5 Reasons to Sail the Mekong with Avalon
Posted on 11/09/2017
Size matters, and when you sail to an exotic place like Cambodia or Vietnam, the smaller the group the better experience as you go ashore to meet people in small villages and learn about daily lives and culture.
Avalon Waterways launched its Avalon Siem Reap river ship in 2015, and the vessel is specially designed to provide intimate and luxurious accommodations as you take a journey down the magical Mekong
The ship features just 18 suites, which means a maximum of 36 passengers onboard. This means you sail with an intimate group of like-minded curious travelers who quickly become family.
This makes for a pleasant journey of discovery. While the ship size makes this journey attractive, I also found five other reasons to cruise with Avalon Waterways on this adventurous itinerary while discovering two of the most interesting countries in Southeast Asia.
Terrific Tour Guides
Avalon Siem Reap’s cruise director (Vietnam's Ho Huu Phiem on our trip) oversees every aspect of the voyage. We were led by one guide in Cambodia, and then our Vietnamese guide tagged in for his turn when we reached that country.
These people have a true passion for their countries, and their energy and enthusiasm is contagious. They had us smiling and laughing daily as they imaginatively wove tales about the history of their nations and told us about their own lives.
Space to Stretch Out
The ship offers an observation area at the bow and a large lounge where a bar is located. This is the hub of the ship’s activities. People gather for chatting, reading and relaxing over cocktails.
The staterooms are spacious (at 245 square feet) and have the highest ceilings we’ve ever seen on a river ship, with the beds facing floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall windows that slide open for blissful views of the river and countryside. Cabin bathrooms are large, with room enough for two people in the showers.
Flavors to Savor
Cambodian and Vietnamese cuisine is more than just noodles and pho. (OK, it’s a lot of noodles and pho.) It’s also delicious fresh seafood, unique fruits and spicy soups.
The chefs on Avalon Siem Reap deliver the flavors of the region at breakfast, lunch and dinner—with fish amok, seasoned oxtail soups, rice breads, sautéed veggies and coconut-infused desserts.
However, they also offer a lot of choices to please a Westerner's palate, with daily chicken and pasta options. The portion sizes are just right, and the menu always has healthy options.
You’re on the move daily, with lots to see. The temples in Siem Reap are legendary, and we visited Angkor Wat and Ta Prom, as well as Bayon Temple. Elsewhere in Cambodia, we received a water blessing from Buddhist monks at the seventh-century temple village of Wat Hanchey and helped school kids with English lessons in the farming village of Angkor Ban. We then went to a group dinner and saw a traditional Apsara dance performance.
We also danced a lot during an onboard show put on by energetic children from an orphanage in Phnom Penh, and then again with the crew during a special end-of-cruise party. We also learned about the tragic period under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge during a day at the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum.
Onboard, we enjoyed our happy hours, movie time and mingling with our new friends.
Other excursions went to small villages in Vietnam, where we sampled cobra-infused snake wine, coconut candy, saw how sampan wooden boats are made and visited a town where the primary industry is weaving. (The family of scarf makers we met made quite a few sales to our group.) In Ho Chi Minh City, tours took us to the War Remnants Museum and the Viet Cong tunnels at Cu Chi.
Pre- and Post-Cruise Hotels
Our seven-day cruise started in Siem Reap and ended in Ho Chi Minh City. The accommodations at each end of the trip were in luxury hotels, with included breakfast buffets, luxurious pools and full fitness centers.
The hotels put us in the heart of the cities so we could easily explore on our own during the free time between the land-based portion of our 13-day adventure.
Avalon Waterways has mastered travel along the Mekong River, and if you aim to cruise in comfort with all the details covered—and have a great time, too—this is the line to check out for a bucket-lister.
PHOTO: Avalon Siem Reap river cruise ship. (photo courtesy of Globus family of brands)