Expedition Mekong 2002 in Perspective"
A talk by Reinhard
Present: Julie Ach, Gisella Anselmi, Hans Baumann,
Bauwens, Robert M. Boer, Hanna Brandli, Steve Brooks, John Cadet, Kay
Mike Calavan, Guy Cardinal, Jim Campion, Penkhae Camsa, Etienne
Bernard D. Davis, Seraphina Denault, Martine Gautlier, Jim Goodman, Guy
Otome Hutheesing, Ken Kampe, Onsri Khamnoi, Omtip Mekrugsawanich,
Melville, Richard Nelson-Jones, Ray Nolan, Jacques Op de Laak, Hans
Mengnoi Penth, Somkuan Piboonrat, Lucas Postma, Horst Schnarder, Gert
Slambrouck, David Steane, Bob Stratton, Carol Stratton, Bob Tucker,
Wood. An audience of 38.
Mekong 2002'' was
co-organized by the Brooker
Group and Diethelm Travel. The expedition was from November 2nd
17th 2002 and covered nearly 3,000 km of the Mekong river
from Simao Port
in Yunnan to its delta in the
southern part of Vietnam.
Profile of Expedition Mekong's
director Mr. Reinhard Hohler:
Reinhard Hohler is an experienced tour director and media travel
the Greater Mekong Sub-Region. He was born in Karlsruhe,
a port on Europe's Rhine
geology in his hometown and ethnology at Heidelberg
Mr. Hohler moved to Thailand
1987. He has led more than 90 study tours, mainly in Thailand, Myanmar,
Hainan, Hong Kong, Malaysia
He also co-authored a book about Yunnan
documentary about the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok.
Mr. Hohler is a life member of The Siam Society and currently working
project about German explorer Dr. Adolf Bastian's travelogue of Southeast Asia in the early 1860s. Presently,
lives in Chiang Mai with his wife and daughter.
For further information, please contact Reinhard Hohler by e-mail: email@example.com
from the Logbook of Expedition Mekong 2002 by
Reinhard Hohler, selected by your convenor, Brian Hubbard.
Bangkok Airways’ flight PG 640 from Bangkok
to Jinghong in the south of China.
The three organizers of Expedition Mekong 2002 were on board the
flight. From Switzerland,
Armin Schoch, group general manager of Diethelm Travel Bangkok, who
the logistic support to the expedition. From England, Dr. Peter
president of the Policy Research Division of the Brooker Group in
whose idea it was to cruise along the mighty Mekong from Yunnan to the
Vietnam. And from American, Dr. David Oldfield, Brooker’s
president, who saw the expedition as a revival of the more than
French River Expedition which set off from Saigon
on June1866. Also on board were Jinda Oudomsin, our interpreter from Laos
vital link between the Chinese crew of the Shanghai-built hovercraft
English-speaking command, and one of our passengers, Belgian Cyrillus
Tilborgh, whose intention it was to write a book about the expedition.
Chiang Mai International
German tour director Reinhard Hohler joined the expedition to be
for disseminating relevant information en route during this
epic voyage through the heart of Southeast Asia.
16.00 we landed on the new Xishuangbanna
in Jinghong and were welcomed by Isa Dannart, the representative of
It was only a short transfer to the beautiful Tai Garden Hotel, which
only four star hotel in Jinghong, the industrial capital of Xishuangbanna Dai Nationality
the lobby of the hotel we met with another passenger, American Rodney
who arrived in Jinghong via Kunming. We also met Ni Shao Zhi, the Chinese owner of
the hovercraft, which is aptly named “The Golden
At 7.00 we had breakfast
in the hotel and then departed by bus from Jinghong to Simao, 165 km.
paved mountain road. We crossed the newly built bridge over the Lancangjiang River and had a scenic drive
reaching Simao, at 15.30, we celebrated the start of the Expedition
with glasses of champagne on board the hovercraft.
16.00 we left the Simao
by hovercraft. The Lancang-Mekong
River is one
of the largest in the world, flowing for
4,200 km. through six countries: China,
its source high up in Qinghai Province of Western China called Dza Chu,
“rock water”, the Upper Mekong flows through narrow gorges
through the western
part of Yunnan
along elevated chains of mountains side by side with the Yangzi in the
the Nujiang-Salween in the west. The longest section of the Mekong Basin
is steep and the tributaries are short. The snowmelt in the Himalayan Mountains
leads to a spring peak in the upper reaches. One of the biggest lakes
of Yunnan, Erhai
Dali, has its outflow into the Mekong.
is currently the
northernmost point on the river from where commercial navigation is
has a total fall of 5,500 metres, of which 5,000 metres are within China.
of the hydro-electrical projects are planned on the mainstream with a
development of eight dams, it is obvious that one of the bitter
dam construction for power generation, water supply and flood control
disruption of the ecosystem and the collapse of the fish populations.
is the life-blood of the people living along its banks, supplying water
them and their crops, and also serving as a means of transportation and
has joined the
“Economic Quadrangle” with Myanmar,
and Thailand, it is
not a member of the Mekong River
Commission, with Vietnam,
over sandbanks and whirlpools we arrived at Jinghong’s old
bridge, built in
1960, at 18.00. We went to a rustic Dai
family restaurant to have sticky pineapple rice and local wine, and
then to bed
early to be ready for tomorrow’s long journey down the river to Thailand.
4th Monday. At
6.00 a shrill morning call woke us up to make our long-awaited
dream come true. The first-ever hovercraft expedition will take us
through China to
the middle and lower parts of the Mekong.
According to some Chinese maps, the whole of the
river is navigable except for some 30 km in the southern part of Laos, where the Khone Falls
are a barrier for any kind of boat. It will be there that the
be lifted out of the water by crane and transported around the
waterfalls on a
8 ton hovercraft can travel 40km/h and accommodates up to 20 passengers
addition to a crew of four: Zhang Jianhua was our first captain of the
hovercraft and Cui Xincheng was the second captain. Yang Chunhong was
engineer, while Luo Xiaoyong acted as the cabin boy.
6.30, our six foreign explorers with our Lao interpreter left the Tai
Hotel to the new Jinghong
Port Authority Building.
immigration inspection procedure, a local television team approached us
interview Armin Schoch, our expedition leader. Finally, at 7.45, Mister
head of the Port Authority, waved us farewell as our hovercraft slipped
away. Today’s journey from Jinghong to Chiang Saen in Thailand
be 340 km., one of the longest of the entire expedition.
Guan Lei, on the Chinese side of the river, the Chinese had to show
passports to leave their country. At 10.00 we continued down the river
stopped at the “Green Triangle”, where a triangular stone
pillar marks the
border of China, Myanmar and Laos
at the mouth of the Nan La
River. From here on, the so-called Middle Mekong, the river is wild and
untamed, forming the international border between Myanmar
in the west and Laos
in the east.
10.45-11.30, we stopped in Hua Khong in Luang Nam Tha Province of Laos
our passports stamped in, but the officials sent us down the river to
instead. In Xieng Kok, we met three Lao nationals: Mixai Houmpheng, our
from Diethelm Travel Laos, and Saleumsak Boukhasit and Visith Sisa-ad,
officials from the National Tourism Authority of Laos and the Prime
Office, who accompanied us all the way down to the Cambodian border. We
Xieng Kok at 15.30.
18.00 we passed the last Laotian outpost Xieng Mom and reached the
Triangle Paradise Casino, on the Myanmar
side of the Mekong, at sunset. We
the modern pier of the walled town of Chiang Saen after sunset and after an
eight hours cruise.
Wanida Sathit, the local manager of Diethelm Travel, took care of the
immigration procedure and the transfer to the scenic Baan Boran Hotel,
on the Thai side of the “Golden Triangle”.
5th Tuesday. No morning call this
morning. Time to have breakfast in the Yuan Lue Lao Restaurant until
departure from the hotel at 10.00.
leaving the Baan Boran Hotel we returned to the pier in Chiang Saen and
departed at 11.00 to Ban Houay Xai in Bo Keo Province of Laos.
12.00 we reached Ban Houay Xai opposite the Thai town of Chiang Khong and needed just 60 minutes for our
second entry into Laos.
16.00 we reached the crowded river port of Pakbeng,
kilometers from Chiang Saen.
our hovercraft after today’s four-hour cruise, we had a surprise
welcome by a
group of attractive Lao girls, who were smiling and giving out flowers.
cordially invited to the Diethelm-owned Villa Salikha to drink Beer Lao
“Lao Lao”, the local rice liquor, in the company of the nai
amphoe and other
officials from the small district town.
17.00 we checked in at the “Luang Say” Lodge, managed by
Hossain. He had arranged a traditional “baci” ceremony at
18.30 to welcome the
members of the Expedition Mekong before the Lao style dinner with
meat, papaya salad and sticky rice.
6th Wednesday. Today’s journey will be
only 160 km., so we had enough time in the morning to go out to meet
school children in their neat uniforms on the way to the local market,
marveled at grilled bamboo rats and frogs, offered as food to the
travelers. It was good to arrange an American breakfast in the hotel
departure at 9.00.
9.15 we continued down the river towards Luang Prabang, the former
and the next destination of our itinerary in Laos.
10.45 we arrived on a huge sandbank, towered above by a big Black Hmong
named Khok Ek on the right side of the river, where we were quickly
by curious children and elderly people in their traditional costumes.
14.30 we crossed the Mekong River to the caves of Pak Ou, which are
within a steep limestone rock-cliff, rising vertically from the waters
of the Mekong at the point where it
meets with the Nam Ou River,
30 km. north of Luang Prabang.
15.30, we left the caves, went back to the hovercraft and proceeded to
Prabang. At 16.00 we reached the confluence of the Nam
Khan and landed at the nearby
pier of Wat Xieng Thong, ending a four-hour cruise.
Wat Xieng Thong we attended a welcome ceremony, arranged by Madame
Bodhisane, managing director of Diethelm Travel Laos, in front of the
ordination hall of the temple with its multi-tiered roof sweeping
almost to the ground. Some very colorfully dressed dancers gave a
with scenes from the Ramayana, an Indian epic that is more than 2000
the welcome ceremony we were transferred to the Pansea Phuvao Hotel,
French national Nicolas Pillet and room division manager Benjamin
checked in at 17.30 and two hours later sat down to enjoy a special three-course dinner.
7th Thursday. After a good night’s sleep
we spent the day exploring Luang Prabang and its environs. In the
welcomed our Chinese guest Wang Xiaogang, an ecology and culture expert
from Yunnan to join our expedition to
Ho Chi Minh
8th Friday. As we had 470 km. before
us from Luang Prabang to Vientiane,
we left our hotel at 5.00 a.m. and departed on the hovercraft at 6.00
a foggy landscape of mountains, clouds and fairies.
south from Luang Prabang, we passed Tha Deua, an important ferry point
at the Mekong to reach Sayabouri.
This still densely forested
area is the home of the elusive Mlabri, a group of people who live as
hunter-gatherers deep in the jungle. There are not more than 200 left
sides of the border, still living a prehistoric life-style.
10.00 the mountains became lower and lower. We had reached Vientiane Province
on the left side of the river. An hour later, we arrived in Pak Lai to
15.00 we passed the Lao custom station of Ban Vang.
at 17.00 we reached the industrial port of Vientiane,
south of the town. We were altogether ten hours on the river.
the transfer to the first international four-star hotel in the capital,
Novotel, general manager Bernado Godinez gave us a heartly welcome.
met another passenger, Chinese Humphrey Wou, who lives in America.
9th Saturday. At 6.00, there was our
morning call to have a buffet breakfast in the coffee shop and to leave
hotel at 7.00. At 7.45 we left the port of Vientiane.
16.45 we finally arrived at Thakhek in Khammouan Province of Laos, near
of characteristic limestone hills just across from the Thai provincial
town of Nakhon Phanom. After getting our passports stamped, we were
invited by the chief of the office of the local tourism authority to
“baci” ceremony for leaving the country.
crossed the river to the Thai immigration officers, who had waited for
18.00. For today’s 370 km. we needed nine hours with the
hovercraft. We had a
minibus transfer to the Nakhon Phanom River View Hotel, where we met
invited travel writer from Bangkok,
Davies, representing Travel Weekly in Singapore,
who intended to go with us to Cambodia.
It will be a long day again. That was the first thought that came up
when we left the hotel after breakfast at 7.30. Our destination was
at the confluence of the Mun River with the Mekong in Ubon Ratchathani Province,
300 km. away.
Despite the Mekong River forming the border between Laos and Thailand,
for today’s entire journey we technically remained in Thailand.
8.15 we left the port to pass Wat Phra That Sikhotabong on the Lao side
11.00 we passed the dangerous rapids of Kaeng Ka Bao, just before the
provincial town of Mukdahan opposite
town of Savannakhet, which is the
in the south of Laos.
passing the rapids of Kaeng Tang Lang in Amnat Charoen
Khemarat in Ubon Ratchathani, where we refueled, at 13.00
13.45 we left the pier in Khemarat and passed a series of rapids and
expanses of sandstone rocks in the river.
17.00 we reached Pha
Taem National Park. Pha Taem is a
high cliff overlooking the Mekong
valley down below.
of the passengers left the hovercraft at a small sandbank and hurried
waiting minibus to reach Tohsang Resort in Khong Chiam. Dr.
Brimble’s wife and
son had to rent a pickup car to reach the airport in Ubon Ratchathani
back to Bangkok
on the same evening. Armin Schoch and the crew continued in the
the hotel pier in the dark.
As some of the passengers wanted to see the prehistoric rock
paintings, we arranged breakfast at 6.00 at the Terrace Bar surrounded
lush garden decorated with Khmer-style sculptures.
With our passport stamped in at the land border of Chong Mek, with the
Miss Phuvieng, the local Diethelm guide from Laos,
we crossed into Laos
for the third time.
11.00 we reached Champasak on the western bank of the Mekong, an
kingdom since the beginning of the 18th century, alongside Vientiane and
12.30 we had lunch in the hotel restaurant of Sala Wat Phu, where we
Peter Wennberg from the newsmagazine “Good Morning Chiang
Mai”. He came with us
to photograph the hovercraft transfer operation at the Khone Falls.
16.15 we reached Ban Hat on the east bank of the river opposite the island of Don Khong. At
this most southwestern tip of Laos
along the Cambodian border, the Mekong
reaches its maximum breadth of 8 km. at the end of
the rainy season.
immediately started to lift out the heavy hovercraft with the help of a
brought in from Bangkok.
The operation lasted more than two hours because the hovercraft slipped
pier several times and had to be drawn by ropes to the crane to be
the waiting flatbed trailer, to the cheers of many spectators.
18.30 we boarded the tour bus and took the ferryboat to Don Khong to
at the Villa Muang Khong Hotel. There we had a local dinner and feasted
At 7.30 we had our breakfast and started our
sightseeing trip in Si Phan Don.
in the bus, we left the hotel at 8.00 to cross the Mekong
by ferryboat again. On the other side, the trailer with the hovercraft
left Ban Hat back to Highway 13, heading south to Veun Kham, 30
the Cambodian border.
trailer with the hovercraft followed a specially widened side road some
km. back to the Mekong and arrived in
Kham, where a new ramp was hacked into the riverbank underneath some
overhanging stilt houses.
the operation to put the hovercraft back on the river was underway, the
passengers were spirited away by the tour director to unlock another
wonder of the Mekong. From
10.30-11.30, we watched
the rare fresh water Irrawaddy
an hour of dolphin watching, under the protective eyes of the Cambodian
police, we returned to Veun Kham to find the hovercraft sliding back
This morning we had breakfast at 5.30. At 6.00 we
took the ferryboat across the river to Ban Hat and drove to Ban Veun
reach our waiting hovercraft. After getting our passports stamped out
crossed over to the Cambodian border post of Dong Crolor at 7.30.
than a handful of immigration officials headed by the chief of the
office in Phnom Penh, boarded the boat
inspect our passports and let us pass quickly at the unofficial
border crossing point between Laos
Because of the efficient work
of the Cambodian
immigration officials, we reached Stung Treng on the river mouth of the
into the Mekong at 9.00. A local
speaking guide of Diethelm Travel Cambodia and two pilots
us. In addition, the head of the Phnom Penh immigration office
returned with us on a journey
which is 410 km. long and will last more than ten hours.
11.30 we passed the dangerous Sambor Rapids, where also some Irrawaddy
dolphins abound. At 12.00, we landed at the port of Kratie. After refueling the hovercraft, we got a new
passenger, Mr. Sok Sokun from the Ministry of Tourism, who accompanied
us to Phnom Penh.
16.00, we arrived in Kampong Cham. The town is an important
with some interesting colonial buildings and a very big marketplace.
last hour on the river was in the dark. We finally arrived in Phnom Penh at
19.15. We were all very tired
but happy when we were transferred to the Royal Phnom Penh Hotel and
dinner prepared in the Bassac Restaurant. By 22.00, most of the
asleep and only a few had the energy to go out to the riverside to
delights of the local nightlife.
At 5.30 there was the morning call. Today’s itinerary was most
interesting. We had to follow the Tonle Sap
River for at
least 250 km. upwards to
reach Angkor, the jewel in the crown of Cambodia’s historical
and the font of enormous spiritual energy.
had breakfast at 6.00 and headed down the to the riverside. We departed
to embark on a river journey from Phnom Penh
Siem Reap in the northwestern part of Cambodia. We welcomed the
son of Armin Schoch on board and also Charlotte McDonald-Gibson, a
from the local Phnom Penh Post.
Tonle Sap Basin
is notable for its great lake at its upper reaches, where the port of Siem Reap
is located. The Tonle Sap River is a vital natural regulator of the
and plays a crucial role in water regulation. An interesting phenomenon
during the rainy season from July to October in that the Mekong River
carries so much floodwater that
it feeds into the Tonle
causing it to
reverse its course and flow upwards. As a result, the river becomes a
large fresh water lake that increases from 2,500 to more than 10,000
and doubles its depth.
14.15, after seven hours on the hovercraft, we reached the port of Siem Reap
at the foot of Phnom Krom, where a whole delegation of the local
17.00 we explored Angkor Wat, where we had a fine sunset to see the
carvings with amazing battle scenes and 1850 “apsara”
dancers. By any
standards, this was the cultural highlight of our Expedition Mekong.
was really tired after our Western dinner at the newly established
Correspondence Club in Siem Reap, which we left at 21.00 to go back to
We spent most of the day sightseeing around Siem
Reap and its environs.
15.00 we checked out from the Sofitel Royal Angkor Hotel and headed to
airport, where we took off with Siem Reap Airways at 17.00 to arrive in
Three of our group departed:
Humphrey Wou, Paul Davies
and Peter Wennberg. Also, the skeleton crew of the hovercraft had gone
back to Phnom Penh
alone on the
river with the Phnom Penh Post reporter. There was the daily rush hour
downpour in Phnom Penh,
so that we reached the Royal Phnom Penh Hotel at 19.00.
Today’s cruise from Phnom
Penh to Can Tho in the Mekong Delta will be some
km. We had our buffet breakfast at 7.00 and departed the Royal Phnom
at 7.30 to go back to the port. We left the port at 8.00
Phnom Penh the Bassac River
the main arm of the Mekong
which is called the Tien Giang by the Vietnamese. It is here that the
Mekong Delta begins, a triangular area that is by far the most densely
populated part of the basin, supporting some 15 million people on about
km. of recent alluvium.
11.00 we arrived at the river border of Khaorm Samnor Kaoh Roka. We had
45 minutes to pass immigration, customs and health quarantine services
continue by boat to the Vietnamese immigration checkpoint of Song Tien.
we met Nguyen Van Cu, our Diethelm guide from Hanoi, and a special pilot team to
to Can Tho.
12.45 we departed into the heart of the Mekong Delta. The present
rivers and canals in the Mekong Delta totals more than 10,000 km. of
15.15 we reached Long Xuyen at the Hau Giang
The town is an important industrial center and a very busy ferry point.
16.45 we reached the industrial port of Can Tho,
cruise of seven hours. The provincial centre, containing a huge statue
Chi Minh, is the de facto capital of the Mekong Delta and an important
university town. After waiting a while for refueling the hovercraft and
transport to the Victoria
at 17.30, we
decided to go by hovercraft to reach our hotel, where the general
the hotel, Ivan Casadevall, and the very friendly hotel staff awaited
checked in shortly after sunset and had a dinner reception at 19.30.
flowed freely but with the last emotional stretch of the journey before
made it to bed long before midnight.
As there was some uncertainty as to which way in the Mekong Delta the
pilots would bring us to our final destination of Ho Chi Minh City, we had breakfast at
and left the pier of the hotel at 7.30. We followed the Mang Thit
in a northeast direction back to the Tien Giang and passed the morning
of Tra On in Vinh
9.15 we arrived in Mang Thit, from where we crossed over from Vinh Long
Province to Ben Tre
and reached the port
of Cai Mon. At
came to Cho Lach. Near this market town there was heavy traffic ahead
river with convoys of boats laden with wood and sugar cane. We came
back to the Tien
at 10.15. The river here is wide and stormy like the sea. Back on the
broad Tien Giang River
we still needed one more hour to reach the
river port of My Tho in Tien
just 60 km. southwest of Ho
Chi Minh City.
11.30 and 40 km. before reaching the South China Sea, we turned into
the small Cho
Gao Canal leading to Long An
13.00 we reached the Can
which we had to follow to reach Rach Cat. At 14.00 we passed the
estate and ferry point of Nha Be. We had to change our pilot again to
passage and to reach the confluence with the Saigon River,
where ocean-going ships appeared. The Saigon
actually not part of the Mekong
but belongs to the Dong Nai River Basin,
having its sources in the Central
At 14.30, we could already
recognize the silhouette Ho Chi Minh City
finally arrived in Saigon
at 15.00, after a
steady cruise of seven and half hours.
the pier, some female staff members from Diethelm Travel Vietnam
waiting with a big welcome banner. At 16.00 we were transferred by bus
Sofitel Plaza Saigon Hotel, where Jacques Serpollier, general manager,
Bertrand Coutois, executive assistant manager in charge of rooms, gave
speedy check in.
19.00 we had our farewell dinner and continued downtown into the night.
made it home early in the morning.
After 15 days covering almost 3,000 km. through six countries, the
official end of Expedition Mekong has arrived. Everyone used the free
to feast on the international buffet breakfast of Café Rivoli.
we had to do now was to return the hovercraft to Yunnan. All the responsibilities
over to the tour director. The skeleton crew for the hovercraft went to
Palace Hotel to await the return departure day on Nov 21st.
final departure of the members of the expedition arrived in the
19.00 we said farewell before the departure by plane back to Bangkok and
beyond. The tour director stayed
behind and will bring back the hovercraft to China
after a rest of some days.
a cerebrally stimulating question and answer session, the meeting
the Alliance Cafeteria where members of the audience plied Reinhard
and snacks as they engaged him in more informal discussions.