James explores the Mekong

James explores the Mekong

James explores the Mekong

This was a great cultural experience. From walking tours through small villages to seeing some of Vietnam’s oldest churches, there is something for everyone to experience.

I was recently part of a group of eight agents who travelled with guests on a river cruise from Saigon to Siem Reap. All the agents met at the Reverie Hotel on the morning of departure and we joined the guests who had already done their Saigon pre-cruise stay. The drive from the Reverie Hotel to the dock where the Avalon ship disembarks is approximately 15 minutes. This is ideal because most other cruise companies’ docks are at least an hour’s drive out of Saigon. It was great to be able to sail straight out of the city.

We cruised on the Avalon Siem Reap, which is a small boutique ship with only 18 cabins on 2 floors, and a mere capacity of 36 people. The ship was built in 2014 and everything is still in excellent condition. The cabins are well appointed with decent size bathrooms, and the cabins are 30% larger than its competitors. The ship has a colonial feel with nice décor and sliding windows which opens up onto a French Balcony. The cabins are all the same size, but there is a small surcharge if you book a cabin on the upper deck.  The outside space is great - you can sit back, relax and watch the life on the river. If you are feeling a bit more energetic, then there is a small gym onboard.

In the mornings you can enjoy a buffet breakfast, in the afternoons a buffet lunch, and in the evenings, they serve an À la carte dinner. The meals are inspired by both local and international flavours with preparations made to anyone’s dietary requirements. Included in your drinks package is complimentary tea, coffee, soft drinks, local beer and spirits throughout the day. Beer and wine will be served with lunch and dinner.

There is a wide variety of shore excursions available during the day which are included. Highlights include a scenic cruise to Vinh Long where you can take part in a workshop to see how rice paper, rice wine and traditional candies are made. Another great highlight is the visit to Wat Hanchey, a temple dating back to the 8th century. Getting on and off the deck for shore excursions will be dependent on which dock you embark at. Being a smaller vessel, the ship can dock against the bank of the river. This means that you will spend a lot less time on coaches and more time enjoying your excursions. There are only two decks and no lifts, so this is something to keep in mind when you book this cruise.

There were local staff on the ship, and they did an amazing job in remembering everyone’s names and drink orders.  There is a tour director from start to finish and a local guide in each country. There was one Vietnamese guide that led all our shore excursions in Vietnam and only when we crossed the border did we have a new guide in Cambodia. All the guides were very knowledgeable and spoke English.

There are only a few things that are not included in the price of the cruise and one of them is your laundry.  To have a shirt washed and ironed you can expect to pay about US$3. Tipping is also not included, but you can pre-pay for this at time of booking.

Before travelling I suggest checking how many people are booked on your cruise, because at night there is not really much to do and if there is only a handful of people the evenings can be a bit flat.  But in saying that, when the ship is full then there are many people around to enjoy each other’s company. The ship is an excellent charter for families, as you only have 18 cabins to fill. If you booked a charter then you can have themed nights on board such as movie nights, board games and karaoke.

The temperatures in the Mekong region (South-east Asia) are generally warm during the year and can fluctuate between 23°C and 32°C. Due to the tropical climate and the yearly monsoon, this region has two distinctive seasons – the wet and the dry season. The ideal time to enjoy a cruise on the Mekong is in the dry season. The dry season starts in November and continues till April. However, in saying this, the most optimum time to travel is between November and January. The reason for this is that the wet season has just passed, and the sun is not too hot.

This was a great cultural experience. From walking tours through small villages to seeing some of Vietnam’s oldest churches, there is something for everyone to experience.


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