72 Hours Southern Laos Cruise The Spirit of Southeast Asia
72 Hours Southern Laos Cruise
The Spirit of Southeast Asia
Story & Photos by Chaton Chokpattara
Mekong River, the 10th longest river in the world, stretches 4,900 kilometers through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and then flows out to the sea at Mekong Delta in Vietnam. The wonder of Mekong intrigued me to pick up my backpack and head out on a journey from Pakse, Champasak, and make my way down Mekong River on a 3 days 2 nights cruise on Vat Phou Boat.
The journey began after I crossed the border from Ubonratchathani into Pakse, Champasak. Champasak province has a long history dating back to the early Lan Chang Empire and it is also home to Boloven plateau, a famous coffee growing region in Laos.
From Pakse, I took a longtail boat ride to witness the sheer power of the river at “Maha Natee Si Phan Don” or “4,000 Islands.” The soft soil of this area is penetrated through by the river, creating islands in the middle of the river. Locals call these islands “Si Phan Don” which is derived from “Maha Natee Si Tan Don” in ancient Brahman belief.
The longtail boat docks at “Koh Don Kon,” the largest island. It was surprising to see a lot of western, long-stay, backpackers on this virtually remote island, but it was a great opportunity to make new friends. A piece of history lies in the form of an abandon railroad and steam engine on this island as the French failed to connect this area to southern China.
The longtail boat dropped me off safely and I boarded the Vat Phou Boat in the evening. The large wooden boat has a minimalist feel to it with indoor deck decorated with a couch and many rattan chairs for the guests to lounge in. This is my favourite spot as I can watch the scenery go by as the night crawls in.
When the next morning came, the boat slowly speeds up the Mekong River. Our experienced captain steered the boat in a zigzag route through the strong current. The soft cool breeze lulled many passengers back to sleep, but the sceneries of lush forest, villages, and local fishermen on both sides of the river were just too good to turn down for me.
The boat made a short stop at Duer Tear Village, where villagers still live a traditional Laotian lifestyle, before we shot 5 hours straight to Baan Huay Toh Moh. Baan Huay Toh Moh is home to an ancient Khmer temple, “Oum Muong Temple.”, constructed in 13th-14th century, Oum Muong Temple is on the path that leads to another ancient temple, Wat Phou, and the famous Ankor Wat in Cambodia. It is necessary to hire a local guide to take you to Oum Muong Temple as the track cuts through deep jungle.
The last morning arrived with the highlight of the trip. Vat Phou is Laos’ second UNESCO’s World Heritage site and it was believed to be constructed in the 6th to 8th century which makes it older than Angkor Wat! By a minibus, the temple stands majestically on Phu Klao, which is located 30 minutes from the dock. The temple is divided into 3 levels, with the lowest level being a pond for believers to clean their body before making their way up to worship the gods. The second level is the temple itself and the top level is the cliff where sacrifices were performed in the past!
Bright sunlight turned into golden rays as the evening set in while brown Mekong current tirelessly pushed against Vat Phou boat. I looked towards the Japan-Lao Friendship Bridge in the distance, signaling the end of our trip. The ship slowly approached Pakse and our 220 kilometers trip felt so swift.
It was a short trip full of impressive experiences and stories and it’ll always be a memorable one.
Best season: November to April is the best time to catch Vat Phou cruise. The cruise operates all year round, except during maintenance in June.
Getting there: From Ubonratchathani province, you have to cross the border into Laos and catch a 2 hour bus ride to Pakse. Stay a night and start your 3 days 2 night cruise the next day.
Contact : Mekong Cruises Services (Thailand) Co., Ltd., Bangkok office Tel. 0-2689-0429-30, Pakse office Tel. +856 (0)31-251446