Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam share ancient and contemporary histories of war and French colonial influences, but it’s the Mekong River that both links them and in many places separates them geographically, running along much of Laos’s border with Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand, then through Cambodia and Vietnam and into the South China Sea.
The river was once the major artery of the Angkor Empire, and remains an omnipresent symbol and lifeline of Indochina, along which its principal sites and cities were built and flourished. Today, glimmering Khmer temples, forgotten villages, and bustling markets line its timeless banks and dot the rich countryside.
A three-day Mekong cruise aboard Vat Phou – a handsome refurbished barge with just twelve cabins – provides a fascinating crash course on the hypnotic and little-visited Laotian segment of the river, viewable from the vessel’s rich varnished-wood deck, which has the inviting charm of a wide veranda.
But shore excursions call, including some of Laos’s most imporant sites: the pre-Angkorian temple of Wat Phou, the roaring waterfalls of Phapheng (the largest in Southeast Asia), and the 4.000 islands that sprinkle the lower Mekong near the Cambodian border. As you drift serenely downstream, the gracious service of your Laotian stewards and convivial French owner-cum-chef-extraordinaire add just the right degree of distraction.
Those seeking an extended journey on the Mekong can sail Zolotrips’ twenty-two-day Mekong cruise through Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, departing from Houey Sai, Laos (via Bangkok), and ending nearly three weeks later in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). You’ll spend your nights in guest houses along the way.