Michael Wilson and his family traded their usual half-term in the sun for an eye-opening Mekong river cruise through Vietnam and Cambodia. Here’s why the APT luxury Mekong river cruise is one that will stay with him forever.
It’s always a challenge to find a family cruise holiday on which we all agree and October 2018 half-term was no exception. This time we were determined to find a different experience and avoid the usual beach destinations such as Barbados or Dubai, two of our frequent choices!
Mekong River Cruise with APT
The Far East was high on our wish list, but we didn’t want to do a multi-centre city stay as we felt this would just become a shopping extravaganza and certainly did not want to travel so far for a beach stay that we could easily undertake nearer to home. With this in mind, I suggested an APT tour from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Siem Reap, with a 7-night cruise along the Mekong; culture, city life and relaxation all brought together. To my surprise my wife, daughter of 21 and son of 17 were all excited at the prospect, so that was the start of what became an amazing family adventure!
The APT Journey Begins…
The journey began with a flight from Heathrow to Singapore, then onwards to Ho Chi Minh. After some 15 hours in the air, we quickly adapted to the local time and the loss of a night’s sleep faded away. Our introduction to APT staff was immediate, with us being met at the airport and sitting down for a welcome meeting and meal at our hotel. Our APT cruise director, Long, joined us here and stayed with the group right through to us leaving for home.
Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh was wonderful, vibrant and fascinating. On day one, we had a choice of two excursions; we opted for a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels from where the Viet Cong evaded the US troops, something which contributed significantly to them winning the war. I found this to be a terrific morning, being able to wander around the tunnel entrances in the jungle and go underground. In the afternoon we had some free time and decided to walk to the nearby market, which was a great introduction to the local way of life. We would go on to experience even more fascinating local shopping as the holiday unfolded. In the evening, APT arranged a group dinner at the local Luke Nguyen restaurant.
The next day APT offered a selection of tours, all of them included in our fare and with choices like walking, shopping, cooking, a home visit or a city motorbike tour. We opted for the morning motorbike tour, which was an exciting adventure on its own. In the afternoon, after two nights in Ho Chi Minh City we travelled a short distance to join our ship, the AmaLotus. It was berthed in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere but again, as we were about to find out, cruising in such an underdeveloped part of the world was far removed from my usual cruise experience.
We were met by a very friendly and enthusiastic crew, together with our local guides from APT. It became apparent that the ship was very clean, the crew exceptionally attentive, but the real jewel here was the adventure and sights we were about to see!
On Board AmaLotus
Once on board, our cruise director started with an introductory talk, something which became a regular feature. As a family used to independent travel this took a little getting used to, though a healthy demand for the front seats proved that these daily talks were popular with our fellow travellers. We were greeted with champagne when we boarded AmaLotus and from then on you could drink as much as you wanted with beverages such as local beers, standard spirits and decent wines included in the cost throughout the cruise.
Over the next six days the adventure really unfolded, starting on the first morning of our cruise with a ride in a small boat from our anchor in the middle of the Mekong to the town of Cai Be. As we sailed to the village we passed a fascinating floating market, each boat housing a whole family with their produce clearly identified by a couple of examples hung from a pole. We then had the chance to stroll around the town with our APT guide and visit a local rice factory and French gothic cathedral.
Back on board it was time for lunch as we sailed further along the Mekong to Sa Dec. The dining room was pleasant and the staff highly attentive. Food was good quality, particularly given the obvious challenges of supply in this region and we always found something to our taste throughout the voyage.
In the afternoon we again left by small boat with our guides, this time for Sa Dec where we would see a couple of local sights and visit another, even more rural, market. Here the local shoppers on their motorcycles made for a chaotic but fascinating scene, plus the choice of produce was certainly not what you would find on the UK high street. Vegetables and fruit were in abundance as you might expect, but also exotic live fish, frogs and chickens, to name but a few of the weird and wonderful items on offer.
Day two of our cruise took us to Tan Chau, a town untouched by tourism, where we travelled along small tributaries with stilt houses haphazardly leaning on each other. We disembarked to look at some small local factories followed by a rickshaw ride back to join our boat. From here the boat took us up river to what proved to be one of my highlights, Evergreen Island. Having meandered our way inland, we had the chance to jump ashore into a local farming community of just a few houses. This was a step back in time and APT had also arranged a visit to a local house where we met the owner and had a look round his home. Here, cows and people literally live together in stilted homes and it was obvious that nothing went to waste. An example of this was corn cores, which were dried and used to heat the stove. It is difficult to express in words the overwhelming experience, but I feel enriched to have been able to see this for myself before significant development reaches its shores.
Read part two here >> Mekong River Cruise with APT part two.