A Local Guide to The Mekong
It’s hard to envisage one person being able to provide a local guide to The Mekong. The Mekong River runs a distance of over 4,909 km from the Tibetan plateau to the Mekong Delta, where it flows into the South China Sea and the combined population of the Mekong Region is nearly 325 million, with around 60 million people living along the river.
Mason Florence, however, must be one of the few people who knows the whole Mekong. We met Mason at a restaurant in Bangkok, where he’s best known as the publisher of Bangkok 101 and the Bangkok Art Map, essential guides if you’re spending any length of time in the city. Mason has lived in Asia for 20 years and has worked as a journalist, guidebook author, photographer, and tour guide. He’s now responsible for tourism in the Mekong.
Interview — Mason Florence’s Guide to the Mekong
Q. What’s your connection to the Mekong?
A. I’ve been the executive director of Mekong Tourism since 2009. I’m the world’s only tourism chief to have responsibility for a single destination straddling six countries — China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Q. What makes the Mekong special?
A. There’s a shared history, customs and traditions, and when you understand this, you see it as one.
Q. What’s your work involve exactly?
A. My mission is to develop, market and promote the attraction uniting those countries, the enigmatic Mekong River, and the diverse lands that begin from its sandy riverbanks.
Q. The number one goal?
A. To put the Mekong on the map and motivate more travellers to do a multi-country trip when they visit South East Asia.
Q. So how’s that all going?
A. Despite the language and cultural differences, with my office’s help, the tourism bodies of the six different countries work together well, collaborating on an ongoing basis. If it was up to them, we’d already have a single currency and one visa for all six countries!
Q. What are the challenges?
A. The problems lie with public perception. People are under the misapprehension the Mekong is undeveloped and inaccessible. But the beauty of that perception is the mystique of the Mekong.
Q. Best way to get around the Mekong?
Q. Who should go?
A. The Mekong is the ultimate destination for travellers who love nature, adventure, culture, food, and people.
Q. Any secret gems or underrated spots you recommend?
A. Most of the Mekong is still undiscovered — it must be one of the few destinations in the world where you can get to places nobody else has been.
Q. In a nutshell, why should people travel to the Mekong?
A. The Mekong is about as real as travel gets — there’s nowhere else like it in the world.
If you’re planning to travel to the Mekong, also see our posts on Cruising the Mekong River to Luang Prabang on the Luang Say Boat and a Guide to Cruising the Mekong River from Thailand to Laos.