The Mekong giant catfish (pla buk) is the largest scaleless freshwater fish in the world, measuring up to 3m in length and weighing in at 300kg. Chiang Khong has traditionally been the catfish capital of the north, attracting fish merchants and restaurateurs from Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and Bangkok – the mild, tasty meat of the pla buk is prized for its fine, soft texture, and one fish can fetch B60,000–80,000. The catfish season is officially opened at the port of Ban Hat Khrai on April 18 with much pomp, including an elaborate ceremony to appease Chao Por Pla Buk, the giant catfish god. The season’s haul used to be between thirty and sixty fish all told, but recent years have been so disappointing (only two were caught in 2008, for example) that Thailand’s Fishery Department has begun an artificial spawning programme.

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