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Dolphin delight: New opportunities to see the Mekong's favourite inhabitants

We have exciting news: Pandaw's special relationship with the Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) is about to get a great deal closer on the Mekong river. Our newly revised schedule for the ever-popular Classic Mekong expedition now includes the opportunity to get up close and personal with one of Southeast Asia's most elusive and charismatic river-dwellers.

This is yet another world first for Pandaw, for 21 years the unchallenged pioneers of Southeast Asian river cruising. No other Mekong cruise offers passengers the opportunity to observe these dolphins. This conservation-sensitive opportunity underlines our status as the cruise company closest to - and most in tune with - the fabulous natural history of Southeast Asia.

Confusingly named the Irawaddy dolphin after Pandaw's other great river, this rarer Mekong subpopulation of dolphins is native to the river in Cambodia and Laos. As their Latin name denotes, they differ from marine dolphins by their snub-nosed features, which makes them look a bit like torpedoes as they power through the water. Over the decades various human interventions in the Mekong – good, bad and ugly – have drastically reduced their number to less than 100 in a 118-mile stretch of the river, earning them the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)'s classification of "critically endangered".

Now these freshwater relatives of the killer whale and Australian snubfin dolphin, which have close and distant cousins in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, are closely monitored by various global and local conservation charities, with whom Pandaw's dolphin-watching activities are co-ordinated.

The Mekong Dolphins

Previously we have offered passengers the chance to observe these famously shy mammals on our Mekong Unexplored cruise, but thanks to our local knowledge, the technical capacity of our unique craft to navigate challenging passages of the Mekong, the and the hard work of our scheduling and logistics teams on the ground in Cambodia, we can now expand our offering to cover all passengers on the July-March Classic Mekong cruise.

Irrawaddy Dolphins have lived closely with the river-dependent peoples of the Mekong basin for millennia, and considerable folklore has grown up about their practical help to fishermen – supposedly herding fish into their nets – not to mention their spiritual significance as reincarnations of significant people.

Pandaw has its own special experience of the Mekong dolphins' cousins on the Irawaddy itself. Paul Strachan, the company's founder remembers the Christmas Cruise of the RV Kalaw Pandaw in 2014 where a pod of dolphins was accompanying the ship downstream when she ran aground (thankfully a rare occurrence!).

"The dolphins had been swimming alongside us for miles, and we felt that they were doing it to show us where the right channel was. When we hit a sandbank their movements seemed to be guiding us to where we were supposed to be, they were saying: ‘No, you've got it wrong, we said this is the right way.' There were lots of witnesses to this, so it's not just me imagining it, it was amazing... absolutely amazing."

All of which makes it intolerable that unethical or careless fishing practices with electric current and dynamite, pollution and other man-made crises are driving the dolphins of the Mekong to the brink of extinction. By allowing our passengers to see them in carefully controlled conditions at close quarters we at Pandaw will be doing our bit to raise their profile, and further the cause of their survival.

All in all, it's no wonder we are so thrilled at the prospect of making a near-certain sighting of the Mekong dolphins a regular part of our itinerary. For more information and booking see our itinerary page.



River Cruise itinerary for Classic Mekong

Classic Mekong

Saigon - Siem Reap

Save up to 10% and No Single Supplement on selected dates

7 nights

from US$3,358.80

River Cruise itinerary for Classic Mekong


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