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BIS Vietnam River Study (January 2014)

Beyond the misty hinterlands of Chiang Dao the Mae Rim River begins its journey. It winds its way through curving mountain slopes before meandering slowly into the valley. This river, like all rivers, tells a story of how the land used to be and of the people who always depend on it. What matters in river studies is not merely the historical portrait painted by riparian brushstrokes, but an examination of the forces that impact our life-waters.

In January 2014 twenty-three Biology and Geography students arrived into Chiang Mai airport and made their way to the Traidhos Three-Generation Community for Learning campus to start their own discovery of the Mae Rim River. This trip was an interesting one as we were looking at the river’s changing journey from two perspectives. The Biology students had chosen to use chemical test kits and macro invertebrates as indicator species to look at how the water chemistry changes as the river travels downstream. The Geography students however were looking at the physical properties of the river and how the river’s shape and processes varied.

The adventure started at a site known as Mok Fa waterfall, near the source of the river. This beautiful waterfall is hidden away in one of Chiang Mai’s stunning national parks. We started the study by looking at the human and physical influences on the river and how to conduct the experiments they had chosen. The experiential learning process allowed for groups to learn how to work effectively as a group and also encourage each other to get involved. The morning was made even more delightful by a post-study swim in the crystal clear plunge pool waters, before enjoying a tasty Thai-style lunch.

After lunch we continued yo Baan Rai, a vastly different site where the river flows through a busy Thai Village. The water appears polluted and we had the opportunity to discuss why appearances might be deceiving and why the experiments we conducted were so important. The contrast of these two sites set the scene for the rest of our journey down stream with VSP and BIS staff encouraging inquisitive and analytical thinking from the students. The students had the opportunity to learn how to look at each aspect of the river and its surroundings as an influence. What effect could this house built on the riverbanks have on the river chemistry? What effect will this bridge have on the river’s course and channel?

On the second day of our journey downstream the students had the skills to conduct the analysis of the site and the experiments independently. At the end of each day BIS staff ran an evening classroom session to gather and process the data gathered. The trip was a great success, and with the addition of some other activities such as Zip Wire and Elephant Nature Park overall it was a "Great balance of learning and fun. The river study was enhanced by well-chosen sites and local knowledge."

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