The Mekong River, the 12th-longest river in the world at 2,700 miles (4,345 kilometers), is the main artery of Southeast Asia. Its flowing waters are the beating pulse for a region that includes the fertile Mekong Delta around Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, the scenic hills of Laos, and the jungle-lined waterways of Thailand and Cambodia.
River tours in small traditional boats offer visitors a chance to experience the culture and communities that thrive along the Mekong’s waters. Opt for a day tour from Ho Chi Minh City and cruise around the floating markets of the Mekong Delta; discover the islands along the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers on a half-day tour from Phnom Penh; or cruise across the border from Thailand to Laos.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Boat tours operating on the river include small wooden motor boats, traditional sampans, and speedboats, while rafting and tubing are also possible in some sections.
- Most boats provide little shade, so be sure to bring a hat, sun protection, and mosquito repellent.
- Some boat cruises may be wheelchair accessible, but it’s best to check in advance.
How to Get There
The Mekong River is accessible from several major cities, including Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Vientiane in Laos, Chiang Mai in Thailand, and Phnom Penh in Cambodia. While public transport runs to some of the larger towns along the Mekong, the easiest way to travel is as part of a guided tour.
When to Get There
Mekong cruises run all year-round, but the most popular time to visit is between September and March, when the high water levels mean more choice for boat trips, floating markets, and floating villages. The wet season runs from May until August, but it’s still possible to visit during this time and the weather is still warm—just pack a rain poncho as the open-air boats offer no protection from showers.
Cruising the Mekong Delta
A Mekong River cruise offers a fascinating glimpse into rural life, gliding past lush rice paddies and fruit orchards, watching fishermen cast handmade nets in search of the day’s catch, and sampling tropical fruits and coconut candies at the floating markets. The river is also home to some of the largest freshwater fish in the world, and lucky travelers may even spot one of the rare Irrawaddy dolphins that live in the Mekong’s waters.