is on the verge of huge and irreversible change - massive dams are being built to harness the power of the river. After months of access negotiation, Sue films at the Xayaburi hydroelectric dam, south east Asia's biggest and most controversial engineering project. It's the first dam to be built across the Lower Mekong and will completely block the flow of the river, changing water levels, blocking fish migration and destroying fish stocks. Under strict supervision, Sue is told about the merits of the dam by the vice minister for energy and mines, Mr Viraphonh Varavong. When the waters rise, thousands of people will be forced to leave their traditional homes, so she is given a tour of their new village, complete with electricity. Having seen the effects of damming in Vietnam and Cambodia, Sue grapples with the complexities of projects such as this. While the Xayaburi Dam will bring economic benefits to Laos and beyond, the industrialisation of the Mekong will harm the livelihoods of tens of millions of people downstream.
Foreign investment is coming to Laos on projects beyond the dams. The government has tempted Chinese developers with tax incentives to create tourist playgrounds in an area branded as the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone. At the river's bank, Sue is met by a stretch limo to take her to a Las Vegas-style casino, built for Chinese VIPs who aren't allowed to gamble in their own country. It's a world away from the charm and serenity of the Laos she's fallen in love with.
Written by TonyMayhew on Sep 24, 2016