Taking a Mekong river cruise is one of the best ways to discover the beauty of Indochina. You’ll visit bustling cities like Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City, teeming with businesses and motorbikes. Scenes of incredible beauty and timeless glimpses of everyday life along the Mekong River will be unforgottable moments for you. Here is somethings you should know before a Mekong cruise.
Best Time for Mekong River Cruises
Although Mekong River itineraries are offered for most of the year, the optimum time to go is during the winter, from November through February; it’s cooler then (although still plenty hot) and the rainy season, which runs from July through October, has passed. But even during the rainy season, rains — while dramatic — typically last only 30 minutes or so.
Note that the cruise portion along the Mekong River and Lake Tonle Sap in Cambodia can be affected by seasonal water levels, so itinerary details are subject to change. The river reaches its highest level in September. Weird fact: The Tonle Sap River, which links the lake to the Mekong River, reverses its flow during periods of flooding. The surge of river water increases the lake’s size six-fold, and transforms it into one of the world’s most productive fisheries.
Mekong River Cruise Lines
The major river cruise lines offer a series of Mekong trips in Vietnam and Cambodia. These include AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Pandaw, Aqua Expeditions, Uniworld, Viking Cruises, CroisiEurope and Vantage Deluxe World Travel.
Mekong River Cruise Itineraries
Most Mekong river cruises come as part of long (two weeks or more) land tours, including several nights in hotels as well as overnights aboard ship, so consider the total package when choosing your cruise. (If you want the cruise-only portion, look for a seven-night trip like the one offered by Avalon Waterways). The majority of Mekong River cruise tours start and end in Vietnam, beginning in Hanoi and ending in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) or vice versa. They include a flight to Siem Reap and a sail on the Mekong, with ports in Cambodia and Vietnam.
By and large, the itineraries are quite similar, including the cities mentioned above and Phnom Penh, plus the important temples; sites like Hanoi’s Museum of Ethnology and the Killing Fields; and major markets and rural villages along the Mekong. They may vary slightly when it comes to other stops; for example, Viking River Cruises includes a visit to a local orphanage in Kampong Cham that is supported by the company, while AmaWaterways adds a stop at the English-language school in Ta Toum that they sponsor. All lines offer a chance to shop for local handicrafts (look for weaving, silver and lacquer pieces), but the exact locale of the shopping may differ.
If it is important to you to see Halong Bay (the surreal seascape of limestone pillars located in the Gulf of Tonkin), note that some lines, like AmaWaterways, include the bay in their basic itineraries, cruising aboard a traditional junk. Other lines offer Ha Long Bay as an extension to their cruise, at added cost. Bangkok is another typical extension. For most travelers, it takes several hours by air to get to Southeast Asia, so it makes sense to stay as long as you can and see as much as you can, budget and time permitting.
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