On Monday, November 20, a river cruise option popular amongst tourists and locals on the Nam Ou River in Laos, was officially cancelled as the impact of a new dam ends an era of river cruising.
Official announcements made by local authorities have confirmed that the completion of the new hydro Nam Ou 3 Dam would terminate all cruising possibilities between the two riverside towns.
Over the weekend leading up to the closure, tour operators frantically alerted their overseas partners, informing them of the permanent suspension of the Nam Ou River cruises, between the towns of Nong Khiaw and Muang Khua.
The Nam Ou River converges with the Mekong River north of Luang Prabang, almost directly opposite the Pak Ou caves.
The distance between Luang Prabang and Nong Khiaw is 142 km by road (a travel time of 4 hours), while Muang Khua is further upstream from Nong Khiaw. Traveling by road between the two towns is a much longer proposition than by river covering a distance of 210 km, and an estimated travel time of over five hours.
It is speculated that the closure will impact tourism and businesses in both towns, with the economy in both villages likely to suffer due to the hydro dam.
Eliminating the popular Nam Ou river cruises will disappoint many tourists, as the boats provide the best way to experience the natural beauty of northern Laos from a relaxing river perspective. These trips will now be replaced by bus transports, following a road that weaves through valleys, occasionally skirting the river, but in places forced by the terrain to make wide diversions.
Navigation limitations between Nong Khiaw and Luang Prabang will also reduce other cruise options. It will disrupt trips that pass near Done Nguen on the downstream journey to Luang Prabang via the Pak Ou caves. The caves are on the banks of the Mekong River almost directly opposite the mouth of the Nam Ou.
Tour operators have been warned that this limitation would require tour groups to travel using a mix of boats, cars or buses to complete the trip.
Though cruises on the Mekong River are operating as normal, the closure of the Nam Ou cruises comes at an unfortunate time, as the country is at peak season for tourists traveling into Laos and Luang Prabang, with cruise trips on the Mekong River and Nam Ou as the most popular sightseeing options.