Mad About The Mekong

‘In its lowest reaches between Phnom Penh (at the apex of the Delta) and the South China Sea at its eastward base. The Mekong bustles about its business most responsibly, smiling beneath colossal skies as if to deny a lifetime of upstream excesses. Brimming through low lying farmland and slopping into innumerable channels and waterways, it here supports a vast population, fronts a galaxy of jaunty riverside towns, provides a carriageway for all manner of river craft, and generally exhibits its benevolent features associated with deltaic abundance’.

John Keay – Mad About The Mekong

Mekong boarder between Laos & Thailand

What is it about the Mekong River that lends it such an extraordinary allure? It’s not the longest river in the world at only 5,000 km, but it runs through the heart of Asia from remote Tibet through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and, finally into Vietnam, so it is a vital resource for millions of people in South East Asia. 

The river undoubtedly has something of a mysterious, almost mythical image. This other worldliness certainly informed Francis Ford Coppola’s epic war film ‘Apocalypse Now’.  Yet, interestingly, the Mekong River doesn’t physically feature in the film at all as it was mostly shot in the Philippines. But somehow the spirit of the Mekong and the supposed darkness at its heart pervades the action of the Vietnam War.

The Mekong is the 12th longest river in the world and the 7th longest in Asia and, in its final stages before it opens into the South China Sea, it represents the largest inland fishery in the world. You’ll even see Gordon Ramsay fishing on the bank of the Mekong, in hope of catching the fish that are fighting the current (believed to be the tastiest) in his series Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted.

Talking of fish, there are some absolute giants to be found beneath the surface of the Mekong River. For example, the Mekong Giant Catfish, the largest freshwater fish in the world and unique to the Mekong River. The Mekong’s Giant Catfish is sadly endangered, and it is now illegal to fish them. However, to give you an idea of just how big they can get, back in 2005 the biggest one caught was recorded at 300kg!

Early morning fisherman on the Mekong

The Mekong’s giant freshwater Stingray can grow to half the length of a bus and is also a contender for largest fish to be found swimming in fresh water anywhere on the planet. It’s believed that around 1,100 different species are lurking beneath. The Mekong Sub-region is home to 430 mammal species, 1,200 bird species, 800 reptile species, and 20,000 plant species.

Amongst the plants the ravishing Lotus flower, the symbol of Vietnam, can be found growing across the river Mekong. The entire Mekong River region is considered the second most diverse in the world after the Amazon river, which at almost 7,000 km in length, is the second longest river in the world.

Lotus flowers growing in the Mekong River

Mekong means ‘the mother of water’ and without the Mekong’s water it would be impossible for the Mekong Delta region to sustain millions of people with the rice that grows in such profusion here. The region is known as the ‘rice bowl of Vietnam’ and it is believed that of the 17 million people that live in the region, 80% of them are involved in rice cultivation. Further up the river in Cambodia the Mekong is also calculated to provide around 70% of the protein that makes up the local diet.

A cruise along the river to Tan Loc offers the enticing possibility of visiting the orchards of one of the local farms there. The local plum wine is excellent and for the adventurous there’s always the fiery, rice-based liquor that is traditionally drunk straight called Ruou Gao or Ruou Can or the speciality of the Mekong – River Eel wine. Although these days, these local delicacies are starting to find their way into bars worldwide.

Local heading to market

You can find trendy cocktails, traditional spirits, local beers and an intriguing selection of teas at many picturesque spots along the river between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh. Yet the river also offers something that’s even more stimulating than rice spirit infused with ginseng and just as soothing as bamboo leaf tea – and that’s watching the locals go about their day.

The river is the main infrastructure and within moments of sitting and looking at the river you’ll see Sampans zip up and down the river, transporting the locals and sometimes tourists across the opposing banks (imagine them being as common as bicycles in the streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh!). Whilst giant, rice barges go about their business, past floating homes on small legs rising out of the river, decorated with flowers and dotting the river edge. Here is where you’ll see real Mekong village life.

Local watering plants on the bank of the Mekong

Crazy About Cruising?

If we’ve whetted your appetite for experiencing the Mekong River then you really are in luck as our brand new vessel– the Victoria Mekong will soon be embarking on her inaugural cruising season. This vessel is owned by Wendy Wu Tours and throughout 2020 she’ll be cruising between Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh as our fantastic Mekong River Cruise. You can opt to book a ‘cruise only’ sailing leaving you free to explore the region at your own pace or you can combine a cruise with one of four tours, designed to show you the best of Vietnam and Cambodia:

What makes the Victoria Mekong such a special vessel? She’s purpose built to show you the best of the Mekong River in style, with just 35 balcony cabins – providing an intimate cruising experience, as well as superb river views from each cabin.

The Victoria Mekong ship

On deck you’ll find an infinity pool with a pool bar, Jacuzzi’s and even a mini-golf course. Inside you’ll find a library and games room, a spa, a gym, a boutique and a movie room all compete for your attention. You’ll find the Horizon Lounge Bar is the perfect place for pre-dinner drinks whilst a series of delicious meals will be served in the Claypot Restaurant.

There is simply no better way to experience the Mekong than a Vietnam River cruise aboard Victoria Mekong and, once you’ve fallen in love with the river, you’ll be pleased to know that Victoria Mekong is actually amongst the greenest ships on the Mekong! The ships power is partly drawn from solar panels and her high-tech water system recycles and cleans wastewater, so that when it returns to the river it’s almost drinkable again to ensure no further damage to the natural habitat.

In fact, passengers are given a re-usable water bottle for use during their time aboard the ship, in effort to help reduce plastic waste!

Visual of the Mekong Delta pool deck

Why not join us in 2020 for an unforgettable Mekong Delta tour?

For more information on when to go, take a look at our Best Time to visit Vietnam Page

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