A Little Photoessay… A Slice of Life on the Mighty Mekong

Last updated on July 7, 2023

Originating high in the Tibetan Plateau, the Mekong River is the life-blood of activity throughout the history of Southeast Asia. Locally known as the Mae Nam Khong, the literal translation is Mother of Water River. The river runs through China, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and over the centuries consistently remained an important focal point for locals, governments, and foreign countries.

Locals use the River to sustain life—food, transportation and local trade.

Sunset on the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, Laos
Boats are already docked in the gently swaying waters by the time the sun is setting. The boat workers must have left to find dinner because the banks of the Mekong River in Luang Prabang were nearly empty this time of day!

Governments dam and reroute the river in political power struggles between the nations sharing the Mekong River’s natural resources, and international political struggles have relied on the power of the Mekong to push goods out to foreign ports for profit and trade.

There’s a lot to this powerful river and it’s with good reason the the poetic and alliterative description the Mighty Mekong fits so well.

Why is the Mekong Vital to Life in Laos?

The Mekong River provides a source of livelihood for many people in the region, who rely on fishing and agriculture for their survival. It’s home to a wide variety of fish species, and fishing is a major industry in the region, providing food and income for many families. The soil along the river’s banks is also incredibly fertile, making it ideal for growing crops such as rice, corn and vegetables, which also provides food and income for locals.

It also plays a critical role in transportation, linking villages and towns along its banks. Without the Mekong River, many villagers and Laotians would lack access to markets, healthcare, and educational facilities. The river is also a source of clean drinking water for many communities.

Another important aspect of life along the Mekong River—it’s an important cultural and spiritual symbol for the Lao people, who have developed a deep connection to the river and its ecosystem. The river is a central feature in many traditional stories, rituals, and daily life.

And it can’t be overlooked that the Mekong River is an important source of hydroelectric power for Laos, which generates revenue for the country and provides power to local communities.

Over the years, I’ve explored countless sections of the Mekong River within Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, and below you’ll find a slice of that life I witnessed as locals use the river waters and mineral-rich banks to sustain their lives and livelihoods.

Photos of the Mekong River in Laos

monks on mekong river in Laos
Just before sunset in Luang Prabang, Laos, young monks cool off from the afternoon heat in the river waters where the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers intersect; their giggles and shouts echoed out over the nearby river banks.
mekong river in luang prabang laos
These children swam to a sandy island in the middle of the river for a lively game of kickball. When the other team really got a good kick in, the losers had to dive into the river to retrieve their ball!
boy in river
A young boy was excited to see me so far from town as my niece and I walked the banks of the Mekong River near Luang Prabang, Laos. Clearly he was familiar with the camera though and hammed it up with different poses!
Slow boats in Luang Prabang, Laos on the Mekong River
The iconic wooden slow boats dot the Mekong River all day long as tourists come and go, and locals transport their goods from one town to another. Locals use the small uncovered boats for fishing and quick trips across the river.
slow boats bob along the Mekong
Satellite dishes adorn traditional wooden slow boats (which are also used as houses for some Laotians) in an odd display of modernity as a man extricates his boat from the docks in Houay Xai, a border town with Thailand.
Several huge semi truks wait to cross over the Mekong River from Thailand into Laos at the border crossing between Chiang Khong and Houay Xai.
Several huge semi trucks wait to cross over the Mekong River from Thailand into Laos at the border crossing between Chiang Khong and Houay Xai, the border towns on each side of the Mekong.
slow boat Mekong River
Our captain carefully guides the slow boat down the Mekong River, watching to avoid the huge rocks and swift current in some areas as we make down river from Pakbeng to Luang Prabang, Laos.
huts on river laos
The slow boat from Thailand to Luang Prabang occasionally stopped at small smatterings of wooden and bamboo huts lining the Mekong River.
laotian boys
Young boys board our slow boat at the tiny towns and sell snacks and cold drinks to the tourists on board the river boat. They come on for just two or three minutes and swarm the boat to make sure they hit every possible sale.
Child on the Mekong River, Laos
A little girl with hand-woven baskets looks at me quizzically as I slowly float by her home while she prepares dinner on the banks of the Mekong River.
sunset laos
Ana plays with the light from the setting sun on Mount Phousi in Luang Prabang, Laos.

The Mekong River is a truly breathtaking experience by boat. The river winds its way through lush green landscapes, dotted with charming villages and bustling cities. The water is a rich, emerald green and is home to an incredible array of marine life, including rare and endangered species.

As you float along, you’ll have the opportunity to witness the unique culture of the region, including traditional fishing techniques and the daily life of the local people. The Mekong River is also known for its beautiful sunsets, and being on a boat during this time will offer you a front-row seat to the stunning display of colors in the sky.

With its natural beauty, rich culture, and friendly locals, a boat trip on the Mekong River is an unforgettable and peaceful experience.

Southeast Asia Travel Guide

A guide to everything I learned while backpacking Southeast Asia. From Thailand to Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam—and a lot in between—here’s where to go, my favorite places, and everything you should know before you go.

23 thoughts on “A Little Photoessay… A Slice of Life on the Mighty Mekong”

  1. Hi Shannon,
    Lovely post ! I came across it as I am trying to plan a trip to that part of the world. May I ask your advice. I would like to go to Chiang Mai, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Laos on a boat. It will be with my elderly father. We’ll start from Bangkok.
    How do I do it in 8 days or so?! Any thoughts are welcome 🤗

    • I’m not sure all of that is possible on a boat—especially not on that time frame. Laos is huge, so you’d have to visit it either from Cambodia in the south along the Mekong, or from Thailand—again, not via boat but likely via train and bus. There are portions you can do by boat, but those three locations are too far away. I’d look at strategically flying at least one section—maybe from Luang Prabang to Siem Reap/Angkor Way. You could bus from Chiang Mai to the border with Laos, take a two-day boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang, then fly to Siem Reap. :)

  2. Did you take anti-malarials for your boat trip? I have in my plans to take a slow boat down the Mekong from the Thai border. Taking anti-malarials for my trip is my biggest concern. I do not want to take them if the risk is low. I also found a Thai site that pretty much said not to take them for the majority of the places I will be traveling. I figured I wouldn’t need them in Bangkok but the CDC seems to suggest them for Chaing Mai and Chaing Rai as well as the border areas along Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia.

    • Good question, and the simple answer is no, I have never taken anti-malarials in Southeast Asia. And I have to caveat all of this with “I am not a doctor, please see a professional as well” — but in general the reason I have never taken it comes down to the seasons. I’ve always traveled in the dry season or the very beginning of rainy season, and the risk for malaria and dengue are lower. I do know one person who got dengue in like December, but it’s just not as common. If I were traveling at the end of rainy season (Sept & October), I would perhaps consider it. Few backpackers I meet take it period, and almost none tend to take it during dry/cooler season. Many backpackers instead use Deet repellant and are particularly vigilant at dusk and times of day when mosquitos are really active. You would need to do this even on anti-malarials because of the risk of dengue fever.

    • Thank you Maggie! The country was so beautiful it was easy to photograph. :)  Good luck on your own adventures in retirement! 

  3. Love these photographs. Having just been to the Mekong in the Golden Triangle region in December these photos are very meaningful. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I agree that the there is a great holiday. But in Siberia, too many beautiful places … and I do not understand why foreign people do not come here to relax. We do not bite :) I am pleased to be talked to …

  5. These are lovely shots Shannon.  I love the diversity in your selection.  My favorite is of the child excited to see you in the water.

  6. Hi………….

    great post.

    I would say just fantabulous thoughtful post… just Woowww…!!!
    thanks for the info.



  7. What you and your niece are doing is so inspiring, what an awesome childhood you are helping to give her! Love your blog, keep up the great work!

  8. Gorgeous pictures! In a few weeks, I am going to be leaving Vietnam to go into Cambodia and Laos. This was a great taste of what’s to come. 

  9. I have been to Luang Prabang and loved it.  I really enjoyed seeing glimpses of your trip down on the slow boat, as that was something I wanted to do but couldn’t pull it off in the time I had, although I did get to go to Pak Ou caves.  I am glad you changed your mind about them by the way!

  10. What a great and totally different lifestyle. Love the heart and sun – that tells the story of how great it is there:)


Leave a Comment