The Mekong River has for centuries played a vital role in shaping Southeast Asian civilisations. A source of food and water as well as an important cultural and in some cases religious institution, the river gives life to millions of people in this part of the world, from its source in the Tibetan plateau all the way through China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
On Mekong River tour, when boasts moor up at the small communities along the river that sustain themselves from fishing and using the flowing waters to irrigate their fields, visitors are greeted with what is now the well-known hospitality and friendliness of the Lao people. Guests are often invited to the village where they can experience the daily life of a local fisherman, hear about local customs and traditions or even join in with local festivals and celebrations. This is a unique experience that can only be enjoyed with the access to remote areas offered on a boat trip, and with companies such as Luangsay, the experience is made all the more enjoyable thanks to the high level of comfort and service on board.
A tour along the Mekong River will often involve a visit to Pakse, which is the provincial capital of Champasak Province. Generally referred to as the gateway to the Bolavan Plateau, which is rich in natural beauty, the town is a perfect destination for nature lovers looking for waterfalls, forested hills, green valleys and coffee plantations. Pakse is also the home of Wat Luang, on of the most revered temples in Laos, where visitors can witness the giving of alms to the monks as part of a daily ritual in Buddhist life. In the grounds of the temple is a large white and gold stupa, traditional of Buddhist temples all over Southeast Asia. The Champasak Provincial Museum is also worth a visit when touring around Pakse. Although not very large, the museum displays various artefacts telling the unique story of the province. Old photos, musical instruments, pottery, jewellery, ethnic clothing and textiles all tell the fascinating story of the southern province.
The Mekong River, or the 'mother of all rivers' as it is commonly referred to in some languages in Southeast Asia, is the giver of life not only to humans living along its banks, but also to an extremely diverse plant and animal species. From the cold climate of the Tibetan plateau to the tropical surroundings of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, the river and the greater subregion around it, is home to no less than 20,000 plant species, 430 mammals, 1,200 bird species and an estimated 850 fish species. Bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts are sure to spot some rare and exotic examples during a river tour, and aspiring photographers are guaranteed some excellent shots to take home and show their friends and family.
The rich natural surroundings, combined with the fascinating ethnic river communities spread out along its banks make the Mekong River a popular tourist attraction in itself, and many visitors to Laos will at some point or another come in contact with its powerful waters, whether sitting at a riverside eatery in the former royal capital of Luang Prabang in the north, or cruising aboard a converted traditional river barge in the south. The ever changing landscape, the natural flow of the river and the smiles and waves of the locals as you drift past the villages is refreshingly different from the experience at some of the region's crowded beaches and bustling cities.
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