Photo: ©KAS Thailand/Pit Yaopirom

People of the Songkhram River

A documentary photographer, Pit Yaopirom, has travelled along the Songkhram River and met many faces of the local people. They told him about their traditional livelihoods, the developing projects in the river basin, the changing climate_and seasons, and how they have been trying to adjust themselves to all the changes. They who belong to the river and basin have long both enjoyed and suffered from the flows. The photographer has captured the moment and told their stories and the Songkhram River through the faces and eyes of these local people.

Uncle Arun and his fishing net at Chai Wan marsh, Si Songkhram District, Nakhon Phanom. “When the water level in the Songkhram River rises, the marsh will then be flooded, and there will be plenty of fish. But this is not the case this year, nor the fish. So, who say flooding is not good? It is (good), as there will be plenty of fish for us to catch.”
Photo: ©KAS Thailand/Pit Yaopirom

Na Koh, a buffalo raiser at Chai Wan marsh, Si Songkhram District, Nakhon Phanom, where is his long-time free-of-charge area for his buffalos. “Over the past three or four years, there has apparently been less and less water coming in, but I as a buffalo raiser quite like it because grass can grow and my buffalos can have grass to feed on. Well, my fellow fishers may not like this.”
Photo: ©KAS Thailand/Pit Yaopirom
For farmers, they also grow rice in the Bung-Tham lowland floodplains, which are seasonally flooded, but the seasons have become more and more unpredictable. So have their rice growing seasons.
Photo: ©KAS Thailand/Pit Yaopirom
Aunty Tae prepares “Khao Lam” or streamed rice in bamboos for a merit making during the End of Buddhist Lent period. Aunty Tae collects bamboos from the Bung-Tham forests near her house. The locals like her have learned all their lives to make use of forest products from the forests and differentiate different parts of them for optimum use; from weaving to cooking.
Photo: ©KAS Thailand/Pit Yaopirom
Aunty Yossa collects indigo trees or “Khram” to extract its bluish color to coat her clothes. The trees are rampant in the basin, prompting people to believe that it inspired the name of the river.
Photo: ©KAS Thailand/Pit Yaopirom
Brother Khamhom lives in Kham Lor Village near the Songkhram watershed in Udon Thani province “The rainy season usually brings us plenty of water. So, there is no need to go far from home to fish. We can still fish and even fish in the flooded fields both in the morning and in the evening.”
Photo: ©KAS Thailand/Pit Yaopirom
Aunty Sokjeng lives in Chai Buri Village, Tha Uthen District, Nakhon Phanom, where is the confluence of the Mekong and Songkhram Rivers. She used to be a fish trader who traded a variety of fish. The fish in her area however has declined in numbers. “It has become harder to get fish native to the Songkhram River for my daughter who lives in Bangkok.”
Photo: ©KAS Thailand/Pit Yaopirom

The famed Pla Ra maker, Aunty Sakorn, and her empty jars for fish fermenting in Pak Yam VIllage_and her glory days. “I used to ferment fish in over 200 jars. That was some forty years ago. Last year, I could merely make two jars of Pla Ra (because there was not enough fish).”
Photo: ©KAS Thailand/Pit Yaopirom

A fish trader in Si Songkhram Market, one of the basin’s fish trading hub jokes; “The river’s fish would have been infected with Covid. There are very few of them for sale this year.”
Photo: ©KAS Thailand/Pit Yaopirom
A reed weaver of the Bung-Tham forests. Locally known as Pheu, the reeds generate additional income for the villagers, keeping smiles on their faces.
Photo: ©KAS Thailand/Pit Yaopirom
Uncle Paiboon of Pak Yam Village goes out to lay his fishing nets everyday and comes back with spiny fish for his wife to make dried Pla Wong. It’s another fish preservation method of people in the Songkhram River Basin.
Photo: ©KAS Thailand/Pit Yaopirom
Fish from the Central Plains are brought and sold for Pla Som (sour fish) making in Tha Bor Village of Si Songkhram District, Nakhon Phanom province, in replacement of the Songkhram River’s native fish, which have gone to a decline over the past ten years.
Photo: ©KAS Thailand/Pit Yaopirom
Local taro of the Bung-Tham forests known as Mun Sang is a popular appertite among the locals. Housewives often go out in groups to collect them while their husbands go fishing.
Photo: ©KAS Thailand/Pit Yaopirom
Aunty Oom of Phutakam Village, Song Dao District, Sakhon Nakhon province, goes out with her compact lift net to fish every morning in the flooded areas near her house during the rainy season, The net is a popular fishing gear for fishing by the river or in the flooded fields “With this net, I can catch only small fish, but it’s enough for my family’s meals.”
Photo: ©KAS Thailand/Pit Yaopirom

Buffalo raising in the Bung-Tham forests has long been one of the prime and traditional livelihoods of people in the Songkhram River Basin. Using these public space free of charge, raising buffalos is like saving for the locals. It’s also families’ inheritance.
Photo: ©KAS Thailand/Pit Yaopirom

People of the Songkhram River is part of the exclusive photo essay series, The Mekong’s Womb, to present to the public the values of the river basins and tributaries of the country and the Mekong region, their rich biodiversity, unique landscape and geography, livelihood and culture, which could soon vanish without a trace because of rapid development in the region.