The landscape of Laos is defined by its rivers, most notably the Mekong, which meanders down the full length of this jungle-covered country. Daily life is often paced to the ebb and flow of waterways, which bring fish and fertile soils to riverside communities. Boats become second-nature when you depend on the water, and land-lubbers like us are often astonished by the easy agility of locals, as they leap from deck to deck. If you want to truly understand Laos, it’s time to take to the river, so we’ve picked a few of our favourite boat trips and cruises to - ahem - launch your imagination.
No sooner did we utter the phrase 'cruises in Laos' at Selective Asia HQ, than the words 'Shompoo Cruise' started filling the air. This journey takes you from the Friendship Bridge on the Thailand border, down the Mekong River into Laos. It can be found on our Northern Soul itinerary, and sets a leisurely pace that is the perfect introduction to laid back Laos. Brittany says 'I would recommend the Shompoo Cruise to anyone. It's relaxed and meandering, and allows you to see so much of rural Laos. Grab a great book and a cold beer, and let the journey be the destination.' You'll stop at a remote Kamu village where you can meet the community, and if you like, you can cruise all the way downriver to Pakbeng.
Lionel describes the stretch of the river between Muang Khua and Nong Khiaw as 'simply stunning', and recommends taking a slow boat to soak in the scenery. The riverbanks here are largely uninhabited, and although your passage through the picturesque landscape is rather startingly interrupted by a Chinese hydroelectric dam, the experience is otherwise deeply tranquil. You'll stretch your legs by visiting a local village, trekking through the rice fields and exploring a cave, and there'll be an opportunity to swim in the river. As Gemma says, it's a very special part of the river.
If you were to follow a certain ancient road from Cambodia's Angkor Wat and travel for 150 miles in a north-easterly direction, you'd come to Vat Phou. Let's pretend you didn't have to negotiate any border crossings - this 1,600 year old temple complex is far too romantic to worry about modern practicalities like that! One of the nicest ways to get there is on the Vat Phou Cruise, a converted rice barge which slips along the Mekong River into the fertile plain that stretches for miles around the ancient site.
Take a leisurely boat trip through the rural landscape upriver from Luang Prabang, until you reach a village where you'll likely be greeted by a lively bunch of kids, and given homecooked meals by your friendly hosts for the night. In the morning, you'll be getting a little closer to the water by climbing (or clambering!) aboard a kayak for a paddle back downstream, stopping for a picnic on the riverbank before rejoining your boat for the trip back to Luang Prabang.