The Mekong River, the twelfth longest in the world, and Southeast Asia’s longest, whose influence is central to so much life in southern China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and southern Vietnam is the focus of cruising in Laos.  

Water levels on the Mekong are at their lowest during the hottest months between February and the end of April, while in November, at the end of the wet season, the river may be as much as 16 metres higher.

Additionally, in times of heavy rainfall the torrents tumbling down the surrounding mountains can rapidly swell the river several metres. Over its course through Laos, the river ranges from a depth of as little as 1 metre to 100 metres, and in width from 50 metres to an enormous 16 kilometres.

A variety of river cruises operate out of Luang Prabang, Pakse and Vientiane offering itineraries from short three day journeys to sites of interest in the locality, through to voyages of up twelve days to the Golden Triangle, skirting the border of Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). It is also possible to do these cruise routes in reverse.

From Luang Prabang, Short three to six day cruises visit the pretty Kuang Si waterfall and Pak Ou caves, famous for their Buddha sculptures, while eight to ten day travels follow the longer route northwest taking in Pak Ou, Taxuang, Pakbeng, Pak Tha, where the itinerary includes a long-tail boat ride up the Namtha river, Chiang Khong and Huay Xay.

A longer twelve day version of this route is available, departing from Vientiane which includes visits to destinations Paklay, Tha Deua and Kuang Si prior to arrival at Luang Prabang.

A short, two day cruise from Luang Prabang to Houei Sai on the Thai border is a creatively useful way for the overland traveller to pass from Laos into Thailand over the Friendship Bridge.

The same trip in reverse allows a point of entry into Laos from Thailand. As an alternative entry route, a three day cruise also leaves from Chiang Mai in Thailand, beginning with an overland transfer and passing through Chiang Khong and Pakbeng before arrival at Luang Prabang.

From Pakse, the three day Vat Phou cruise takes in the UNESCO world heritage site at Wat Phou, an important pre-angkorian ruin, the Oum Muong temple at Huei Thamo and the ‘four thousand islands’ area including Don Khong, Don Khone, home to a pod of Irrawaddy Dolphins, and a visit to observe the thundering torrent of Pha Pheng Waterfall, the world’s widest, before returning to Pakse.