In Southeast Asia's only landlocked country, the Mekong River is a lifeline. From a slow boat heading up the river in Laos, you'll see fishermen working in their boats, riverside farms where bananas grow, and domesticated buffalo lazing. Occasionally a ferry chugs by. From time to time, steps leading to a riverside village become visible on the banks through the foliage. The wind is swift, and the brown fresh water laps up onto the side of the boat.
Just over 9 miles north of Luang Prabang, a startling aberration appears: five giant concrete pylons rising out of the water.