Things to see & do along the Mekong

From its source in the Tibetan plateau to its exit into the South China Sea in Vietnam, the Mekong River has become a mythical must-see for travelers and an essential life blood for the people of Indochina. This 4,350km journey defines the borders between Myanmar and Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, as it cuts through Yunnan province in China and snakes southeast from Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle. During its course the Mekong passes the capitals of Vientiane in Laos and Phnom Penh in Cambodia before developing into a spider’s web-like delta system to the west of Ho Chi Minh City in southwest Vietnam.

The Mekong Delta in Vietnam is a maze of tributaries stemming across the southwest of the country in a series of low lying flood plains. Nutritious silt and sediment is carried downstream to turn the land along the Mekong Delta into the country’s largest rice growing region. River banks are lined with bamboo stilt houses, floating family homes and villages supporting cottage industries, schools and fishing communities. Floating markets, all day river boat cruises and village home stays have all made the Mekong one of the main reasons to visit Indochina. Here’s how you can find out more and make the most of a Mekong vacation.

Making the most of the Mekong

We recommend taking at least a couple of days onboard a slow cruise boat to really make the most of the Mekong. Cruising on the Mekong for around six hours each day opens up the cottage industries along its banks as well as providing plenty of time to rest and recharge midway through a two week tour. Although Mekong river cruise boats tend to be pretty rustic they are functional and include toilets, shaded areas, seats and sections for sunbathing, snacking, reading or playing cards – what more could you ask for?

Northern Indochina is a favoured location for Mekong cruises with the stretch between the Thai-Laos border, from the town of Huay Xai, to Luang Prabang in northern Laos including a night in the riverside village of Pakbeng. En route you’ll also get the chance to stop off and visit the Pak Ou Caves where hundreds of Buddha statues decorate the entrance and the interiors, around two hours up river from Luang Prabang.

Tailor made and longer small group itineraries – over two weeks – may also include a river cruise on the Mekong Delta. You’ll set sail from the village of Vinh Long and visit the floating markets at Cai Be, Phong Dien, Can Tho and Cai Rang before being invited to stay overnight at a homestay-style guesthouse in Can Tho village, just a couple of hours from Ho Chi Minh City. An early start to see the sunrise and watch the floating market come to life is always an unforgettable Mekong moment.
It’s also possible to reach Angkor Wat as part of a 16 day small group tour from Saigon. Floating markets, canoe tours and the palaces and pagodas of Phnom Penh will all feature on a cruise from Vietnam to Cambodia, alongside forest hikes and a ride on the legendary Battambang 'bamboo train'.

Some small group cycling vacations will also include some time out of the saddle to enjoy the Mekong. Leaving the bike on the mainland, you can travel to an island in the Mekong to stay in a homestay-style guesthouse and explore the canals and rivers of the Mekong Delta on foot.

Making the most of the Mekong is all about going with the flow and allowing the laid-back rhythm of the river to rock you into relaxation. Write your postcards, chat with new friends or simply watch the world float by as you experience life in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam from a completely unforgettable perspective.

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Small group travel:
2019: 27 Oct, 3 Nov, 8 Dec
2020: 12 Jan, 26 Jan, 9 Feb, 16 Feb, 23 Feb, 8 Mar, 29 Mar, 26 Jul, 11 Oct, 25 Oct, 8 Nov, 6 Dec
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Best time to go on a Mekong vacation

Tailor made tours to Indochina that include some exploration of the Mekong River can depart any time of year that works for you. Small group tours are on one set date, throughout the year. The southern areas of the Mekong, in Cambodia and Vietnam, are hot and humid all year round, but life on the Mekong doesn’t stop just because there’s a shower or heat, so tours typically run year round, too. May to October is hotter and wetter than the drier cooler months from November to April. Worth remembering before you set sail.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: WIL] [Intro: Jakub Halun] [Making the most of the Mekong: Basak Ar] [Best time to go: Simon Matzinger]
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