“The aim is education more than cruising,” said Mr Thong, Managing Director of Luang Prabang-based Tanva Mekong Cruise. “And not just in Luang Prabang, but throughout Laos.
Mr Thong and I sat aboard his vessel in dark silence with light coming from a lantern and Luang Prabang in the distance. The sun had set, the engines were off, and the Beer Lao was flowing as he explained his social enterprise.
Mr Thong started his career in tourism and hospitality in 2004, when he went to work at the well-known 5-star L’Elephant restaurant in the UNESCO city. He transferred to tourism in 2013, as a freelance guide working with several agents and operators.
He decided to take his experience to the next level, and on 4 September 2016, he bought a boat and established Tanva Mekong Cruise. He would use cruise tourism as a sustainable way to fund his education initiative.
The comfortable, spacious vessel opens to great views and offers excellent dining on several of its itineraries, all with English speaking guides.
Tanva offers short cruises to popular attractions, along with lunch, dinner, and sunset cocktail cruises. Groups can charter the boat as can couples who want to cruise by themselves.
Thong launched Luang Prabang-Houay Xay service in 2019, as demand for a quality two-day cruise on the traditional itinerary connecting to the Thai border with a stop at “Destination Pakbeng: A Mekong Oasis”.
Some of the cruises visit ethnic villages such as Ban Kok Kham, a Khmu community, along the way. At the villages, passengers can see the local lifestyle, pop into a classroom, and offer to help students by providing supplies such as pencils, rulers, tablets, crayons, and all the tools kids love when learning.
Even if a cruise doesn’t stop at one of the growing number of villages Tanva supports, much of the profit from all tours goes to assisting teachers, buying school uniforms, and building toilets in villages, many of which have no electricity.
I never stop looking for new schools,” Thong said. We hope to add three more in Oudomxay this year, and with our new Luang-Prabang cruise, we plan to reach more in the future.