You can’t go many places in east or southeast Asia without encountering the influence of the mighty Mekong River. At over 3,000 miles long, it’s the third longest river in Asia and the twelfth longest in the world.
The Mekong runs through multiple countries, starting at the Tibetan Plateau in the Himalayas. From there, it passes through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, before reaching the South China Sea by way of the impressive Mekong Delta in Vietnam.
The river is a fascinating natural force, featuring rapids, waterfalls and impressive aquatic biodiversity. It’s also an important part of life in the countries it passes through. Not only is it a major trade route, but it’s used for fishing, trading through floating markets and even generating hydropower through dams.
Many parts of the river are protected, including the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve in Cambodia, a UNESCO Biosphere reserve.
If you’d love to experience something of the Mekong yourself, we’ve put together a guide to some of the things to see and do during a trip to southeast Asia. Plus, some tips on when and where to go.
Aquatic and animal life
The Mekong River is home to a staggering 1,100 freshwater fish species, including giant catfish and the endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin.
Unsurprisingly, where there is water and fish, you’ll also find lots of different bird species. Pack your binoculars and head off on a river cruise to spot some of the nearly 250 species that live alongside the water.
This includes the beautiful Gould’s Sun Bird, Grey Crowned Crocias, Oriental Darter, Sarus Crane, White Stork, Woodpecker, Collared Laughingthrush and Bengal Florican.
River experiences and adventures
As the Mekong travels through so many different places, it offers a variety of experiences and activities.
For example, you can go tubing on the river in Laos (with Vang Vieng being a particular hotspot for tubing). Or in Vietnam, you can hop into a traditional sampan narrow boat and visit the Cai Be and Cai Rang floating markets.
One of the best things to do though has to be a river cruise. There are lots to choose from, including specialist tours and even week-long cruises passing through multiple countries.
When’s the best time to visit the Mekong River?
The Mekong is particularly prone to flooding, especially during the wet season from September to December. This can be a little hazardous, but many local communities have learned how to manage life with high flood waters. The wet season also brings more fresh seafood, and replenishing of the farm land surrounding the river.
However, one of the best times to visit the river is in the dry season from May to August. This is when flowers are in bloom and tropical fruits in riverside orchards start to ripen.
But for a chance to see a real spectacle on the river, plan a trip for February. This is when local people are preparing for the Tet (Lunar New Year) festivities, so expect to see flower-covered boats and riverside homes. It’s a beautiful sight.
Plan your personalised trip to southeast Asia and see the Mekong River up close and personal – get in touch with Blank Canvas to get the ball rolling.