The ‘Mother of Waters', as locals refer to the Mekong, forms the heart and soul of Indochina, a thread that links Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos both geographically and culturally.
The river also touches parts of Thailand, Burma and China on a course of almost 5,000 kilometres from Tibet to the South China Sea.
In Laos, the Mekong runs virtually the length of the country, passing through Luang Prabang, the capital Vientiane, and bisecting the 4,000 Islands along the way.
Villages have thrived along its banks and tributaries for centuries and it continues to serves as the life source for Laotians to this day. It's a trade route, a source of food and water, and a place of spiritual importance and folklore; colourful boat races and annual water festivals celebrate the river and its importance to agriculture.
Today, the Mekong is an increasingly important draw for tourism. Visitors come to cruise along the lazy upper reaches or to see rapids and waterfalls as it swells in the south, to spot wildlife such as the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin and to get a feel for life along the banks of this, one of Asia's greatest rivers.
Cruising on the Mekong
Luang Say cruise
Purpose-built wooden river barges provide an atmospheric way to journey along the northern section of the Mekong. The 34-metre Luang Say boats cruise the river from the town of Huay Xai on the Thai border to Luang Prabang via Pakbeng, or vice versa.
The journey takes between two and three days, with possible stopovers at the Luang Say Lodge in Pakbeng and the Kamu eco-lodge.
Before disembarking in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang the cruise stops at the Pak Ou caves, famous for a vast collection of Buddha images.
Vat Phou cruise
The highlights of the southern Mekong can be seen on this two-night cruise, which starts in the gateway town of Pakse and ends amidst 4,000 serene Islands, taking in the Wat Phou ruins, pretty waterfalls and typical riverside villages along the way.
The Vat Phou, made from teak, is a former ferryboat, now sporting two decks, 12 air-conditioned cabins and an onboard restaurant.