Photo: Classic scenery surrounds Vang Vieng.

Laos forum

Riddle me this: Mekong Question

Posted by jgreen on 1/10/2011 at 14:37

Keep in mind I've never been to Laos, although I've spent much time in Thailand.

How come you only hear about a couple boat trips along the Mekong (Like Huay Xai - Luang Prabang route)?

How come a person couldn't take the Mekong right down to Cambodia and into Vietnam? Rough water? Water falls? Government restricitons? For such a lovely river, I would think that more of it would be travellable (probably not a word).

I would love to take a trip over the whole Mekong, start to finish. Possible?

#1 jgreen has been a member since 5/9/2011. Posts: 3

Posted by exacto on 2/10/2011 at 04:42

I think the Li Phi rapids near the Lao-Cambodia border will prevent you from making the entire journey by boat. You could probably piece together large portions of the trip, but I don't think there is commercial (or at least regularly scheduled) boat transport along much of the river these days.

The Mekong can be wide and shallow, and big sections are littered with rocks. Even along the places where regular boat transport is available, like the section north of Luang Prabang, you hear about boats crashing into the rocks fairly often.

My last time on the river was in January 2010 on a boat heading upriver from Champasak to Pakse. The boat hit a rock and bent the propeller, and for awhile it looked like the only two passengers, a really nice dutch girl and me, were going swimming. Luckily the tide and the boatman pushed us towards the bank.

Time of year makes a big difference too, as the river depth changes over the seasons. Cheers.

#2 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,651
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Posted by MADMAC on 2/10/2011 at 09:36

The river is not navigable. There are many cataracts the prevent boat passage. Unlike some great rivers (the Amazon, the Missisipi) the Mekong has a number of areas that boats can not easily pass and larger boats can't pass at all. That's why it's length is not used for commerce. For example, between Nakhon Phanom and Mukdahan, there are a series of rapids that prevent boats from transiting.

#3 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by Captain_Bob on 2/10/2011 at 11:40

As noted, there are a number of factors which keep the Mekong from fulfilling the wanderlust Tom Sawyer dreams. In dry season sections of it are difficult or impossible to navigate, there are "white water" sections such as the Khone Phapheng Falls http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khon_Phapheng_Falls in southern Laos, and improved roads have facilitated faster cheaper transport alternatives (boat transport has simultaneously faded away). There are also political/legal implecations, for example the Mekong forms the border between Thailand and Laos for hundreds of kms, so as a foreign passenger you could be in trouble for landing on the wrong side without going through the proper Immigration channels. I've taken a cargo boat down from Jinghong in Yunnan China to Chiang Saen in Thailand but now it is increasingly regulated in favour of package-deal tourist boats. I've seen others try to take a simple boat down the Mekong by themselves with limited success. A friend of mine didn't even make it a day without crashing on rocks and ruining his primitive craft. See before and after pics where the raft became inoperable.

#4 Captain_Bob has been a member since 27/5/2006. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,893

Posted by Tilapia on 3/10/2011 at 22:01

Bob, how did you put the photos in your response?

#5 Tilapia has been a member since 21/4/2006. Location: Canada. Posts: 1,498
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Posted by Rufus on 4/10/2011 at 07:10

The before and after Pics look exactly the same to me.

#6 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 973

Posted by MADMAC on 4/10/2011 at 12:05

"A friend of mine didn't even make it a day without crashing on rocks and ruining his primitive craft. See before and after pics where the raft became inoperable."

Bob, your friend think he's Huck Finn or what? Tell him if he wants to cruise the Mekong, you get stone drunk first, THEN you take one of these:

http://www.geckosadventures.com/highlight/mekong-long-tail-boat

Remmemeber when being a real man meant racing down the river stone drunk, with a hot Thai woman in one hand, and a bottle of Leo in the other? Well, fortunately some things never change, and racing in a long tail remains the hallmark of real men everywhere. There are, however, a few new twists to the rules of the river, to wit:

1. Real men no longer ply the river in Navy gunboats shooting up VC along the banks. The war ended eons ago, so it's time to give the killing a rest.

2. Real men only have Thai, Cambodian or Vietnamese women on their arm - no Laos girls. Even today's most least enlightened real man has come to realize that spending protracted periods of time in a Laos jail, not to mention having to pay for the Jailors kids educations, is not the most cost effective way of expressing ones masculinity.

3. And what self respecting real man would ride in a boat called "The Nagi" or some other mythical creature that evokes puff the magic dragon?

So what do real men ride in? Long tails! Long, fast, dangerous... 1,000 ccs wrapped around a propeller shaft. After all say real men, how are you ever going to lose a Laotian patrol boat riding on a ferry?

#7 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by Captain_Bob on 4/10/2011 at 23:18

OK my pics were not dramatic enough to illustrate the point. They hit rocks which destroyed one end of the bamboo poles and had to chop them off and effectively left the buoancy insufficient. What the guy took away from this (after one night stranded on an island then being "rescued" next day by a fisherman) is you really need a motor in order to fight the currents sometimes, and their design wasn't robust enough to withstand the forces of the river.

I previously posted photos of a slightly better raft built by 3 Italians I met in Huay Xai, but unfortunately I didn't find out if they succeeded or how far they even got, but at least it looked thoughtfully-conceived (except for sun cover which they didn't seem to care about).

#8 Captain_Bob has been a member since 27/5/2006. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,893

Posted by Captain_Bob on 4/10/2011 at 23:20

Tilapia, highlight some text, click the "hyperlink" button, then paste/type in a url.

#9 Captain_Bob has been a member since 27/5/2006. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,893

Posted by MADMAC on 5/10/2011 at 00:47

Bob, that thing isn't big enough to sail in a fish pond, let alone the Mekong.

#10 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by Tilapia on 7/10/2011 at 02:57

Thanks Bob. I'll work on that.

By the way, I met a couple of guys in 2000 who went way up the Nam Ou, stopped in some village and recruited a bunch of kids to help them cut and lash bamboo together to make a raft. The raft they made didn't hold a candle to the ones in your photos, but looked like something rescued from a shipwreck. But they made it down to LP in about 5 days and the raft stayed in one piece, amazingly.

Very Thor Heyerdahl-ish.

Love that kind of stuff.

#11 Tilapia has been a member since 21/4/2006. Location: Canada. Posts: 1,498
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Posted by Captain_Bob on 8/10/2011 at 00:34

"Very Thor Heyerdahl-ish.
Love that kind of stuff"


Me too - at least enough to go see the Kon Tiki in Oslo a few months after his death.

#12 Captain_Bob has been a member since 27/5/2006. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,893

Posted by MADMAC on 8/10/2011 at 18:17

"Very Thor Heyerdahl-ish.
Love that kind of stuff"


It just sounds really boring to me... Slowly going down the big river, the visuals becoming monotanous after a while.

#13 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957


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