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We follow Arthur Fourdraine on his challenging way from the Mighty Mekong's estuary up to its Tibetan spring, a 4000+ km journey of kayaking and climbing.

by Living Cambodia Team, 04 Apr. 2019

After starting his odyssey from the Vietnamese shores beginning of February, and going on all the way through Cambodia, adventurerArthur Fourdraine recently reached one of the toughest parts of his expedition up to the primal source of the Mekong River, high on the Tibetan plateaux: the rapids and waterfalls in Northern Cambodia and Lao.

Approaching the famous Khone rapids, recalled Arthur during a chat online, "I had very much in mind that the French explorers in the 19th century had to turn back, and eventually built a railway parallel to the river in order to overcome the obstacle. Leaving my kayak and equipment, I checked the terrain, talked with locals, decided to go straight through the middle waterway, I went ahead paddling, and...I made it".

Upriver in Lao and Thailand, more challenges await the modern explorer. More rapids and cataracts, the navigation through the infamous "Golden Triangle"...At the time of this post's writing, however, Arthur maintains a fast pace, some 32 km paddled daily.

And he plans to make a highly symbolic pause when reaching Luang Prabang: go visit the tomb of Henri Mouhot (1826-1861), a larger-than-life pioneer in the rediscovery of Angkor Wat and the navigation on the Mekong River.

Respite before facing rough waters: Arthur during a sleepover at Relais de Chhlong...

And the big question ahead...where exactly is the Mekong River source?

Way, way further upriver, when reaching the Tibetan hills, Arthur will his kayaking equipment for the consummate mountain-climber's gear. For those of us who dwell on the banks of the Mighty Mekong, it seems quite mind-boggling that the location of its primary source has been the subject of heated controversies during the last two decades's a fact!

To make it short, it was for a long time assumed that the Mekong originated as a narrow glacial stream in the "Three Rivers Source Area", high up in the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve. North to South, this part of the Tibetan hills hosts the headwaters of three major rivers, the Yellow (Huang He), the Yangtze, and the Mekong. But from exactly where comes the latter one?

Photo Pieter Neele

In 2013, two fearless and well-documented explorers, Pieter Neele and Luciano Lepre, claimed that they had located the very first source of the Mekong River. Arthur Fourdrain embraces their conclusion, and he's ultimately heading there, which is...33 45.677 E, 94 40.562 N, altitude 5,374 m.

You can read Neele's and Lepre's findings in this article from Japan Alpine News. While accompanying Arthur in his odyssey, we'll have several occasions to consider more thoroughly the mystery of the Mekong source...and always to wish good winds to Arthur!