VIENTIANE, 20 November 2017: Today, a popular river cruise option in Laos was literally grounded as the impact of a new dam ends an era of river cruising.
Tour operators over the weekend were busy alerting their partners overseas, warning them that the permanent closure of the Nam Ou River, between the towns of Nong Khiaw and Muang Khua, has now halted any river cruise possibilities.
The official closure of this stretch of the Nam Ou River took effect today, 20 November, for an indefinite period.
From Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw is a distance of 142 km by road (travel time four hours). Muang Khua is further upstream from Nong Khiaw. Travelling by road between the two towns is a much longer proposition than by river covering a distance of 210 km and an estimated travel time of over five hours.
Tourism in both towns will likely suffer due to the river closure and for some resort owners it could force them to quit the business, or sustain heavy losses during what should be the high season.
Official announcements made by local authorities have confirmed that the completion of a new hydro dam (Nam Ou 3 Dam) would terminate cruising possibilities between the two riverside towns, well north of Luang Prabang on the Nam Ou.
Blocking the popular Nam Ou river cruises will disappoint many tourists, as the boats provide the best way to experience the natural beauty of northern Laos from a river perspective. These trips will now be replaced by bus transport following a road that meanders through valleys, occasionally skirting the river, but in places forced by the terrain to make wide diversions.
Also navigation limitations between Nong Khiaw and Luang Prabang will reduce other cruise options. It will impact on trips that pass near to Done Nguen on the downstream journey to Luang Prabang via the Pak Ou caves. The caves are on the banks of the Mekong River almost directly opposite the mouth of the Nam Ou.
Tour operators warned that this limitation would require tour groups to use a mix of boat, car or bus to complete the trip.
It comes at a time when the main tourist season is starting for Laos and Luang Prabang is the country’s premier destination with cruise trips on the Mekong River and Nam Ou the most popular sightseeing options.