Mekong river cruises

Cruising on the Mekong, which flows for more than 4,000km down from the Tibetan Plateau through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam until it empties out into the vast Mekong Delta, you’ll notice that many of the vessels you pass are decorated with glowering eyes on the prow. It’s said they are there to scare off monsters from the deep, and really who does know what’s down there? The Mekong is second only to the Amazon for its riverine biodiversity, with new species constantly being discovered – there are over 90 species of known catfish in the Mekong alone.

The real monster on the Mekong of course is plastic pollution, as it is with so many major rivers today. Along its length over 60 million people, divided between more than 100 different ethnic groups, depend on the river for their livelihood. And their way of life is starting to become threatened, by pollution just as much as the many dams on the river, and climate change, which are affecting the Mekong’s flow. This is the reason why we want to see more people cruising on the Mekong. Demonstrating the river’s value to tourism is one way of encouraging the authorities in each country it passes through, and the communities that live alongside it, to protect it and try to clean it up. Refillable bottles and onboard water coolers are employed on your cruise to help reduce your vacation’s own plastic footprint.
The Mekong might currently be battling some serious challenges, but there are a great many pleasures of cruising on this iconic river, not least the knowledge that you will be supporting local economies with the opportunity to purchase food and handicrafts. You’ll pass floating houses, thick and atmospheric jungle, farms and markets, riverside monasteries and elegantly fading Buddhist pagodas, and endless other crafts especially during the wet season between September and December. The river floods in this period, and the fishermen don’t waste any time, so you will eat exceptionally well. In the dry season, which spans May to August, and the best time for river cruising on the Mekong, you’ll find orchards, markets and restaurants thick with the aromas of blooming flowers and ripening tropical fruits.

Mekong cruises through Cambodia

Most travelers choose to fly between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, which doesn’t only ramp up the carbon footprint of a vacation, it also means they miss out on seeing much of Cambodia’s idyllic rural scenery. Instead we recommend cruising south from the capital to Siem Reap and the majestic Angkor Wat temple complex. It takes only three days during which you can relax on deck in a comfortable ‘steamer’ chair, enjoying the charm of a colonial-style riverboat. These vessels are able to stop at places that larger cruise ships cannot, spreading the economic benefits of tourism through the purchase of food and handicrafts including intricate silver and copper ornaments in small riverside communities, and through activities such as horse and cart rides.

A major highlight of the voyage will be pausing at Tonlé Sap, the largest body of freshwater in Southeast Asia, where you’ll switch to small boats to explore a floating village where everything from the hairdressers to the police station moves with the water’s ebb and flow. You can also make the journey in reverse, or continue on beyond Siem Reap to Saigon.

Our top River cruising Vacation

Mekong River cruise to Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Mekong River cruise to Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Cruise the Mekhong river to the spectacular ruins of Angkor

From £455 3 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip is only for tailor made departures throughout the year to suit your requirements
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about River cruising or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Mekong cruises through Laos & Thailand

If you’d prefer to be on the river for longer, then cruise through Laos and Thailand over 11 days, heading upriver from Vientiane and ending in either Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai. Sail aboard a handsome ship finished with brass and teak by expert craftsmen, with activities including displays of traditional Laotian dancing on deck, cookery demonstrations, and optional mountain bike riding on the shore through tiny Hmong villages, or out to see butterfly gardens and waterfalls pouring into jungle lakes.
On a cruise ship with a shallow draft you’ll again be able to reach remote areas that most miss, but you will also naturally stop for a while in Luang Prabang, one of the most beautiful cities in all of Southeast Asia. Wander the famous night market, the Pak Ou Caves and watch as hundreds of monks make their daily procession to collect alms. The dry season is generally considered the best time to travel in Southeast Asia, and so naturally the busiest as well. Traveling by river means avoiding most of the crowds and giving you a more relaxed experience.

Practicalities

Whether your Mekong river cruise takes you through Cambodia, or Laos and Thailand, these are tailor made vacations so not only do you have flexibility on your travel dates, you can if you wish upgrade accommodation while on land. You will likely be in a shared cabin during the cruise, with single, twin and double cabins available for a supplement.

“We completed the whole cruise from Siem Reap to Saigon and the whole trip was lovely with interesting excursions each day by boat or on land. The food on board the boat was delicious. We chose the cruise as my 84yr old father was traveling with us and it was ideal for him. The tour that was organised for us around Angor Wat was also memorable. The guide was good and the temples are amazing.” – Janet Sivyer on a Mekong river cruise
A real experience, with such lovely people and places, we will never forget! Everything went very smoothly and to plan over three different locations, which is quite an achievement too!
- Simon Armour on a Mekong river cruise
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: ZAC] [Top box: Bjorn Christian Torrissen] [Pak Ou Caves: Mario Micklisch] [Simon Armour quote: Visions of Domino]
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