The Mother of Water
Six countries, 4,000 years of history and home to 60 million people. The Mekong flows through lands with legends on their shores.
The vessels that sail along the Mekong aren’t large but they are comfortable and luxurious.
The river of nine dragons
In Vietnam, the Mekong is called Cuu Long, ‘The River of Nine Dragons’. The name comes from the way the river divides into nine branches before flowing out into the South China Sea. Nowadays only seven remain.
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.
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.
The Mekong crosses six countries: China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
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’.
With an estimated length of 4,880 km, the Mekong is the eighth longest river in the world.
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.