A fisherman on the Mekong Delta in Vietnam (Shutterstock)
Advice Words : Team Wanderlust | 25 August 2019

10 things you need to know before cruising the Mekong River

From slow river cruises through the jungle to spotting rare dolphins and visiting cave temples, here are your top tips on how to navigate Asia’s greatest waterway – and where to stop along the way…

What to know before you go

A boat tour along the Mekong to Ho Chi Minh City (Shutterstock)

A boat tour along the Mekong to Ho Chi Minh City (Shutterstock)

Read John Keay’s Mad About the Mekong for historical context, before your visit.

A boat trip along the entire Mekong is a mammoth undertaking, but I went from Luang Prabang to Ho Chi Minh City and did several stretches by boat.

Dipping in gives you a fascinating view of changes in the river and the landscape.

- Mark Harman

Hidden corners of the Mekong

Kratie, Cambodia (Shutterstock)

Kratie, Cambodia (Shutterstock)

Late autumn is a great time to visit the Mekong – it’s dry season, not too hot and the sunsets are incredible.

We went kayaking in Kratie, Cambodia, and saw Mekong dolphins up close on the water, rather than from an intrusive motorboat.

We also stayed at Le Tonlé Guesthouse, which trains underprivileged locals in tourism; it’s attached to an excellent restaurant, just a stone’s throw from the river.

- Joel Hawthorn

Mon Bridge over the River Kwai, Thailand (Shutterstock)

Mon Bridge over the River Kwai, Thailand (Shutterstock)

“Absorb the history of Kanchanaburi, Thailand and walk along the train tracks of the Thai-Burma (Death) Railway.

You'll cross the bridge over the River Kwai that was built by Allied POWs during the Second World War.”

- Michelle Coogan

The city of Vung Tau, Vietnam (Shutterstock)

The city of Vung Tau, Vietnam (Shutterstock)

“We took a passenger boat from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Vung Tau in Vietnam, and went along the mouth of the Mekong and out into the South China Sea.

We spotted fishing boats of all sizes as well as lots of wildlife among the mangroves.”

- Erica Gilberthorpe

Make the most of the Thailand to Laos slow boat

Slow boat between Chiang Khong and Luang Prabang (Shutterstock)

Slow boat between Chiang Khong and Luang Prabang (Shutterstock)

Make sure you take the slow boat between Chiang Khong in Northern Thailand and Luang Prabang in Laos.

Ignore the speedboat option, which is unsafe due to rocks and unpredictable water levels. The public boat is much cheaper than a tourist package, and you'll get the chance to observe Mekong life.

You'll also make friends with other travellers, who you may see on the rest of your travels.

- Josh Johns

Kuang Si Falls, Laos (Shutterstock)

Kuang Si Falls, Laos (Shutterstock)

“A slow boat is a wonderful way to live and breathe the upper Mekong.

Visit Luang Prabang – the most beautiful city along the river – and enjoy the cascades at Kuang Si Falls.

In October, you can watch the boat racing festival, Boun Suang Heua, from a riverside restaurant while sampling fried river weed.”

- Howard Fancourt

Muang Ngoi village, Laos (Shutterstock)

Muang Ngoi village, Laos (Shutterstock)

“When taking the slow boat from Northern Thailand into Laos, disembark at a tiny village called Muang Ngoi.

It’s an idyllic slice of heaven. Five years ago, it was only accessible by boat – no roads or vehicle access.

Exploring nearby Tham Kang Cave was probably was one of our biggest highlights.”

- Emily Pinfield-Sunderland

Discover Laos' secret side

Homes on the water, Vang Vieng, Laos (Shutterstock)

Homes on the water, Vang Vieng, Laos (Shutterstock)

Stop in a homestay on Laos’ river banks for the night. We were welcomed with a baci ceremony – a good luck ritual.

- Moira Manning

An elephant at MandaLao Sanctuary (Shutterstock)

An elephant at MandaLao Sanctuary (Shutterstock)

“Take a side trip to MandaLao, which is doing wonderful work in elephant conservation, providing a jungle sanctuary for abused animals.

Stroll the forest alongside these amazing, banana-loving creatures, who have been rescued from the logging trade.

It’s a great alternative to the ‘rides’ routinely offered to travellers, which are in fact very damaging to the elephants’ health and wellbeing.”

- Vik Loveday

Si Phan Don from above (Shutterstock)

Si Phan Don from above (Shutterstock)

 “Stay on Don Khon in Laos’ 4,000 Islands (Si Phan Don) and take a morning boat trip to look for the almost extinct Irrawaddy dolphins on the Lao-Cambodian border before the backpackers arrive.

We stayed at The River Resort at Champasak, which had rooms overlooking the water – the perfect spot to see early morning fishermen at work.”

- Anne Burns

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