The First Ever Full Mekong Descent By KayakPhotography and Text By Michael O'Shea © All rights reserved.
Episode One - China:
After flying in from Bangkok the team will assemble in the picturesque city of Kunming in Yunnan Province, China. From here we fly to Xining where we begin our trek in four wheel drive vehicles high into the Tibetan Himalayas along precipitous passes. On the way we will see unique Tibetan monasteries, stay with nomadic yak herders high on the Tibetan plateau and meet with the local communities.
Once we abandon the vehicles we will turn to yaks to carry us and our gear through the mountains and to the source of the river, which is, at the start quite a small. We will come across stunning glaciers and wilderness scenery on this arduous journey through ice and freezing temperatures.
From the source it will be necessary to trek on land until the river is substantial enough to be able to travel by inflatable kayak. Paddling along the Southern edge of the Tibetan Plateau we will come across villages that have possibly never been seen by the outside world and ways of life that have remained little changed for centuries.
The expedition will then enter the "Three Parallel Rivers Area World Heritage Site" region, one of the most diverse and unique geographical regions on earth. Here three of the world's greatest rivers run side by side off the Tibetan plateau. We will also see hot springs, temples and endemic wildlife, possibly even snow leopards which were filmed in the wild on the last expedition through this area. Side trips will include some of the most amazing sites in China including the world heritage town of Lijiang, the historic old town of Dali and the Dai ethnic area of Jinghong.
On top of the cultural intrigue and natural beauty we will come across some of the most exciting kayaking along this section. Rugged adventure will be intermingled with visits to communities who possibly have never laid eyes on foreigners before. Mick will become one of the first men ever to travel through the incredible Mekong Gorges of South East Tibetan Autonomous Region and North West Yunnan. These gorges are often sheer sided and up to 3000 meters deep.
Episode Two - Myanmar, Thailand, Lao P.D.R.
After crossing into the infamous "Golden Triangle" region by cargo boat, we spend some time exploring the Burmese border towns where we will film gold panning and border markets in action. The cultural diversity of Myanmar is often evident in these border towns and we will capture some of the color and diversity on film.
Then onto Thailand where we will ride elephants high into the hills of the Mae Tang River valley before embarking on an exciting paddle journey down one of Thailand's most ferocious rivers to Chiang Mai. We will take some time to explore Chiang Mai and her surrounds, thoroughly enjoying some exquisite accommodations, fine dining and activities available after an arduous journey.
Then we head across the Mekong to the laid back region of Northern Laos where we will visit remote and colorful Akha villages in the Nam Ha National Park. The villagers are now beginning to use sustainable eco-tourism as an alternative to hunting and swidden agriculture. We travel along the Mekong to the world heritage site at Luang Prabang where 16th-19th century temples and old French mansions are housed in a beautiful mountain setting.
In Vientiane we can check out local monks, vibrant markets and the slow pace of life in this charming city just across the river from Thailand. We will cross here to Thailand and make our way to South East Asia's most important prehistoric archaeological sights at the world heritage listed Ban Chiang. Other destinations can also be covered in the area as we head south, such as a feature on the mysterious fireballs that emerge from the Mekong River annually on a full moon evening near Nongkhai, locally referred to as bung fai thayanak.
Travelling down stream we make a side trip up the Mekong tributary of Nam Hinboun where we will take an amazing seven kilometer boat ride through an entire mountain range and explore the pristine caves inside. Then we paddle south to the stunning pre-Angkor World Heritage Site of Wat Phou before navigating through the unique four thousand islands wetland habitat and the thundering falls of Khon Phapheng. Mick led an expedition to the falls in 2000 when his team located some fifteen separate navigable routes down the cataract by kayak. The falls were a permanent obstruction to all forms of river travel despite decades of intense efforts by French engineers to navigate safely through the area.
Our journey through Laos will end with amazing fresh water dolphins and raging waterfall jumps in kayaks overlooking the border with Cambodia.
Episode Three - Cambodia and Vietnam
The new border crossing from Laos into Thailand is helping to facilitate an unprecedented access for tourists into the area. We take advantage of this access and travel down to the Sambor rapids and on to the Tonle Sap river which swells each year as The Mekong floods. Traditional floating villages travel hundreds of kilometers each year as they drift with the river. Life in the Cambodian countryside is timeless and we will be sure to spend time in rural villages to discover the true charm of the people.
Angkor Wat is one of the seven man made wonders of the world. Its hundreds of temples and the quaint town of Siem Reap provide a stark contrast to the devastation that characterizes much of the remnants of Pol Pot's Cambodia.
From Angkor Wat we will travel to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, which lies right on the river. We will have a rare opportunity to paddle through one of Cambodia's mountainous national parks by boat. Walking through large sections of these parks is not possible due to the mines left from decades of war, but travelling on the rivers by kayak offers far safer access.
The final country in our journey along The Mekong is Vietnam. We will catch glimpses of the timeless traditional life along the Mekong Delta as we visit local villages. We will also encounter the historical legacy of the war in the delta, including the fascinating Cu Chi Tunnels in which the Viet Cong hid in ambush awaiting their American enemy.
The first ever full descent of The Mekong River will be concluded at sunset with Mick paddling from the "Mother of Waters" out into the South China Sea where we end our adventure.
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