Top 5 tips: Boating in Indochina

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Whether cruising the Mekong in luxury or riding the waterways of Vietnam in a traditional sampan, the best way to explore Indochina is by boat. Our experts reveal their favourite experiences on the water in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Boating in Indochina originally appeared as an article in issue #2 of East, the Inside Asia Tours magazine. To subscribe for free or download the latest copy, click here.

Halong Bay

Matt Spiller

Agents Manager Matt remembers cruising through Halong Bay as part of a whirlwind trip through Indochina.

Few parts of Vietnam attract as many superlatives as Halong Bay, the undisputed king of Asia’s waterscapes. Encompassing an area of over 1,500 square kilometres and studded with nearly 800 islets of various shapes and sizes, it inspires thousands of travellers to flock to Vietnam each year – and it’s just as captivating whether shrouded in mist and cloud or sparkling in the sunshine. Cruises through Halong Bay range from basic to luxurious and from day trips to three-night cruises, with most vessels resembling traditional Chinese junk boats.

Boating in Indochina: Halong Bay
Halong Bay

Our World Heritage Indochina itinerary includes an overnight trip on the bay, with the opportunity to swim, kayak and explore the islands of the region. Click here to find out more.

Ninh Binh

Charlotte Bower

As a former deckhand on a maxi racing yacht, Charlotte more than knows her way around a boat. She visited Ninh Binh in 2014.

“With its towering, sheer-sided karst scenery rising up from a flat patchwork of green fields, Ninh Binh is one of the most dramatic landscapes in Vietnam (a country that’s not exactly short on scenery). Though it’s called ‘dry Halong Bay’ by the locals, it’s not completely devoid of water: lazy rivers snake across the valley floor carrying sampans (flat-bottomed fishing boats) loaded with locals and tourists, passing through wide, flat valleys and limestone grottoes under the shadow of the valley’s huge stone pinnacles.”

Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh

Our Vietnam Discovery itinerary includes a sampan boat-ride through Ninh Binh. Click here to find out more.

Mekong Cruise

Vicky Garnett

Vicky spent a month volunteering in the Mekong Delta, so she’s well acquainted with the ins and outs of Southeast Asia’s greatest river.

“For a fantastic introduction to the scenery, wildlife and culture of rural Indochina – bookended by the region’s largest city and its most famous historical monument – there’s no better way than a Mekong cruise. Boarding an elegant, colonial-style cruise ship in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, just outside Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll float northwards through jungle and countryside to conclude at Kampong Cham in Cambodia. Along the way there’s ample time to relax and enjoy the scenery, visit floating markets, and to disembark and explore stilt villages and hidden temples.”

Mekong Cruise
Mekong Cruise

Our Mekong Explorer itinerary includes a seven-night cruise aboard the RV Pandaw, along with stays in Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap. Click here to find out more.

Vat Phou Cruise

Ruth Hubbard

We sent Ruth out on a mission to explore the waters of southern Laos, where she was seduced by the laid-back atmosphere of the 4,000 Islands.

“For a landlocked country, Laos certainly has more than its fair share of boating experiences. My favourite is the Vat Phou – a traditional, teak-wood vessel named after the region’s UNESCO-listed ruins – which plies a course from Pakse through Si Phan Don, where the Mekong widens to accommodate hundreds of small islands. Over the course of the three-day cruise you’ll have plenty of chances to disembark and visit quiet islands, thundering waterfalls and, of course, the beautiful ruins of Vat Phou itself, built over 800 years ago when the Khmer Empire was at its peak.”

Vat Phou Cruise
Vat Phou Cruise

Luang Say Cruise

Jocelyn Knightly Brown

Jocelyn was lucky enough to enjoy a Luang Say cruise on a visit to Laos in early 2016.

“Despite its scenery, food and fascinating local culture, Laos tends to slip under the radar for most travellers. In some ways this is a good thing, as it means the slow-moving waterways, craggy limestone scenery and tropical rainforests of its northern reaches remain largely undisturbed by mass tourism. Starting in Thailand, at the Golden Triangle, on a Luang Say cruise you’ll cross the Thai border into Laos, spend the night by the riverside in a luxurious teak and rosewood bungalow in Pakbeng, then continue to drift along the Mekong River to the beautiful UNESCO-listed town of Luang Prabang.”

Pak Ou Caves - visited on the Luang Say Cruise
Pak Ou Caves – visited on the Luang Say Cruise

Follow in Jocelyn’s and Ruth’s footsteps on our Mekong Boating Adventure itinerary, which combines the Luang Say cruise and the Vat Phou cruise with four nights in Luang Prabang, concluding with a visit to Angkor in Cambodia. Click here to find out more.

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