The Mekong is the world’s 12th-longest river that showcases fascinating Asian cities of Indochina, colourful markets and remote rural life.
A Far Eastern river cruise promises a contrasting culture with floating markets, temples, pagodas and the chance to experience village life offers an experience far removed from European river cruising.
Much of the emphasis is on walking tours of riverside settlements, visiting temples or viewing wildlife – but one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences is the chance to interact with local communities, visiting schools full of wide-eyed children and talking to villagers.
The Mekong’s most famous draw is arguably the ancient temple complex of Angkor, including Angkor Wat, claimed to be the world’s largest religious building. Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, epicentre of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime under former ruler Pol Pot, and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in the Vietnam War are also gripping draws.
The Upper Mekong is lesser known, with sailings through Laos, generally between its capital Vientiane and Chiang Saen in Thailand or Jinghong in China, where highlights are rugged lush scenery and remote villages.
Lower Mekong sailings operate for most of the year, though November to January (during the dry season) is considered to be the optimum time, while Upper Mekong sailings generally operate from October to May.
The Lower Mekong is busier than the quieter Upper Mekong with more riverboats and more tourists. But both have lush scenery punctuated with paddy fields, Buddhist temples, pagodas and villages, explored on walking tours, by rickshaws and ox-carts. Along the Lower Mekong are floating markets, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor, and Ho Chi Minh City. On the Upper Mekong is Vientiane, the capital of Laos, Luang Prabang and Chiang Saen in Thailand, the Golden Triangle and Jinghong.