Vietnam Risking it all EPISODE
From: Risking it all

Dicing with death on the rivers of Vietnam and Laos

Bamboo harvesters navigate rapids on rafts while Lao fishermen risk death casting their nets into a roaring waterfall.

Editor’s note: This film will be removed on February 21, 2020.

There are two staples of Vietnamese life: rice and bamboo for its many uses.

The province of Thanh Hoa has one of the largest bamboo forests in Southeast Asia, with over 80,000 hectares of natural bamboo forest and 71,000 hectares of planted bamboo.

In just three years, the plant can grow up to eight metres tall.

With the global market for bamboo expanding, the bamboo industry contributes to Thanh Hoa’s growing economy and sustains the livelihoods of thousands of small-scale farmers.

“Cutting the bamboo is very tiring work but it’s the only we can make a living,” says a bamboo labourer. “We go to the forest, cut the bamboo and carry it down to the river.”

After cutting the bamboo, they carry the heavy, 30-40kg stalks for more than a kilometre – down muddy slopes to the banks of the Luong River.

The labourers earn just over a dollar a day cutting and transporting the bamboo. But the bravest among them can make 10 times that much transporting the goods on the river.

“A raft can be made from 500 to 600 bamboo poles. We have to go by river, there’s no other way,” says one harvester.

It's a dangerous journey. We're scared from the time we leave until the end of the journey.

Bamboo harvester

It is imperative that the bamboo rods are securely fastened and that the raft is flexible and narrow to offer minimum resistance to the current. Once completed, the raft will be nearly 50 meters long and hard to navigate on the river. If the current is strong, it will be difficult to control and they risk losing an entire raft.

“It’s a dangerous journey. We’re scared from the time we leave until the end of the journey,” says one of them as they prepare for the 30-kilometre, five-hour-long strenuous journey.

The daredevil fishermen of the Mekong

The legendary Mekong River, or “mother of waters”, is Vietnam’s main waterway. It nourishes the six countries through which it flows, including the landlocked People’s Republic of Laos, which borders Vietnam

Sam Niang is one of several daring fishermen who earn their catch from the Mekong’s mighty Khone Falls, one of the widest waterfalls in the world. The falls stretch over nearly 10 kilometres.

Yet fishermen like 52-year-old Sam Niang jump into the water without fear.

“It’s dangerous. There are few people who come out here. That’s why there are more fish and why I risk coming here,” says Sam Niang. “My father and grandfather used to come here, and I’m carrying on the tradition.”

The fishermen cross the raging currents on precarious high wires to inspect traps and fishing nets, risking death to make a living. Each year, two or three fishermen are taken by the Mekong.

“Every time I cross [the river], I get a knot in my stomach. I’m afraid of falling, I’m afraid of dying, but if I don’t go, I can’t feed my family,” one fisherman says.

But “our life is fishing … as kids we learned to live in the water,” he says.

How far would you go to find the “perfect” fishing spot?


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An action-packed series following people around the world who take extraordinary risks to earn a living.

Published On 27 Dec 2011
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