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cruising the mekong delta with amawaterways
If you are a regular Passport to Adventure reader, then you know that I have a deep fascination with the Mekong River region. I love the countries, and I especially love the river itself. There is so much life on the Mekong, so much history, so much to see and to learn.
For years, I have been slowly chipping away, small sections at a time, at my dream of cruising the length of the Mekong - from China to the Delta. Two years ago we did the Laos sections, and this time, we covered Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap Cambodia. One of these days, I'll spend a year covering the entire 2500 miles!
There are numerous companies offering a variety of cruise options in the Mekong Delta; some continue on to Phnom Penh, Cambodia; and a few go all the way to Siem Reap, also in Cambodia and home to Angkor Wat.
I chose the 7 night, upstream cruise on the new AMAWATERWAYS "La Marguerite". The price was not that much higher than other companies, but the ship looked far more luxurious, and was the only one with a small swimming pool!
The cabins on AMAWATERWAYS Mekong Cruise are like a small, luxury hotel room - king sized beds, private bathrooms, a small balcony, and windows allowing you to watch life on the river from your bed!
When people ask my advice for trip planning, I always ask them "do you want a vacation, i.e. relaxation and pampering, or do you really want to travel?" Travel, by my definition, can often include challenging situations, which lead to personal growth and insight. I enjoy both vacationing and more rugged adventure travel, and usually try to combine a little of each in a trip.
The first few days of the cruise are spent meandering through the busy Mekong Delta, and across the border into Cambodia. Everywhere we went, tiny voices bellowed forth from the shadows, "hellooooo", then kids would appear... popping out from boats and stilted houses, hanging from tree limbs, emerging from the silty river, or running down the banks, just to wave and scream hello. It was the same charming greeting we remembered so fondly from 14 years ago in the Mekong Delta. How wonderful that this has not changed!
La Marguerite is not restricted to places with docks, she is able to pull up to the river bank and allow passengers to disembark for off-the-beaten-path excursions to villages, markets, "factories" and temples.
We used rickshaws, smaller boats, and motorbikes; and strolled local footpaths, to thoroughly explore, and photograph, the Mekong Delta. A bilingual cruise director was always along, allowing us to communicate with the locals, and when he was busy, a smile and sign language always did the trick.
Typically we had morning and an afternoon shore excursions, returning to the boat for lunch and maybe a nap; then again for sunset cocktails and dinner.
My favorite spot on the ship was the upper deck bar, where the staff made us excellent Vietnamese iced coffees - yes, with condensed milk (hey, we're on vacation!). These sweet, thick coffees are a perfect afternoon pick-me-up. By the end of the trip we were all addicted to the coffees, and the incredible service - we discussed just staying on the boat for the return trip to Ho Chi Minh City!
In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the Mekong splits into three channels. We traveled on the Tonle Sap, which flows into the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. During wet season (May-October), the Mekong's flooding fills the Tonle Sap lake. One million Cambodian's depend on the fish from this lake, so hopefully the dams being built by China will not too badly disrupt the intricate ecosystem that depends on the seasonal flows of the Mekong.
We spent a day seeing the sights in Phnom Penh, which gave us a very nice taste of the city, but we were glad we had planned to return later in our trip and spend a few days. (See Phnom Penh pages - coming soon - for more info on the city)
Because we were traveling during the low water season (dry season), for the final leg of our journey, we had to transfer to a smaller boat that would take us across Tonle Sap. The lake grows from about 1500 square miles in dry season, to 8,000 square miles in the wet season!
Spending a week being pampered by the AMAWATERWAYS staff, and taking our time exploring the Mekong Delta, was one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips... that we will definitely do AGAIN!
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