Cruising on the wild Mekong River is not everyone’s cup
of tea, but when I received the invitation from Hans Engberding, General
Manager of “Lernidee Erlebnisreisen” in Berlin/Germany, to join the
maiden voyage of his newly built cruise ship “Mekong Sun’’ I did not
hesitate for a second.
Golden Buddha dominates the Thai side of the Golden Triangle.
Joining the cruise ship in the port of Chiang Saen on
December 3 was a kind of premiere. The boat was built in Luang Prabang/Laos
between May-November 2005, as a catamaran, resting on two steel hulls, has
two floors and a sun deck made from mahogany and teakwood. The whole ship
weighs 84 tons and is 40m long. Its draught is only 0.9m.
Two diesel engines with 385PS each and two additional
ones with 180PS move the ship forward, while three generators supply the
electric power. A crew of 16, most of them Laotians, cater for the maximum
30 passengers housed in 15 cabins.
With its source some 4,200 km from the sea in Qinghai
Province in China at more than 5,000m elevation on the Tibetan Plateau, the
Mekong River has many different names, according to the different tribes and
peoples, who all make a living along the banks of its narrow valley. Half
the river’s length runs through China, where the winding river is called
“Lancangjiang”. It is in Yunnan Province where the Chinese plan to build
a row of eight hydro-electric dams.
port of Chiang Saen is busy with Chinese travelers
After passing Jinghong, the capital of Sipsong Banna Dai
Autonomous Prefecture, the Mekong River enters Laos at the “Green
Triangle” where the borders of China, Myanmar and Laos meet. It is from
here that the Mekong River takes its course through Laos for more than
1,900km – and is regarded here as the “middle” Mekong.
On its way to Thailand, the Mekong River reaches Xieng
Kok in Laos, which is a new international border crossing to Myanmar and
from where there is a dirt road up to Muang Sing in Luang Nam Tha Province.
Reaching the ancient town of Chiang Saen in Thailand, the Mekong River is
then the heart of the Golden Triangle, a wild and forested borderland, where
Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet.
It was from here that the “Mekong Sun” left for
China. After having invited the Immigration Department of Chiang Saen Port
to dine on board, the departure was smooth in the afternoon of December 4.
As the boat ran very slowly against the current, we reached the port of
Chiang Kok the next day in the afternoon and Hua Kong the next day in the
evening. Early next morning, we continued into the port of Guan Lei just
within the borders of China. The Chinese Health and Customs Departments
demanded we offload our meat and vegetable supplies. An important document
was also missing, so the ship could not leave for Jinghong, where a group of
18 passengers were waiting for the down river trip. By the time the problems
were solved, the current was too strong to go ahead.
newly built ‘Mekong Sun’ arrives in Chiang Kok in Northern Laos
The maiden trip included Chiang Saen, where passengers
were shown around the Golden Triangle with the impressive Hall of Opium
Museum and the Flower Gardens of Doi Tung.
Despite minor problems with the hot water supply and the regulation of
the air-conditioners, which gave the German cruise director, Wolfram Goetz,
had a constant headache, the guests saw it differently. For them, it was an
adventurous maiden voyage, especially during the days sailing down to Luang
Prabang in Laos. Hopefully the “Mekong Sun” will be a regular sight
along the Mekong in 2006.