Our selection of Mekong River cruises take place in Cambodia and Vietnam, located in the heart of Southeast Asia. Some Cruises on the Mekong River begin in China’s Yunnan Province and continue through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
The Mekong River has many names - in China, it is known as the Lancang Jiang, meaning ‘turbulent river’, whereas the people of Thailand and Laos refer to it as Mae Kong or Mae Nam Kong, meaning ‘mother water’. There is no better way to experience the culture, tradition, and beauty of Cambodia and Vietnam than a Mekong River cruise.
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All of our Pre-Post Extensions can INCLUDE: Hotel Accommodations, Select Meals, Airport & Ship Transfers, Sightseeing, Domestic Airfare, English Speaking Guide, and Entrance Fees. Please Contact Us and a Travel Advisor will help build your custom Southeast Asian tour itinerary to go before or after your cruise.
Siem Reap - Cambodia
Today, Siem Reap is the most popular tourist destination in Cambodia due to its close proximity to the Angkor temple complex, and the vast offering of hotels, resorts, restaurants, businesses, and shops nearby. The Angkor temple complex, which is the remains of the ancient Khmer civilization, is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Angkor Wat, whose initial construction beginning in the early 12th century, is the central temple of the Angkor complex featuring five massive towers, unique architectural styling, and beautiful stone carvings throughout.
Another notable area in the Angkor Archeological Zone National Park is Angkor Thom, which contains Bayon temple featuring a host of large, smiling stones faces carved into the many towers that come out of the temple. No trip to Cambodia would be complete without spending a few days visiting Siem Reap and the extensive archeological wonders of the Angkor Complex.
Hanoi - Vietnam
Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital and the country’s second-largest city. It is located in the country’s northern region on the bank of the Red River. The city is picturesque with many beautiful lakes, a variety of temples, thousands of French colonial-era buildings and traditional villages on the city's edge. Hanoi has been the capital of Vietnam for nearly a thousand years and is considered the cultural center of Vietnam.
Major attractions include the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – the final resting place of the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh; the Temple of Literature – built in 1070 hosting the Imperial Academy, Vietnam’s first national university; Hỏa Lò Prison (also known as the ‘Hanoi Hilton’) – used by North Vietnam for U.S. prisoners of war during the Vietnam War; and the One Pillar Pagoda – an historic Buddhist temple regarded as one of Vietnam’s most iconic sacred structures.
Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city and was the capital of French colonial Indochina, and later the capital of South Vietnam. Although the city’s official name is Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon is still widely used by the local population, particularly those from South Vietnam. Saigon is a beautiful city with most tourist spots located in District 1 at the city’s center.
The city center features much French colonial building and prominent landmarks such as the Reunification Palace - site of the end of the Vietnam War; the beautifully restored Saigon Opera House; the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica – having originally been constructed of material only imported from France; and a multitude of museums such as the Museum of Vietnamese History, the War Remnants Museum, and the Fine Arts Museum. Also, just outside the city, you can tour the famous Củ Chi tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.
Visiting the Mekong River Delta
Where the river divides into the numerous winding channels of the Mekong River delta, the Vietnamese refer to it as Cuu Long, meaning ‘nine dragons’. At nearly 2,703 mi (4,350 km), the mighty Mekong River is the 12th longest river in the world.
It is also the 7th longest river in Asia while also being one of the most biodiverse areas of the world, second only to the Amazon River. Over two millennia of human history have taken place along the Mekong River, and today more than 70 million people inhabit its shores, many of which we can observe going about their daily lives during Vietnam river cruises.
Where is the Mekong River
As one of the most impressive waterways on the planet, the Mekong River flows through 6 different countries over the course of almost 5,000 km. Cutting through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, this powerful river is considered the lifeblood of Southeast Asia, providing the region with an incredible wealth of biodiversity, which is vital to the livelihoods of the inhabitants of the rural parts of the Mekong Basin.
Vietnam is one of the main countries people visit when they want to spend some time admiring the Mekong River. There are numerous attractions that this nation has to offer including Cai Be and Cai Rang's floating markets, the weaving village of Binh Than, Cu Chi Tunnels, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, among others.
Crossing the border into Cambodia on the opposite side of the river lets you set sail to a whole new world of possibilities along the Mekong River. Here you will also be able to explore the riverbank but you will notice distinct differences between this nation and Vietnam.
One feature of Cambodia is its abundance of Khmer artisans that can be found in the villages and towns along the river. Stop in at one of them to catch them in action and you won’t be disappointed. You might also want to poke your head into some of the striking Buddhist temples – even if it’s just to get some respite from the heat.
Mekong Delta History
The Mekong Delta region is found in southeastern Cambodia and southern Vietnam, which then empties into the South China Sea. It has been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times. The earliest recorded civilization in the delta region named ‘Funan’ by Chinese cartographers, dates to the first century AD consisting of a loose network of separate states which then became the ‘Chenla’ state in the 5th century AD and later the great Khmer Empire (or Angkor Empire) in 802 AD.
The Khmer Empire – the predecessor to modern Cambodia – was a powerful Hindu-Buddhist empire that, throughout its history, ruled over most of Southeast Asia, until the empire’s gradual decline in the 15th through 17th centuries. In the early 17th century, the Vietnamese began to settle around the Mekong Delta placing the region under Vietnamese control and eventually occupying all territories of modern-day Vietnam. In the mid-19th century, France invaded the region, taking control.
Their power centered in Saigon – known today as Ho Chi Minh City. French explorers began the first organized exploration of the river and the surrounding area, eventually establishing French Indochina in the early 20th century which lasted until the First Indochina War and Second Indochina War (better known as the Vietnam War).
Though flowing through six countries there is a far greater human diversity than merely six nationalities. Numerous minority groups and hill tribes have settled along the banks, from the Chams in Vietnam to Akas, Lisus, Shans, Dai, and many others, the further up you go into the Highlands. All of this makes for a truly fascinating ethnography.
Mekong Delta Tours
Cruising the Mekong River through the Mekong Delta region is like exploring a biological treasure trove. From 1997 to 2007, over 1,000 new species of plants, fish, lizards, and mammals have been discovered in previously unexplored areas. The region displays a variety of physical landscapes but is dominated by flat floodplains in the south, with a few hills in the north and west.
Being Vietnam's most important fishing regions, you can expect to see life revolving around the river, many of the villagers themselves are often only accessible by canals and tributaries, rather than by roads.
There are numerous attractions in the Mekong Delta region, one of them being the busy Cai Rang floating market. Taste local lychee, pineapples, watermelon and other foods, such as the famous Pho. Others include visiting temples and admiring their history and architecture. Bird watching enthusiasts can explore the rivers small creeks and tributaries on early morning boat rides.
The Mekong Delta's region is so memorable because of the vast diversity in the area, see rice farmers tending their crops, children cycling to school, monks walking mindfully to their temples and the smiling faces of local market vendors behind stacks and stacks of fresh fruit. The Mekong Delta region and river are a destination to discover.
Nature & Wildlife
The Mekong River basin is considered one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world, second only to the Amazon River Basin. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, there are more than 850 fish species, 1,200 birds, 430 mammals, 20,000 plants, and 800 reptiles and amphibians species.
The Greater Mekong is home to some of the planet's most endangered wild species, including the tiger, saola, Asian elephant, and Mekong giant catfish. There is also one species of freshwater dolphin, the Irrawaddy Dolphin, in the Mekong River; however, they are extremely rare with less than 85 individuals remaining in the river today.
Fisheries in the Mekong River are some of the largest in the world, and these fisheries are one of the primary occupations for those living along the river. According to the Mekong River Commission, total catches and production from Mekong fisheries were nearly 4 million tons in 2008, and nearly 12% of Cambodia’s GDP today comes from fisheries.
The Mekong River also connects to Tonlé Sap Biosphere Reserve by way of the Tonlé Sap River. Tonlé Sap or ‘Great Lake of Cambodia’ was successfully nominated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1997. Staring from early November until about June, the lake feeds into the Mekong River; however, from mid-June till about the end of October the Mekong will flow back into the lake due to the heavy rains.
During this period of heavy rain, the lake expands from about 2500 sq km (965 sq mi) to nearly 16,000 sq km (6,178 sq mi) creating a vast wetland supporting an incredible amount of biodiversity with many known endangered plants and animals.
Cambodia, officially named the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern region of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia bordered by Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and the Gulf of Thailand. Cambodia sits entirely in the tropical region and the land can be described as having a low central plain surrounded by hills and low mountains with the ‘Tonle Sap’ – or Great Lake – biosphere reserve near the country’s center.
The population of Cambodia is just over 15 million and nearly 95% of the population practices Theravada Buddhism and approximately 90% are of the Khmer ethnic group and speak the Khmer language; the country’s official language. Theravada - literally translated as ‘school of the elder monks’ - promotes the teaching of analysis and says that insight must come from the person’s experience, application of knowledge, and critical reasoning. Cambodian culture has been influenced most notably by Theravada Buddhism, Hinduism, French colonialism, ancient Angkorian culture, and modern global culture.
Along the shores of the Mekong, you will see beautiful Buddhist temples, local farming villages, the Cambodian capital city of Phnom Penh (home of the Khmer Royal Palace), and much more. Cruising along the Mekong River will give travelers the opportunity to visit some of the most important destinations in the country and learn about its fascinating culture and customs.
Vietnam, officially named the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, is a country located on the eastern edge of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Bordered by China, Laos, Cambodia, the South China Sea, and the Gulf of Thailand. Vietnam is quite hilly with nearly half of the land being mountainous and covered with tropical forests.
The climate varies throughout the country due to its diverse topography, with northern Vietnam having a humid subtropical climate, a central monsoon climate, and a tropical savanna climate towards the south. Today, the population of Vietnam is nearly 91 million with the main ethnic group being ‘Viet’ (or Kinh).
However, Vietnam is also home to 54 distinct ethnic groups. Although most Vietnamese claim to have no religious affiliation, shared beliefs and practices remain an important aspect of life. Many of these beliefs and practices have been influenced by Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Vietnamese folk religion; however, one of the most common and unifying spiritual practices in Vietnam is ancestor veneration based on love and respect for the deceased.
Vietnam has a wonderfully rich culture and history worth of discovery. Although a few weeks in the country is only scratching the surface, a cruise along the mighty Vietnam river, the Mekong, is a wonderful introduction. You will see typical river villages, local fisheries, beautiful pagodas, floating markets and much more.
Upper Mekong River Cruises
The Upper Mekong starts at the Khone Falls near Laos’ border with Cambodia and heads north into China. For a long time, the Upper Mekong was deemed not fully navigable and cruise ships stayed away from it. While the Lower Mekong gained popularity, the Upper Mekong remained cloaked in mystery. Nowadays, it is possible to do a river cruise along the Upper Mekong although they are still relatively uncommon compared with cruises along the lower part of the river. The Upper Mekong is virtually free from human activity. Instead of floating markets and communities living on the banks of the river, you will enjoy vast swathes of untouched nature. As you travel along the mighty waterway it will feel as though you have been transported back to a time before modern civilization left a footprint on nature.
Jinghong was founded in 1180 by Tai King Phanya Coeng and it has a very turbulent history of Thai, Burmese and Chinese occupations. This is an interesting region because you can see a fusion of cultures in the architecture, food and even the local language. In Jinghong, you will have the chance to learn about Chinese history, culture and language through various visits and workshops.
At the moment, the Lancang River, as the Mekong is known in China, is divided into two sections. The upper section is 135 kilometers long, from Jinghong to Simao; the lower section is 40 kilometers in length, from Jinghong to Olive Basin. The lower section attracts more tourists at present. Visitors will be enchanted by the primeval tropical rain forest and animals along the two banks of the river, especially by the incredible "Sky Garden", where flowers bloom happily on dead branches and some trees have aerial roots, and the "One Tree Forest". Depending on if you are cruising upstream or downstream, your cruise may either begin or end here in Jinghong.
Luang Prabang was once the royal capital of Laos and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Up on Phou Si-hill, you'll get a spectacular view of the Mekong and as well as the Khan river and the surrounding mountains. In Luang Prabang, you can visit the famous Wat Xieng Thong temple.
Many Upper Mekong tours either start or end in Vientiane, the country's capital city. Here you'll discover a mix of French-colonial architecture with famous Buddhist temples, such as the golden 16th-century Pha That Luang.
The Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle is the area that borders Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. These countries all meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong Rivers. This area of the south pacific is quite notorious for its Opium trade.
The Royal Family of Thailand sponsored the opening of the new Hall of Opium, a fascinating museum that provides an in-depth look at the history and politics of the opium trade. This area is also home to stunning scenery and beautiful authentic rural river villages where you can experience untouched village-life off the beaten path.
Best Time to Cruise the Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta and Lower Mekong Basin are situated within the tropical zone of Southeast Asia and have a tropical monsoon climate. The temperature is typically hot year-round, with some cooler months – although still considered quite warm by most.
Overall, you should pack lightly, wear breathable and comfortable clothes to take on the heat and the humidity of the Mekong Delta. Sunscreen is also needed to combat the extreme sunlight during the day time. When disembarking for excursions to Buddhist temples and monasteries, you will need to dress respectfully, with long pants for men and covering the shoulders, arms, and knees for women.
There are also wet and dry periods throughout the year. The region can be best described in four ‘seasons’: cool & dry; hot & dry; hot & wet; and cool & wet. Each season has its own advantages and disadvantages for Southeast Asia river cruises.
Cool & Dry Season
The cool and dry season typically begins in November and ends in mid-February. This time of year is considered the ideal travel period, and peak tourist season, for the Mekong Delta. Warm days with clear skies and gentle breezes are typical.
Generally, during this season, you will see less vacancy and higher prices for hotels, river cruises, and airfare. High temperatures during the day average near 88°F (31°C), and occasionally reach up to 95°F (35°C) with the average low around 73°F (23°C) during the evenings.
Hot & Dry Season
The hot and dry season begins to appear in mid-February and continues until mid-May. During this season, the Mekong River, its tributaries and lakes will be at their lowest levels of the year. The temperature peaks between April and May with an average high near 95°F (35°C) with some days reaching just above 100°F (38°C).
In the evenings, the average low temperature is around 75°F (24°C). During this time of year, you typically find that popular destinations and attractions will be less crowded and may even find better deals on hotels and airfare.
Hot & Wet Season
The Hot and Wet season typically starts from mid-May going through till the end of August. While the heat remains in the region, rain begins to fall causing the air to be consistently humid. In May and June, the rain is fairly predictable and generally begins in the afternoon or after nightfall, lasting no more than a few hours.
Although many travelers may be put off by the idea of rain, the wet season is one of the best times to see the Angkor temples in Siem Reap having full moats surrounding some of the temples. Average high temperatures are around 92°F (34°C) with evening lows near 75°F (24°C).
Cool & Wet Season
The Cool and Wet season is typically seen starting in September and continues until about mid-November. Towards the beginning of September is when the rainfall has passed its peak and significantly decreases toward the end of the month which transitions the region into the most desirable travel season.
Days are typically humid with average high temperatures around 90°F (32°C) and lows around 75°F (24°C). Usually, this is a great time to see Tonle Sap Lake as the waters are high, filling the lake and producing a more lush and green environment.
Top Tip: Tourist visas are required for all foreign citizens traveling to Cambodia & Vietnam before entry. More information about obtaining a tourist visa can be found by contacting us, your local embassy, or your preferred travel visa service.
Also, consider your travel options to / from Southeast Asia. For example, Qatar air has flights that make one stop over in Doha, and their business class fares are affordable and service excellent. Worth spending the money for a 24 hour travel time.