The best ways to explore the Mekong River

If you’re heading to Southeast Asia, don’t miss the chance to explore the mighty Mekong River spanning 2,700 miles from the Tibetan Plateau, through China, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Watch the landscapes chop and change as vast limestone karsts rise above and calm tributaries spread beyond; spot pagodas balanced on the banks; and stop off to meet the villagers that call this body of water home.

Discovering the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, Laos

It’s not hard to see why people fall for Luang Prabang. This laidback UNESCO World Heritage town is known for beautiful pagodas, orange-robed monks and lush surrounding countryside, including the crystal Kuang Si falls and looming Mount Phousi in the distance.

Crossing the Mekong River is the perfect way to see a quieter, and lesser-visited, side of the town. Discover ancient temples such as Wat Chom Phet and Wat Long Khoun with their remarkably well-preserved mural paintings, and venture inland to the ethnic villages of the Khmu and Hmong people to learn about a way of life largely untouched by the modern world.

4000 Islands (Si Phan Don), Laos

4000 Islands is made up of countless tributaries from the Mekong River that swim around small islands and islets. This picturesque inland archipelago is in Laos, but teeters on the border with Cambodia. Despite its namesake, there aren’t any beaches here, but the relaxing pace of life and tropical climate would give any seaside spot a run for its money.

Spend days getting an insight into how locals live off the river self-sustain; travel to Wat Phou to ancient Angkorian ruins; breathe in the freshest air while visiting coffee plantations at the Bolaven Plateau; and see if you can spot that most famous of local residents: the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin.

Base yourself at a resort on one of the larger islands (La Folie and River Resort are good options) and at sunset, sip something chilled while attempting to count the islets ahead (good luck!).

Experiences on the Mekong River

Weaving & textiles workshop

Get hands on with a traditional textile lesson at the Ock Pop Tok Living Craft Centre. Not only will you learn about the importance of textiles in Laotian culture and try your hand at weaving and dyeing, you’ll also come home with three dyed silk skeins to take home as souvenirs.

Irrawaddy dolphin spotting

On the way to spot Irrawaddy dolphins in Kratie.

Stilt huts aren’t the only signs of Mekong residents, communities also flourish beneath the water. Head out for a serene boat ride in search of the elusive Irrawaddy dolphin, near the village of Kampi in Cambodia. Conservationists and fisherman offer these low-volume trips to highlight the importance of conservation and supplement local income.

Vientiane boat racing

Vientiane, Laos boat racing

At the end of October every year, Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, holds boat races on the Mekong to celebrate the end of Buddhist lent. Locals flock to the riverbanks to cheer on their favourite sides and the streets sprint to life with games, live music and street food stalls.

Day trips

Luang Prabang, Laos

Sunset Cruise along the Mekong River

Short on time but big on sailing? Consider taking a Mekong River day trip on the plush Monsoon boat by Mekong Kingdoms. Spend the evening watching the sun set over this mighty river, with gourmet canapes ad cocktail in hand.

Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Sunset in the Delta

Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) buzzes with energy. Mopeds swarm the streets, shiny high rises touch the skies and colonial architecture hints at the presence of the French. Contrast the city’s frenetic pace with a trip to the Mekong Delta. Only a two-hour drive from the city, it’s a great spot for a day trip.

Wind down on a short cruise aboard a converted rice barge, stopping off at floating markets and small towns along the way. Find out more about taking a private Mekong Delta cruise.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Cycling on islands near Phnom Penh Cambodia

Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, sits at the confluence of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers. Spend a day exploring, perhaps a cyclo tour to see the surrounding countryside, and a visit to the Killing Fields and the S-12 Genocide Museum to learn about the devastating impact of the Khmer Rouge. Alternatively, if you’re based in the city, go for dinner with a difference on a sunset cruise.


Vat Phou Cruise, Laos
Vat Phou Cruise

Kick back and observe the stunning scenery pass you by, watching daily life as it unfolds on the riverbanks, and take breaks to visit floating markets, remote villages, ancient temples and tangled jungle.

Heritage Line’s Jayavarman & Jahan, Vietnam and Cambodia

For a longer trip, take a peaceful trip from the Mekong Delta in Vietnam to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia on the Heritage Line’s luxurious Jayavarman or Jahan cruise ships. Both have an exquisite combination of French colonial and Indochinese interiors, filled with art. No better (or more elegant) place to take to the balcony and watch daily life on the riverbanks.

Pandaw Cruises, Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos

Offering luxury small ship river cruises across Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, Pandaw‘s flawless, brass-and-teak vessels will take you to the far reaches of the Mekong River in style.

Anouvong Cruise, Laos

Another Heritage Line vessel, the Anouvong is a small, boutique luxury ship that combines traditional Laotian arts and crafts with a French-colonial flourish.

Aqua Mekong, Cambodia & Vietnam

With Michelin-starred dining and plush interiors put together by Noor Design, the Aqua Mekong whisks passengers across Cambodia and Vietnam in the lap of luxury.

Ready to set sail? Take a look at some of our sample itineraries for inspiration! Our Mekong Explorer trip plies the river as it traverses Vietnam and Cambodia, while our Laos Along the Mekong itinerary focusses on the charms of the Upper Mekong. Drop our travel experts a line – we’d love to help get the best out of your trip to Southeast Asia.

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