"A river runs through it" could well be the unofficial motto of Luang Prabang, the former capital of Laos that grants full meaning to the adjective sleepy. And cruising along the swirling depths of the Mekong grants an entrancing panorama of both natural and traditional life in the region.
The 130-ft. (40 m) Nava Mekong launched this year and sails twice daily, journeying two hours upstream between high hills forested with teak trees, and past fishermen casting their nets from tiny craft. Among the destinations are the Pak Ou caves, where a brace of limestone grottoes houses thousands of Buddhist statues and images. (See TIME's Global Adviser for exotic, beautiful and interesting getaways.)
On board, up to 40 guests are served ginger pork, chicken soup with coconut milk and other Laotian specialities by gracefully garbed staff. And in the evenings, villagers entertain passengers by dancing to age-old tunes that include royal ballet and interpretations of everyday rural life, folk tales and ancient legends.
The Nava Mekong is owned by the Apple Tree Group, who are also behind a 33-room boutique hotel in Luang Prabang, the Villa Maly, www.villa-maly.com. Either the hotel or local tour operators can arrange the cruise, which costs $35 per head for lunch or dinner. The earlier sailing departs at 10.30 a.m. and makes for the Pak Ou caves. The later departure weighs anchor at 5.30 p.m., and stops at a Laotian village for dinner and dancing.
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