Majestic, magical, magnificent – there’s no shortage of ways to describe the Mekong River. The third-longest in Asia, it meanders its way through some of the continent’s most culturally rich and fascinating destinations, with the lower course alone weaving through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
One way to really get into the heart of each location is on a river cruise, where you’ll be transported to some of the Mekong’s most sought-after places in nothing short of convenience and luxury. If a Mekong River cruise hasn’t made it onto your travel bucket list, here are just six reasons why it’s well worth considering.
If there’s one guarantee as you sail the Mekong, it’s that you will be treated to a plethora of intriguing landmarks. Temples and pagodas dot the landscape, each with its own story and unique history. Among the highlights is the Buddha Park in Wat Xieng, where hundreds of sculptures depict figures from Buddhist and Hindu traditions, and present plenty of photo opportunities. Also in Laos is Pha That Luang, home to a magnificent, gold-covered Buddhist monument that a giant reclining buddha calls home.
While many of these landmarks are within easy reach of the Mekong, sometimes it’s necessary to delve deeper into a destination. AmaWaterways offers pre- and post-cruise land packages that enable its guests to do just that, including a two-night stay in Siam Reap, which is perfectly positioned for exploring the Angkor Wat temple.
As with most cruise itineraries, a trip along the Mekong highlights the best of what various destinations have to offer. One day you could be immersed in the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh, then just a matter of hours later, enjoying the blissfulness of a bird sanctuary on Long Khanah Island. If variety is the key to a perfect holiday, a Mekong river cruise delivers it in droves.
Emerald Cruises showcases this in style on their Majestic Mekong sailing. Starting in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll be able to explore the rich history and culture before heading northwards to Cambodia to conclude your journey in the capital Phnom Penh. Not only will you experience well-known ports such as these cosmopolitan cities, but also hidden gems such as Se Dec that make this itinerary worthy of any intrepid traveller’s wish list.
One of the best ways to get to the heart of a destination is through its cuisine, and few rivers on earth travel through such incredible foodie hotspots as the Mekong. From steaming bowls of Vietnamese pho to some of the freshest fish that will ever pass your lips, this journey is guaranteed to evoke a gastronomic awakening. Street vendors serve some of the most authentic food and, with a guide by your side, there’s every chance you will sample some of the best dishes that have ever passed your lips.
Scenic invites guests to enjoy a selection of included tours that focus on Asian cuisine, including the opportunity to sample Hanoi’s hidden food haunts after dark, with a vintage Vespa providing the transportation. Angkor Temple is also likely to be a highlight of the voyage, and what better way to experience it than by enjoying an exclusive gala dinner and champagne breakfast? These once-in-a-lifetime experiences will not only deliver amazing food, but the most incredible memories that will stay with you forever.
The Mekong has provided the backdrop to some of the most notable events throughout history. From the legacy of the Khmer Empire to the Killing Fields of Khmer rouge, this river has plenty of fascinating tales to tell. Many of these are immortalised in museums throughout Vietnam, Cambodia and suchlike, but stories from relatively recent history are much easier to re-tell.
One of the most notable is that of the Cu Chi Tunnels, constructed during the Vietnam War to house hospitals and sleeping quarters, and guard precious supplies. Spanning 124 miles, the tunnels are a reminder of the hardship faced just a handful of years ago. Riviera Travel is among the river cruise lines transporting their passengers to this remarkable feat of engineering, which really needs to be seen to be believed. You will get a glimpse of what life was like during these terrible times on this sobering visit.
One image is synonymous with the Mekong River, and that’s the floating markets. This has been a way of life for the region for the past century, where locals buy and sell produce grown nearby. One of the largest is Cai Rang Floating Market, where hundreds of boats gather to sell their wares. Some of the smaller boats are, in fact, mobile cafes where you can grab a quick drink or snack and some will even provide a Vietnamese breakfast if you need some morning sustenance.
The closest floating market to Ho Chi Minh City is Cái Bè, which features on a shore excursion by Viking River Cruises. After boarding a local sampan, you will be transported to the market where you’ll find yourself surrounded by stalls and engaged in an authentic way of life. Leaving the bustle of the market behind, you’ll then visit the sleepy village close by where you’ll attend a honey tea-making demonstration and sample local speciality products.
Seeing a country’s culture and traditions first-hand is one of travel’s greatest virtues. On a Mekong river cruise, you will be introduced to local life in a way like no other, delivered by those who know it best. From the clickety-clack of rickshaws to the serenity of ultra-efficient water transportation, you may find these shores a world away from what we’re used to – but that’s what makes the Mekong such a fascinating holiday destination.
APT offers its guests complimentary Insider Experiences, which bring you even closer to the places you’re visiting. Among the standout moments of this itinerary is a Buddhist blessing ceremony in Oudong, as well as the chance to watch a traditional Apsara dance performance. These experiences really help you get under the skin of a destination, and provide unique encounters you won’t get anywhere else.
Michael Wilson’s Mekong River Cruise Highlights
In 2018 Bolsover Cruise Club’s Managing Director Michael Wilson and his family sailed along the Mekong aboard APT’s ship AmaLotus.
The APT Mekong river cruise was such an amazing adventure. There isn’t a better way to immerse yourself into these unique countries, the local guides offer the most amazing insight and share with you their personal stories. The cruise visits such great cities and sights including the Wonder of the World Angkor Wat. A real highlight of our trip was a visit to a local school in Cambodia where we had the opportunity to help teach the children English.
Read about Michaels experience here >