Mekong vs Irrawaddy River Cruises

The Mekong and Irrawaddy are two of the most fascinating rivers in Asia. Travelling through the Mekong means to discover its Delta and the many countries where the river passes – China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. While the Irrawaddy is located in Myanmar, and its impressive valley remains the cultural, historical and economic heart of the country.

Travel to: Mekong

Length4,350 km2,210 km
Main AttractionMekong DeltaBagan
Weather23-32 °C24-38 °C

Pros and Cons

Pros: Mekong Cruise

  • Exotic landscapes and stunning views
  • Runs through six countries and many different cities (Vientiane, Pakse and Phnom Penh among them)
  • Provides a general experience of Southeast Asia
  • Encounter different cultures and cities on your path
  • Unique wildlife present
  • It’s a very adventurous cruise

Cons: Mekong Cruise

  • Possibility of intestinal upsets
  • Need for plenty of insect repellent
  • Be ready for the heat
  • Doesn’t give you the chance to discover a single country in depth

When I chose to extend my journey from Chiang Mai Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos, I had no idea how to get there. Geographically ignorant of the region, I assumed a bus and border cross would suffice, but then realized how complicated and arduous the trip would be. That was when I heard about taking a boat along the Mekong River: I could choose between the fast boat or the slow boat, but the prices and safety measures were not the same. One required you to wear helmets and the other promised a relaxing journey for a higher price.

I ultimately chose the slow boat with the higher price and journeyed with Nagi of Mekong. The highlights of my cruise were the food on board, stress-free environment, waking up to elephants bathing along the Mekong in Pak Bang, and stopping by the Pak Ou cave on the second day of our tour.

Travelers with mid-range budgets would enjoy this trip. It is a safe and comfortable step up from the cheaper, accident-prone speed boats and it eliminates the stress of crossing borders and planning transportation in an area with few options. While we saw a few early 20’s backpackers there, I would generally say the average guest fit the 27 and up age demographic on our boat. – Olivia Christine Perez, O. Christine


Pros: Irrawaddy Cruise

  • Exotic landscapes and stunning views
  • A perfect way to discover Myanmar and its amazing cities (Myitkyina, Mandalay, Bhamo)
  • You’ll be immersed in the culture and tradition of Myanmar
  • You’ll stay in only one country, that makes your trip easier in terms of currency exchange, border controls, etc.
  • Myanmar is still a relatively “not touristy” destination
  • It will bean adventurous cruise

Travel to: Irrawaddy

Cons: Irrawaddy Cruise

  • All Myanmar visitors require a visa
  • Be ready for the heat
  • You will need malaria medication
  • You won’t have the opportunity to discover different countries

Companies and Tours

Companies and Tours for a Mekong Cruise

The companies providing river cruises in Mekong river are: Avalon, CroisiEurope, Pandaw, Scenic, Uniworld .
Generally speaking the river cruises last a couple of weeks.
Here some of the most popular tours in Mekong river: Fascinating Vietnam, Cambodia & Mekong River – Southbound, Classic Mekong, Saigon and Phnom Penh, Fascinating Vietnam, Cambodia & the Mekong River with Luang Prabang & Bangkok, Cruise on the Mekong from Hanoi to the Temples of Angkor.

Companies and Tours for a Irrawaddy Cruise

The companies providing river cruises in Irrawaddy river are: Avalon, Pandaw, Scenic.
Generally speaking the river cruises last one or two weeks.
Here some of the most popular tours in Irrawaddy river: Golden Myanmar & the Alluring Irrawaddy – Southbound, Pagan-Mandalay or Mandalay-Pagan Short Cruise, Golden Myanmar & the Alluring Irrawaddy with Bangkok, Mystical Myanmar, Mandalay Pagan Packet.


Attractions Mekong Cruise

A fascinating city, full of history and culture
Siem Reap
home to Angkor Wat, but also some interesting and fast growing modern buildings
the main attraction of this city is the couple of holy mountains Phnom Pros and Phnom Srei
Phnom Penh
one of the most interesting Cambodian cities


Attractions Irrawaddy Cruise

the former capital of Burmese Empire and the spiritual heart of the country
home to the impressive Mandalay Palace
the largest city of Myanmar and full of Buddhist pagodas
where there is a statue of Buddha wearing golden sunglasses…doesn’t that sound worth a visit?

So, which is best?

  1. The Mekong is a river that passes through six different countries and many cities. This can provide you a general idea of Southeast Asia, a stunning area that will fascinate you. On the other hand, you won’t discover a single country in depth while on this cruise.
  2. Instead, Irrawaddy runs only through Burma and so you can get under the skin of this country and experience its amazing culture comprehensively. Obviously, this is also relatively restrictive experience if you’re eager to cross multiple countries off your bucket list.