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Laos forum

Mekong river trip from HCMC up to Laos

Posted by Indoluso on 24/12/2009 at 02:02


We're planning a trip (July/August) and the idea of having the Mekong river as a basis came up. We'll start in HCMC and take a boat to visit PP and Siem Reap. From there we were thinking of getting back to the Mekong river and go North to Laos travelling by boat, probably with Luang Prabang as a goal. During the way we'd stop to visit places like 4000 islands, etc.

Is this possible? Or should we better do it by bus, as discribed in another topic here in the message board?

Thank you very much in advance!

#1 Indoluso has been a member since 22/12/2009. Posts: 133

Posted by MADMAC on 24/12/2009 at 11:13

There's a few problems with this. First, a minor point, the Mekong doesn't flow through Saigon, but some 30 kilometers south of it.

Second, I don't know if you can cross the Mekong into Cambodia and then again into Laos on a boat. I would be surprised if there were border checkpoints that could handle westerners.

Thirdly, you would be going upstream and while the river looks like it flows slowly, it has a powerful current. So you'll need a boat that can make decent time going against that flow.

Fourthly, the river has cataracts, unlike the Mississippi and the Rhine. That's why it's never been used much as a transportation hub. So you'll have to figure out a way to navigate past these - certainly easier going down steam than up, but a challenge no matter what.

Obviously there would also be the expense of buying a boat.

#2 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
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Posted by Indoluso on 24/12/2009 at 18:58

Thank you very much for your answer. We Weren't thinking of buying a boat but thinking of taking regular boat lines from "city to city". Is this possible, taking in acount that we'd take buses in segments where the river isn't "ridable" and for boarder crossings?

Thank you very much, again!

#3 Indoluso has been a member since 22/12/2009. Posts: 133

Posted by MADMAC on 25/12/2009 at 09:53

I don't know. I've honestly never heard of it. The only place I've heard of people doing boat tours is in the delta and in Laos. That's not to say they don't exist, only that I haven't heard of them.

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Posted by somsai on 25/12/2009 at 10:47

In a word no.

You'd probably have to do 95% by bus. The majority of the distance is in Laos and there is a very short regular boat ride in the south, and one regular boat Vientiane to Paklai. No longer regular service anywhere on the vast majority of the river below Luang Prabang.

Sorry. Good idea. Keep thinking, there's still plenty of fun things to do. How about rafting Ou Tai down to Hat Sa then hop the slow boats on down to Luang Prabang. It's the biggest tributary and still wild a good part of the way.

Nam Ou.

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Posted by Indoluso on 26/12/2009 at 22:44

Thank you very much for both the answers! It's a pitty that it won't be possible, we'll start thinking of another plan. Rafting sounds a bit dangerous, but who knows, we'll think about it!

Going for only four weeks and willing to visit also Vietnam and Siem Reap, do you think that it is an "unforgivable" miss not to go to Vientiane and Luang Prabang while sticking on to South Laos? We are a bit affraid of visiting Luang Prabang and Vientiane and see 80% tourism, while we are looking forward to visit Laos to discover what Indochina was some decades ago, before the tourist boom in the region. ( also taking in acount that ,from what we've read, Vietnam is mostly tourists this part of the trip in South Laos would be the "wild, pure taste" of the region)

Thanks alot for your advices!

#6 Indoluso has been a member since 22/12/2009. Posts: 133

Posted by Tilapia on 27/12/2009 at 09:29

Hi Indo,

Of course, this is an excellent idea, but I don't think you'll be able to do the entire route on the river, as hinted at in previous replies. Sadly, you're about 15-20 years too late for that. Improved roads and increased fuel costs have been the death knoll for most river travel in that area.

You MIGHT be able to get a boat from Si Phan Don to Pakse , but from Pakse north you are going to be hard-pressed to find anything up until Savannakhet . And even finding a boat from Si Phan Don to Pakse might be impossible at that time of the year. There is not much regular boat traffic in that part of the Mekong apart from local fishermen in their dugouts and the odd longtail and the even odder cargo or passenger boat.

It is possible to get a cargo boat from Savannakhet to Vientiane , but you will need for someone to arrange it for you (like a guest house owner) unless you speak either Thai or Laotian and have ample time on your hands to souse out right boat at the right pier. Cargo boats will take passengers for a price, but you need to be able to communicate with the captain/crew to negotiate and then survive on the boat. This kind of travel is highly unusual, but it is not impossible ... which means it is possible. Having said that, this leaves a massive gap between Savannakhet and Pakse, but this stretch is easily done by bus, unless you want to charter a boat for an obscene amount of money. BUT, if you can get a group of people together, you might be able to sort something out that will be financially feasible.

From Vientiane you can get a speed boat to LP but, again, I'm not sure if this is true at that time of the year. Personally, if I had a choice between going by bus to LP from Vientiane and taking a speed boat, I'd go by bus.

If you are going to be in Loas and are stuck for time, I'd say that giving Vientiane a miss might not be a bad idea if it means more time in Luang Prabang . But, you will probably have to go through Vientiane to get to Luang Prabang anyway, and there are some very nice temples and riverside areas there.

Good luck.

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Posted by MADMAC on 27/12/2009 at 10:03

If you go to the villages or even most of the "Ampur" in any Thai province in Isaan you will not see a hint of tourism. I travel the road from Mukdahan to Yasothon all the time, and never see anything resembling a tourist. Just the very occassional expat. In Saimun I don't even see that.

If you want to see some sort of "attraction" then of course, you are likely not going to be the only one who wants to see it. But if you want to see how southeast Asians live in general, there are loads of villages in all countries in the region where you can do that.

So it's not as if Southeast Asia is overrun with tourists. They tend to congregate in the same areas and are divided into essentially three types:

a. The Sex tourist. By far the biggest destination for these types is Pattaya, Bangkok and Angels city in the PI.

b. The beach tourists. They are obviously hitting the Islands, Phuket, China Beach, Sihanoukville and the like. For the most part, if it's a nice beach, it's been developed, although there are exceptions to that rule. This kind of tourist is not surprisingly confined to the coast.

c. The cultural / eco tourist. This sounds like you. Wanting to see cultural sites and natural beauty. They gravitate to the famous cultural sites such as Siem Reap , Ayudhaya, Halong Bay, Sapa and the like. If you want to see the big name places, then obviously you will share them with other like minded tourists. If you want to experience, as opposed to seeing, southeast asian culture, you should simply get off the beaten trail and go into the villages and small towns.

In my own personal opinion, not shared by all, language is culture. So if you truly want to begin to understand another culture, you have to spend enough time learning the language. Four weeks isn't enough time, even in one country, let alone three. So maybe some diversions into some Laotian villages would be enough to give you a small taste of village life and rural culture. Otherwise all the places you mentioned to visit are going to have some tourists - in some cases like Siem Reap and Saigon, probably quite a few.

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Posted by somsai on 27/12/2009 at 11:13

In reply to #4. No your certainly not missing out on much by not going to Vientiane or Luang Prabang. Pakse isn't that much different from Vientiane, and I make a point of trying to get a through bus to skip Luang Prabang, it's been a tourist mecca forever, and they never stop.

I haven't been every where in the south but the back side of the Boloven Plateau in the provinces of Sekong , Salavan, and Attapue are pretty, and big enough to have most things you'd need, but few go there yet, and you'd pretty much have the place to yourself. I kept crossing and recrossing the Sekong River which might be worth thinking of a boat ride. I've no idea even which direction it flows in, but it's pretty good sized.

I know it's trite but you do get the feeling of a different time and place there.

Merry Christmas.

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Posted by Indoluso on 27/12/2009 at 18:27

Tilapia, Madmac, Somsai, thank you very much for your advices, we'll study them to find the best option according to will and time available.

My best wishes for the new year upcoming!

#10 Indoluso has been a member since 22/12/2009. Posts: 133

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