From ancient temples to bustling cities, a cruise along the Mekong is a colourful experience.
Sailing along the Mekong, even in the height of luxury, is still a real adventure for travellers. Although the 2,700-mile river flows through six countries, most cruise lines concentrate on just Vietnam and Cambodia, where sights range from ancient temples, such as Angkor Wat, to the most bustling of modern cities, including Ho Chi Minh City.
Guests who step outside the comfort of European rivers to explore the Mekong will be rewarded with a warm welcome, lasting memories and stunning sunsets. But they will also appreciate advice on what to pack, when to travel and what to expect.
In August, CroisiEurope is adding a fifth ship to its fleet on the river, the 60-passenger Indochine II, which will sail between Siem Reap in Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The company already offers a 10-night journey on the 48-guest Indochine. CroisiEurope says it is the only operator that allows guests to board the ship and stay overnight in Ho Chi Minh City before visiting nine stops on the seven-night voyage to Angkor Wat for a two-night hotel stay in nearby Siem Reap. There, visitors can explore the temple complex and see where scenes from Tomb Raider were filmed.
Gabrielle Alam, head of UK sales for CroisiEurope, said: “The river flow can be extremely variable – unlike the controlled flow of European rivers – and so a journey along the Mekong should be treated as a bit of an adventure.”
Uniworld is raising the luxury threshold this year with the launch of the 68-passenger, all-suite Mekong Navigator. Its design is inspired by the manor houses that once lined the streets of Old Saigon during the French colonial era.
Guests can soak up sunset views from the observation lounge, eat in Le Marché Restaurant and relax in La Vie Spa, while enjoying a 15-day voyage through Vietnam and Cambodia.
Scenic has teamed up with the ultra-luxurious Eastern and Oriental Express rail service for a 19-day journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok.
During the trip, guests enjoy a seven-day cruise on Scenic Spirit from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap, an overnight stay at the Park Royal on Pickering in Singapore, two nights on the Eastern and Oriental Express from Singapore to Bangkok, and an overnight stay in the Bangkok Shangri-La. Added extras include a visit to the Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh for a spot of high tea prepared in front of guests by the hotel’s chefs.
AmaWaterways has a 16-night journey starting in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi with an overnight on a wooden junk in the beautiful Halong Bay before flying to Siem Reap for three days exploring the temples of Angkor Wat. Guests then embark on a Mekong cruise ending with a two-night stay in Ho Chi Minh City.
Jamie Loizou, sales, marketing and digital director of AmaWaterways, said: “The best time to travel on the Mekong is during the November-to-January dry season. The rainy season runs from May to October, although the rain never lasts too long and the sun is rarely too hot.
“Guests should check the consulate for the most up-to-date visa information for the countries they’re visiting. Also, depending on the passengers’ health history, doctors may recommend malaria pills or certain booster shots. Anti-diarrhoea medicine may also be advised in case guests are sensitive to certain spices or unfamiliar ingredients commonly used in Southeast Asia.”
In terms of what to pack, Loizou said: “Vietnam and Cambodia are tropical countries with hot and humid weather. Guests should bring lightweight, easy-care clothing that includes some long-sleeved items for protection from mosquitoes and sun, raingear and sturdy, comfortable walking boots. Pack a few smart, casual items to wear at welcome and farewell dinners.”
Among its range of itineraries, Wendy Wu Tours offers a 20-day cruise from Laos through Thailand to Burma and China.
Linh Farid, Southeast Asia product manager for Wendy Wu Tours, said: “It’s a river of great contrasts, passing through bio-diverse, rich wilderness and bustling cities such as Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City, so it’s always recommended to pack for a variety of conditions.
“Keep your camera and binoculars close at hand at all times so you can spot the wildlife along the river banks and take photos.”
Riviera Travel operates cruises from mid-October to early April on the 64-passenger Mekong Prestige II and Mekong Adventurer, which carries 60 guests.
APT works with Vietnamese-Australian celebrity chef Luke Nguyen, and guests travelling on AmaLotus can dine at his private restaurant Indochine. They can also take part in a culinary class at Nguyen’s cookery school in Ho Chi Minh City and enjoy a degustation dinner at the city’s Xu Restaurant, inspired by Nguyen, when they book a luxury river cruise to Vietnam with APT.
Asked for her tips to travellers, Angela Waite, head of sales and commercial for APT, said: “Bring sunscreen, mosquito spray and a good pair of walking shoes, along with pens, pencils, notepads and T-shirts to give to children in the remote villages of the Mekong.
“Pack a camera as every stop is an amazing photo opportunity. Finally, head up to the sundeck at sunset – the Mekong sunsets are spectacular.”
1 Look at summer departures for great deals.
2 Book early as popular ships such as Scenic’s Spirit, which has just 44 balcony suites, sell quickly.
3 Compare the value against land-based tours. A Scenic cruise includes all flights, dining, drinks, touring and tips.
4 Because of Scenic’s all-inclusive promise, agents’ commission is on a higher average sales value.
5 The exotic itineraries are a perfect route into selling more European river cruises.
Viking offers a 15-day Magnificent Mekong trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City departing on August 10 from £4,299 per person. The price includes flights, full board, drinks and 14 guided tours. vikingcruises.co.uk 0800 319 6660
Pandaw has upgraded its Classic Mekong itinerary to include the dolphins at Kratié in Cambodia. From US$1,755 per person, the seven-day cruise includes excursions, local soft drinks, beer and spirits and crew gratuities. pandaw.com 0208 326 5620
Titan Travel has teamed up with Uniworld for a 17-day Timeless Wonders of Vietnam trip for £4,949 per person. The price includes flights, seven nights in hotels, a seven-night cruise on Mekong Navigator from My Tho to Siem Reap and Titan’s VIP door-to-door service. titantravel.co.uk 0800 988 5873