Swimming in the Mekong: Surprisingly, Not That Gross

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Swimming in the Mekong.

It just sounds wrong, doesn’t it?

I hear Mekong and I think Vietnam War.  I picture Forrest Gump wading through chest-deep water in full military gear, the rain coming upwards.

Even Lonely Planet warned that the Mekong would be muddy and disgusting through December, not turning bright turquoise until early in the New Year.  Swimming in a sewer would probably be more pleasant, the book said.

Yet here I was, on a sunset cruise on Don Det, Si Phan Don, amongst a jovial bunch of Brits and Germans, sipping on Lao Lao and contemplating jumping into the glassy, green-gray river.

“I wonder if it has those deadly microscopic fish,” one of the English guys said.  “The ones that swim up inside you when you pee and then stick their spikes into you.”

“Pretty sure that’s just the Amazon,” I replied.  “No specific warnings about swimming in the Mekong, other than it’s a bit gross.”

Which was true.  It wasn’t dangerous.  It was that it could possibly be borderline unpleasant.  Why would I let that stop me?

And then it hit me.

Most people who warned me about traveling in Asia were the kind of people who wouldn’t dream of taking a trip like this themselves. So why would I let them decide what I would and wouldn’t do?

There were innocuous worries like, “How will you find tampons?” And there were more serious warnings like, “What will you do when the Khmer Rouge rises again?”  For the record, I’ve managed just fine, and Pol Pot is dead.

I wasn’t going to let these worries stop me from enjoying the trip of my dreams.  And that water looked good.

I dove into the Mekong. The guys followed suit.

The worries?  Unfounded.  Swimming in the Mekong is a blast.

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27 thoughts on “Swimming in the Mekong: Surprisingly, Not That Gross”

  1. Good to know that the “…those deadly microscopic fish…that swim up inside you when you pee…” didn’t attack. Sounds like you had a good time. Your willingness to take risks continues to inspire me.

  2. That is very adventurous on your part, but all that’s running through my head is “gross gross gross”. But glad to see that you’re coming out of it with a great experience and without any used tampons in tow! 🙂

  3. You are sooo right! The ones who usually warn against visiting a place are usually the ones who lack the adventurous spirit to do so. Good on you for diving in anyway.

  4. Love it. It just gies to show you gotta take any travel advice or opinions with a grain of salt. I mean if were up to some people we wouldn’t travel at all. What a horrible thought that is.

  5. Way to “jump right in!” My boyfriend once jumped into a river in India to cool off from the heat and I was too afraid of the sanitary conditions to join him. He had a blast swimming around while I sat in the blazing sun, watching. Afterwards, we went upriver and saw people washing clothes, bathing and one man even urinating into the river so I had a great laugh over Matt swimming in pee. All in all, no harm done, Matt had a nice swim and I had a good laugh.

    Good things happen when you throw caution to the wind!

  6. I could say, “Ew, that looks gross,” but the truth is that my sister and I used to swim in the pond in our front yard every summer. With all the fish, pond weeds and goose poop in that pond, I’m quite confident that it was probably every bit as gross as the Mekong.

  7. I *loved* swimming off Don Det (I’m guessing that’s where the tube pic is). The Mekong awes me. It’s a privilege to swim in a mighty river like that. I love that beautiful murky green-ness as you descend, water buffalo in the water with you… And, yeah, all the hygiene stuff that entails, I guess.

    Thanks for the memories. And look forward to your tube report from lovely Vang Vieng. Actually, I look forward to you in Vang Vieng a LOT!

    1. I feel the same way, Theodora! I felt privileged to be swimming there! (And I’m afraid of what I’ll get up to in Vang Vieng, especially after considering how much time I spent in party-hard Sihanoukville…)

      1. Tell me you went to the Snake Pit Bar?! We went as mother and son to the restaurant, which was fun. But I think solo female in the snakey stripper bit would have been more entertaining copy.

  8. Looks like a great adventure. There is nothing like swimming in sewer water (or something worse than it.)

    Honestly, I don’t think I can resist the temptation should I get the opportunity either. =)

  9. I think you’re becoming one of my new travel heroes! Ping pong shows to the Mekong. Damn. I heard there was marine life in there that the world has never seen. I wouldn’t have the nerve/

  10. Surprised no one has asked this already… but how / where in the Mekong did you go swimming? from the dock / inner tubes in the photos it seems like it might be a place others can go to and enjoy as well — care to share? 😉

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