Mekong sunset cruises return

CHIANG RAI, 20 September 2022: Mekong River cruises in far north Thailand are making a comeback after a two-year pause caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tourism Authority of Thailand director for Chiang Rai and Phayao, Wisut Buachum, posted the good news on his Facebook page on Monday, confirming the return of sunset cruises operated by Mae Khong Delta, a local travel company based in the riverside town of Chiang Saen.

Wisut Buachum TAT director Chiang Rai and Phayao.

“The cruises are coming back offering contrasting ambiences such as nature, community life on the river banks and the man-made construction of the gigantic Roman Kings project on the facing river bank in Laos.”

The sunset cruise departs daily at 1700 and returns to the small river port in Chiang Saen at 2000. Other cruises will be launched in November when international tour groups from Europe are expected to return to Chiang Rai province.

For the time being, the province’s tourism business is surviving on domestic tourists, who were the chief lifeline during the Covid-19 pandemic that saw hundreds of resorts and attractions close their doors.

Tourism officials say September bookings are the lowest on record. However, historically, September is always the poorest performer for domestic and international tourist visits. But they are hopeful that an uptick in bookings during October and November will allow resorts and attractions to kickstart recovery.

Chiang Rai’s tourism usually capitalises on having two international borders skirting Myanmar and Laos. Travellers in pre-Covid-19 days could travel to these countries as part of itineraries that explored two or three countries in the Mekong Region. Today the borders remain closed for international travellers and, to some degree, even local traders and tourists.

Kham Kong Run starting line – the run that crosses the Mekong.

But the TAT director is confident changes are in the pipeline, starting with the reopening of the river ferry crossing between the town centre ports of Chiang Khong and Huay Xai in Laos, which is more convenient for Thai and Lao nationals than the roundabout route via the friendship bridge.

According to the deputy governor of Bokeo, cross-river travel between the two ports was due to reopen on 19 September, in addition to the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge that reopened earlier for both cars and cargo trucks.

There are reports that travellers from ASEAN countries have crossed the bridge, having been granted a 21-day visa-exemption stay in Laos. Other reports say that only Thai and Lao citizens can cross the bridge without a visa. Reliable sources in Chiang Khong say other nationalities can cross the bridge if they have a tourist visa to enter Laos and that costs around USD45.

Last weekend, hundreds of joggers joined the revived  Kham Kong Run between the two riverside towns. They set out from the starting line in Chiang Khong near the friendship bridge and were welcomed by the deputy governor of Bokeo at the Huai Xai market in Lao PDR. Instead of jogging back across the bridge, commuter vans picked runners up for the return trip. Despite the last-minute change in the logistics, it was heralded as a new start for the community projects that the two riverside towns share. The close links between Chiang Khong and Huay Xai were reflected in the name of the event, ‘Kham Kong’ which means ‘Cross the Mekong,’ but tourists wishing to do the same find the directions are about as clear as the muddy flood water of the Mekong River.