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The new 'explorers'

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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, third from right, welcomes participants from the Mekong River countries to the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation leaders' meeting on March 23.   © Reuters

In June 1866, six Frenchmen departed from Ho Chi Minh City on a dangerous mission up the mighty Mekong River. Travelling in two "minuscule steam-driven gunboats" along with an "inordinate quantity of liquor, flour, guns and trade goods," as historian John Keay put it, the Mekong Exploration Commission cast off from the waterfront and steamed off into the wilds of Indochina.

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