In Chinese, the Mekong is called the ‘turbulent river’. In Laos “the mother of water”. The Mekong is also known as Buddha’s river, and the thousands of temples that are dotted along its banks are testimony to this. Sailing on board a cruise boat along the river is a once in a lifetime experience. Covering the entire course of the Mekong would take us over 40 days. However, an eight-day voyage allows us to discover up to 4 countries.
The sailing routes that travel the course of the river usually leave from Laos, where you must visit the ‘wats’, or temple areas, in a country where 60% of the population are Buddhists. Luang Prabang is the first city on the banks of the river on our voyage through this country. Its 32 temples and its French colonial architecture convinced UNESCO to declare it a World Heritage Site in 1995.
Covering the entire course of the Mekong would take us over 40 days. However, an eight-day voyage allows us to discover up to 4 countries.
Following the course of the river, we find the largest religious construction in the world. The jungle in the north of Cambodia hides Angkor, ‘the City of the Sleeping Forest’. Until the 15th century, the capital of the country was home to Angkor Wat, the largest example of the architecture of the Khmer Empire. This large religious temple is such a potent symbol of the country that it appears on its flag.
Our journey then continues on to Vietnam. At the Phung Hiep floating market, where seven branches of the river converge, it’s hard to know where the land ends and the water begins. The thousands of small boats full of seasonal fruit and fresh vegetables are one of the symbols of the identity of the Mekong. This river is not only vital for the trading activity of the area but a large part of the rice harvest also depends upon it. It’s known by its nickname as ‘the rice bowl of Vietnam’.
The Pandaw company cruise boat sails along the upper river of the Mekong to China, where you can visit the Menglun Tropical Botanical Garden. This is one of the largest nature research centres in China. It’s home to some very peculiar species such as the ‘Dancing Grass’, a plant that appears to dance in response to music.
After admiring life on both of its banks and immersing yourself in the history of each of the villages along the Mekong, just a glance into the reflection of its waters is enough to transport you centuries back in time.