The mighty Mekong conjures up images of the busy thoroughfare from its delta in Vietnam to Cambodia – the route taken by most river cruises in South-East Asia. It shows off Old Saigon, the royal palace in Phnom Penn and the astounding ‘lost city’ of Angkor Wat. But there is another way to cruise the Mekong: from the Golden Triangle in Northern Thailand, through the mountain gorges and jungle of land-locked Laos, and on to its capital, Vientiane. Small, old colonial-style Sabaidee Pandaw is one of only a handful of boutique boats on the Upper Mekong, which makes every passenger feel like a true pioneer. Here are six reasons to choose a cruise aboard this boat on the Upper Mekong in Laos. Your first glimpse of Laos is from a hilltop near the Thai city of Chiang Saen, where Sabaidee Pandaw is moored. The view is of the Golden Triangle, the mountainous region where Northern Thailand meets Laos and Burma. In the distance, orange roofs of new casinos rise from the forest on the Burmese side. Small, old colonial-style Sabaidee Pandaw is one of only a handful of boutique boats on the Upper Mekong, which makes every passenger feel like a true pioneer Along the river, water buffaloes cooling in the shallows are the first clue a village is hidden behind the foliage on the banks. The next is a gaggle of children running to the boat. Your guide will introduce you to different tribal groups from the Lowlands and Highlands, including Hmong people whose roots are in China, and Khmu people, who weave bamboo baskets in shapes special to their village. A longboat will take you to the foot of limestone cliffs that contain two caves, holy sites since before Buddhism was adopted by the kings of Laos in the 16th Century. They are crammed with thousands of statues. You’ll moor by the centre of the laid-back former capital. The central avenue becomes a lively night market at dusk. They are a spectacular sight, tumbling hundreds of feet over rocks, but even more alluring is that they form a series of milky, turquoise pools, perfect for a cooling dip. Next, stroll to the nearby butterfly park, packed with 50 varieties. Sabaidee Pandaw has to moor on the outskirts, but the main sights of the modern capital can all be seen on a half-day tour. You can climb to the top of the 1950s Victory Gate, inspired by Paris’s Arc de Triomphe, for a glorious 360-degree view over the city. The golden great stupa, That Luang, is the holiest Buddhist temple in Laos.