In 2019, Pandaw River Expeditions will launch its third river vessel destined for Laos as the company continues to see increased interest in the more remote stretches of the upper Mekong.
The forthcoming 24-passenger Sabei Pandaw will be deployed between the ancient Laotian capital of Luang Prabang and Jinghong in China. It will sail a four-country itinerary visiting Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and China, with a large portion of the itinerary taking place in Laos. Highlights of the trip include visits to Luang Prabang, remote river villages, scenic national parks and the river itself, which is "intensely dramatic and wild," according to Pandaw.
In fact, the vessels that sail this part of the Mekong must be built to meet the navigational challenges presented by the rapids that run through the Laos gorges and at the same time must have a shallow draft to enable year-round passage into China, the company noted.
A temple in Luang Prabang, a Unesco World Heritage Site that is a popular destination in Laos.
But Pandaw has some experience in this area. It introduced the Laos Pandaw in November 2015, a 20-passenger Mekong river cruise vessel that was its first to sail the upper Mekong into Laos and China. The company added a second ship last year, the 28-passenger Yunnan Pandaw, and along the way developed a comprehensive itinerary from Laos to China.
"We have seen considerable demand for Laos, and this current year both our ships are more or less full," said Marco Rosa, vice president of sales and marketing for Pandaw. "This new vessel will really help satisfy that demand."
Pandaw founder Paul Strachan said that he believes the upper Mekong is the most exciting of all the rivers the company sails.
"There can be no waterborne experience to match sailing through Laos: the fast river with its continual spate of white water, the jungle clad peaks, the gorges," Strachan said. "Then there is the friendly welcome in every village, the ethnic diversity and the cultural riches. Traversing the remotest parts of four very different countries, you see all of Southeast Asia, lost and timeless."
The itinerary begins in the ancient city of Luang Prabang, which has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site. It continues on to the jungle pools below the Kuang Si waterfalls, where passengers can take a dip, and then on to the Pak Ou Caves, which are filled with images of Buddha and overlook the Mekong River.
A waterfall in the Laotian jungle.
As the river becomes more rapid, the cruise continues into Thailand with a stop in Chiang Saen, which is just south of the Golden Triangle where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. The sailing continues with Laos on one side and Myanmar on the other. There are several remote village visits along the way, and the cruise crosses into China at the Guan Lei Port and concludes in Jinghong, which dates to 1180.
The company noted that the itinerary tends to attract younger, more intrepid travelers. Popular shoreside expeditions often include trekking and mountain biking.
The cuisine served onboard is a mix of Laotian and Thai cuisine, with international dishes available upon request.
The Sabei will have 12 staterooms on two decks (eight on the lower deck and four on the upper deck). It will feature a wraparound balcony on both decks and will also have an indoor/outdoor lounge and dining room.
A 14-day itinerary from Laos to China on the Sabei Pandaw starts at $6,800 per person. Additional itinerary and pricing details are available at www.pandaw.com.