Gems of the Mekong, South East Asia

From its source on the Tibetan Plateau in China, the Mekong River runs a 4,350km journey through Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam and culminates at the Mekong Delta close to Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam.  The Mekong is a vital source for all the countries that touch it and life on its banks has not changed for thousands of years. Indeed, it’s delta is known as the ‘rice bowl of Vietnam’.

The Mekong Delta is a vast maze of rivers, swamps and islands. A fast-paced agricultural epicentre, surrounded by paddy fields, bustling thoroughfares and floating markets that contrast sharply with the soporific, slower pace of life further upstream. Typical scenes include children riding on the backs of water buffalo, diligent rice workers hunched down with their conical straw hats shielding the sun, fruit laden boats drifting along the muddy waters and the distinctive and striking Khmer architecture in the background, merely confirming Vietnam’s rich legacy.

Floating market on the Mekong

The Mekong’s floating markets are widespread and a remarkable feat with Can Tho, Cai Be and Ben Tre some of the best. An early morning visit will promise rows upon rows of brightly-coloured, beautifully battered wooden vessels overflowing with different tropical fruits.

An old-school romantic would be interested to visit the former home of Mr Huynh Thuy Le.  An ancient house in the Dong Thap Province in Saigon (as its still known) and the inspiration behind Marguerite Duras’ book ‘The Lover’, the tragic love story of her 15 year old self and a handsome and wealthy Chinese man set in the 1920s.

Local travel operators will always take you to the main attractions, but when you want to get off the tourist-beaten track, Aqua Mekong has its own skiffs to take guests to the more remote areas that the bigger boats cannot reach.  One such place is Preah Prosop in Vietnam; a typical stilted Khmer village bursting with authentic Vietnamese/Cambodian village life.  Here you will find one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the area and the chance to enjoy a private audience with the monks.

Also only accessible in one of Aqua Mekong’s skiffs is The Bird Sanctuary at the Prek Toal Biosphere Reserve.  An incredible 22,000 hectare land mass, near the Tonlé Sap Lake in Cambodia, and one of the leading breeding grounds in South East Asia for endangered water-birds.

For wildlife lovers, go in search of the rare Irrawaddy Dolphins in Southern Laos on board the intimate and superbly-run Vat Phou river boat.  Enjoy a 3-night cruise from Pakse to Don Khong Island through the 4,000 Island regions where one can delight in the quiet remoteness, discover remote temples, towering waterfalls and tranquil picnic spots.

Dolphins of the Irrawaddy

Heading further north towards the Chinese boarder, enjoy the luxuries of modern life with river cruise pioneers Pandaw.  Explore uncharted waters on board one of the most perfectly-appointed, attractive boats you will find on the entire river. Explore the Tropical Botanical Garden in Menglun; one of the finest in China and home to thousands of tropical plant species and some rare and endangered.  Also found is the Manting Park Temple which, although on the main tourist track is worth visiting as it is the third most important Buddhist temple in Yunnan Province.

The Mekong is the artery of life in South East Asia and offers a captivating and uplifting insight into the complex history and colourful culture of this wonderful continent.

For more information on visiting the Mekong in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam contact our South-East Asia expert, Melissa Matthews on +44 (0)1242 787800.