Laos

Cruising the Mekong River at Sunset

Sleepy Luang Prabang in central Laos stole my heart in only a matter of days, becoming one of my favourite places in SE Asia.

One of my favourite activities while in Luang Prabang?

Cruising down the Mekong during sunset.

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The Mekong is the seventh largest river in Asia, flowing through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Always a fan of slowing down to savour sunsets, I was excited to treat myself to a river cruise.

After ample research, I landed on Mekong Kingdom cruises.

I chose them because I wanted a nice experience. I rationalised, I wasn’t spending much each day and hadn’t planned any other tours or activities for Luang Prabang.

After my experience, I’m hesitant to recommend Mekong Kingdom but would, without question, recommend doing a sunset sail of the Mekong River. There are plenty of tour providers in Laos, many of which are far cheaper than Mekong Kingdom and I’m sure offer an experience that’s commensurate with the price.

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Why a river cruise? 

Complete and total tranquility.

Cruising down the Mekong, it’s likely you’ll be the only boat, or one of only a few. It’s an experience that forces you to take in your surroundings and really connect with nature, in the best way.

The Mekong gives you an up-close look at how the Lao people live along the river. While you cruise, you’ll see fishermen docking their boats for the night, children playing or bathing in the river, and families with riverside homes preparing dinner.

Coupled with stunning views of lush jungle and towering mountains, it’s stunning.

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On a Mekong Kingdom cruise, you’re promised appetizers and cocktails, served over the course of your two hour journey.

Arriving to the boat, you’re presented with a lemongrass ginger cocktail, and then asked to take a seat in one of the boat’s comfy sectionals.

Then, throughout your cruise down the Mekong while the sun slowly sets, the staff bring out appetisers for you to enjoy, finishing with fresh fruit and cashew brownies.

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It sounded like a lovely experience when I read the description on their website, and a review from a fellow travel blogger who had been paid to write about her experience.

In my experience though, reality was pretty far separated from reality. The issues started before I even boarded the boat and continued until we docked again.

Before boarding, we were asked to meet at a hotel in central Luang Prabang. I took great care in travelling there to try not to get too wet, as I was visiting during the new year celebrations (read: people with buckets of water stand in the streets, soaking anyone that walks past- all in good fun).

I really enjoyed the celebrations, but wanted to be relatively dry for the cruise. I’d read Mekong Kingdom provides transport (golf cart, normally) to the boat, so I expected with the new year celebrations, they’d account for the activity in the streets and arrange a closed van.

For $46 USD, it wasn’t ridiculous for me to expect this.

The cost of the cruise is almost 4x what other providers charge in Luang Prabang. I paid for a luxury experience and my expectations were in line with that.

Instead, they had us walk through the streets to the boat. The walk was about 10 minutes, and during that brief time, every cruise guest was soaked with water. Absolutely dripping wet.

What’s more, there were no towels on board or any means for guests to dry off. I couldn’t believe how little the staff seemed to care.

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For me, things only got worse.

I’d let the Mekong Kingdom booking manager know I was a vegetarian and allergic to cashews twice during the booking process. I was assured that it’d be fine and they’d be able to accommodate.

Once on board, it was clear the crew had received no such instructions. They had nothing, except fresh fruit for me to eat. They were confused when I mentioned I was a vegetarian and had a nut allergy.

This wouldn’t have been a big deal if I’d eaten before the cruise, but I hadn’t had anything since a late breakfast because I’d expected to eat on board.

The other area I have to ding Mekong Kingdom is boat condition (old, rusty, paint chipping) and bathroom condition (not clean, no toilet paper).

I don’t have unreasonably high expectations in SE Asia, but when I book with a premium provider, I expect a certain degree of luxury that was blatantly missing in all regards on this cruise. 

Because of that, I have to say I would not recommend booking with Mekong Kingdom. Search TripAdvisor for reviews of other providers- sure, you may not have appetisers or drinks onboard, but the cruise experience of watching the sun set is what matters most.

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Watching the Laos countryside slowly float past, while the sun dips below the mountains is reason enough to add this peaceful experience to your Luang Prabang holiday.

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Have you ever done a sunset cruise while on holiday? Where were you and did you enjoy the experience? 

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