Flowing from China through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam before eventually pouring itself into the South China Sea, the Mekong River offers a wealth of opportunities to travelers. Traversing a total length of around 2,700 miles (4,350 km), the river is the sixth-longest in Asia and the 12th largest on the planet.
It is possible to take day trips along the Mekong but the best way to fully immerse yourself in the culture of the river is with a live-aboard experience. The most rewarding cruises connect you with major landmarks in Southeast Asia as well as taking you deep into the heart of the local communities. Here are the highlights of what you can expect from your Mekong River cruise.
Southeast Asia is brimming with Buddhist pagodas that grant insight into the region’s spiritual beliefs. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang sits directly on the riverside and is richly occupied with gilded temples. Rent a bicycle to explore this peaceful city or wander on foot. Luang Prabang is also the setting for the daily alms-giving ceremony in which Laotian monks receive food parcels in a daily sunrise ritual. While Siem Reap doesn’t sit directly on the river, you can expect most cruise providers to schedule a stop in the town where you can access the mighty Angkor Wat temple complex.
Traditional workshops and markets
During your Mekong River cruise, you can look forward to alighting at the workshops of local craftspeople and learning how the Mekong communities make a living. These artisans welcome travelers to take a look at their work in action and pick up unique souvenirs from their studios or at the nearby floating markets. Watch silk weavers spin fabric in the Cambodian village of Oknhatey and admire the craft of conical hats in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
Subject to the itinerary of your Mekong River cruise, you will experience crossing at least one border from the comfort of your cabin. The crossing from Cambodia into Vietnam involves a stop in Tân Châu where you can look forward to a tranquil voyage through smaller offshoots of the river in a traditional wooden boat.
In addition to the rustic and far-flung villages that dot the banks of the Mekong, the giant waterway swirls through some of the region’s magnificent cities where you can uncover further layers of traditional and contemporary culture. Hang on tight as a tuk-tuk whisks you around the streets of Phnom Penh and take the time to understand the devastation of the Khmer Rouge which Cambodia has fiercely recovered from. Glossy Hồ Chí Minh (Saigon) marks the terminus of the river and is the terminal for many cruises. Don’t miss the opportunity to tour the Cu Chi Tunnels.
Extend your trip
You can choose to extend your Mekong cruise by adding a few nights in one of the region’s cities that sit further afield from the river. Catch a glimpse of the colossal Reclining Buddha while roaming the ancient palaces and temples of Bangkok and sample some of the best street food in Thailand. Grab a steaming bowl of pho from the streets of Hanoi before settling in for an evening of watching the Thang Long water puppet show.
When you are ready, contact me to discuss your trip to the Mekong and arrange your perfect cruise itinerary.
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