The best Mekong river cruises to book now
By Claire Benktander | 9 Aug 2022
From ancient cities and fishing villages to historic temples and floating markets, the treasures of the Mekong are just waiting to be discovered after a two-year hiatus following the pandemic. These are the best Mekong river cruises to book now for 2022, 2023 and 2024.
The best Mekong river cruises to book now
Magnificent Mekong with Viking
Purpose-built for the Mekong River, the new Viking Saigon will host 80 guests in 40 outside staterooms. Featuring the clean Scandinavian design for which Viking is known, all staterooms will have hotel-style beds and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors with a Veranda or French Balcony.
Guests on the three-deck Viking Saigon will also enjoy a spa and fitness centre, infinity pool and open-air Sky Bar on the Upper Deck. Discover it all with Viking’s Magnificent Mekong cruise as you shop Old Hanoi’s markets, see the Khmer temple complex of Angkor Wat and explore Phnom Penh by cyclo rickshaw as you float along the Mekong, discovering silk towns, fishing villages, monasteries and floating markets.
Viking’s Magnificent Mekong seven-day cruise on board Viking Saigon departs most months in 2022, 2023 and 2024 from £6,195pp. Find out more at vikingrivercruises.co.uk.
CroisiEurope’s Mekong cruises
Following two years of interruption, CroisiEurope resumed operations on the Mekong on 7th August 2022, the first river cruise operator to do so. The nine-day cruises between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap take guests to the temples of Angkor and the floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake, as well as introducing them to the colonial charm of Phnom Penh and cruising along the Cho Gao Canal.
CroisiEurope’s five ships on the Mekong are all small and intimate, each with their own individual charm and style, with each ship offering a panoramic restaurant serving delicious Asian and international dishes, an air-conditioned lounge, sun deck, spacious cabins and a massage area.
CroisiEurope’s nine-day cruises between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap call in Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Tralach, Koh Chen, Phnom Penh, Chau Doc, Sa Dec, Vinh Long, Cai Be and My Tho, with two optional land add-ons also offered, from £1,813pp. Find out more at croisieurope.co.uk.
Vietnam and Cambodia Highlights with APT
Experience the Mekong with seven nights aboard APT’s luxury river ship, Mekong Serenity. Enjoy unique cultural experiences in up to 12 towns, villages and cities alongside luxury dining and expert local guides. You’ll enjoy everything from special sunrise experiences at Angkor Wat to experiencing a traditional Buddhist blessing ceremony at a monastery in Oudong.
On your luxury river cruise aboard the Mekong Serenity, you’ll enjoy luxury onboard service including two garments laundered per day per person, complimentary wi-fi, a private balcony and special five-course menus.
APT’s Mekong seven-day cruises on board Mekong Serenity depart monthly in 2023 from £4,695. Find out more at aptouring.co.uk.
Luxury Mekong & Temple Discovery Cruise with Scenic
Explore the Mekong in truly all-inclusive luxury with Scenic on board the four-star Scenic Spirit and explore one of the most biologically diverse rivers in the world as you discover the lively floating markets of Cai Be, learn about Vietnam’s French-infused past and observe rural river life along the Tonle River.
Then it’s on to Siem Reap’s magnificent temples and the communication routes of Angkor as you witness the daily interactions of local residents and admire the kaleidoscope of colour as you pass by on the luxury Scenic Spirit.
Scenic’s 14-day cruise on board Scenic Spirit departs between October and May in 2022, 2023 and 2024, from £5,075pp. Find out more at scenic.co.uk.
Majestic Mekong with Emerald Cruises
Natural spectacles and warm locals await in Southeast Asia as you enjoy a showcase of Vietnam, Cambodia and the majestic Mekong River with one of Emerald‘s three itineraries, combing seven nights cruising on board the Emerald Harmony Star-Ship, with land touring days in some of the region’s most spectacular destinations, staying in handpicked deluxe hotels.
The spectacular Emerald Harmony Star-Ship enjoys benefits of a small ship experience with just 84 guests and 40 crew members and is custom-built to sail through the centre of Ho Chi Minh allowing you to dock right in the heart of this fascinating city. It’s all done alongside a pool, sun loungers, a wellness area, luxurious lounges and Asian-inspired dishes in the stylish eateries.
Emerald’s 12-day cruise on board Emerald Harmony Star-Ship departs between October and May in 2022, 2023 and 2024, from £2,489pp. Find out more at emeraldcruises.co.uk.
The Heart of Cambodia and Vietnam with Avalon
Cruise along the Mekong River through Cambodia and Vietnam, from the magnificent Temples of Angkor to Vietnam’s local markets on an Avalon cruise, enjoying Vietnamese cooking classes and exploring Hanoi’s Old Quarter, as well as visiting the the Cua Van Floating Village, spectacular caves, and swimming at Ti Top Island.
Enjoy it all onboard the Avalon Saigon, designed to venture easily into areas where other cruise ships cannot, alongside classic colonial charm aesthetics. From the air-conditioned Panorama Lounge to the open-air observation lounge, you’ll find plenty of seating and inviting spots to relax alongside experience exquisite service and a laidback luxury atmosphere.
Avalon’s Heart of Cambodia and Vietnam on board Avalon Saigon departs monthly between October and August 2022, 2023 and 2023, from £6,290pp. Find out more at avalonwaterways.co.uk.
Aqua Mekong cruise with Aqua Expeditions
Embark on a cultural odyssey through Cambodia and Vietnam aboard one of Asia’s finest river cruise ships in Asia. as you charter a luxurious passage across Cambodia and Vietnam and enjoy gourmet dining experiences crafted by Michelin-starred consulting chef David Thompson.
Enjoy indoor and outdoor bars, an outdoor cinema under the stars, observation deck with outdoor sunbeds, an outdoor top deck plunge pool with private cabanas and two spa treatment rooms alongside off-shore excursions on personalised day trips to explore the Mekong delta, from landmarks and temples to historic villages.
Aqua Expeditions’s seven-night Aqua Mekong cruise departs monthly between August and April 2022, 2023 and 2024, from $9,870pp. Find out more at aquaexpeditions.com.
Classic Mekong cruise with Pandaw
This luxury small ship river cruise company specialises in Asian itineraries and expedition curies, so you know you’ll be getting the very best of south east Asia’s cultures and delights on both the Mekong and Tonle rivers.
This seven-night cruise begins in either Saigon or Siem Reap, allowing you to discover Phnom Penh by cyclo and book an extension and set sail to explore the awe-inspiring monuments of Angkor alongside authentic dining and much more.
Pandaw’s Classic Mekong seven-night cruise departs October to March 2022, 2023 and 2024, on board RV Bassac Pandaw or RV Mekong Pandaw, from US$3,053.49 per person. Find out more at pandaw.com.
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Mekong River cruise review with Scenic
Julie Peasgood and her husband Patrick embark on an unforgettable cruise-and-stay adventure in Vietnam and Cambodia with Scenic.
“Have I got tarantula in my teeth?”. This is not a question I have ever had to ask before. It’s true that I do have a lot of teeth and harbour a constant fear of food being trapped in them, but this is one type of protein that’s new to me. Also rich in zinc and folic acid, the deep-fried tarantula turns out to be far worse in appearance than in taste, which is curiously smoky and not unlike crunchy chicken.
Historically Cambodians have hunted spiders as an ingredient for traditional medicine, but in the 70s the brutal regime of the sinister Khmer Rouge left much of the population starving, so people were forced to seek them out for food. Now considered a delicacy in Cambodia, we are served them in Phnom Penh’s Romdeng restaurant, an excellent training centre for marginalised youth.
Just one of the initiatives that Scenic support, we learn that the local Cambodian diet also favours mice, ants and crickets, but thankfully these don’t feature on the menu. We spy them, though, in the huge Central Market, where we are transported by tuk-tuk after a city tour of the capital’s graceful colonial buildings. But I’ve had my fill of insects, and am far more interested in the miniature silk kimono I buy for my granddaughter for a few dollars, the kaleidoscope of jewel-bright coconut bowls gracing every stall and the hundreds of distinctive Khmer scarves available in every colour under the sun.
The Treasures of the Mekong itinerary is an adventure from start to finish: an enchanting cruise along the mystical Mekong River, flanked by magnificent hotel stays in Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap. And we’re immersed in Southeast Asian culture at every opportunity: why take a city tour in a coach when you can see the sights in style from an auto rickshaw – a tuk-tuk with bells on (and pretty curtains, too, if you’re lucky).
Our 15-day journey begins in Vietnam. Vivid, crazy and unforgettable, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) boasts 13 million people and nine million scooters and motorbikes, some of which are so laden with piles of plastic crates, bedding, pots, pans and families that they look like huge motorised snails circling round the city. And tomorrow the bravest in our party can ride pillion on a vintage Vespa, experiencing a night-time tour that takes in as much as you can eat of the finest Vietnamese street food.
My husband Patrick and I did toy with this idea, but we just weren’t sure we’d have any appetite left after getting up close and personal with those other 8,999,998 bikes. Besides, we’re destined for a fine dining treat that’s a mere elevator ride away within our luxurious hotel.
Square One at Park Hyatt Saigon (the city is largely still called by its original name) has garnered an impressive collection of rave reviews, and we can now affirm that its reputation is well deserved. Service is keen yet gracious, and our soft shell crab followed by salmon cooked in a clay pot, is succulent and wonderfully aromatic. This is the first of our Scenic Free Choices, a range of carefully chosen, all-inclusive excursions and dining experiences that are tailored to individual requirements, so you can move at your own pace be that active, moderate or relaxed.
The next morning sees us very relaxed and ready to board a speedboat along the Saigon River. We zoom past hundreds of water hyacinths to reach the famed Củ Chi Tunnels, a living museum 40 miles outside Ho Chi Minh City.
Extending for more than 155 miles, this subterranean network of miniscule tunnels gives a sobering insight into the horrors of the Vietnam war, and the sheer resourcefulness and ingenuity the Vietnamese people in defending themselves. Now increased in diameter to accommodate broader Western bottoms, I crouch along one of these ‘tourist tunnels’ for about 20 metres. Although it’s 40 per cent bigger than it was, it is still claustrophobic, and my mind boggles at the feat of engineering, let alone the bravery, of the Viet Cong soldiers.
Our morning eye-opener is balanced by a more light hearted afternoon visit to Beˆ́n Thành Market, one of Saigon’s oldest and most authentic landmarks. Humid and vibrant, the labyrinth of stalls are crammed full of local arts and crafts, lacquer ware and bamboo. Much of it is tacky but it’s still great fun, plus you can practise your bargaining skills to your heart’s content (aim to pay half to two thirds of the original price that’s quoted, and then proceed to walk away if you’re not succeeding).
Day three features an excursion to the War Remnants Museum and intriguing Reunification Palace before travelling south to My˜ Tho, where we board the elegant, custom-built Scenic Spirit. Sipping our glasses of Champagne, we discover the beautifully designed pool area; the chic, airy sun deck with its open-air cinema; the well-equipped laundry room; the fitness centre and sweet-smelling spa; the cosy library and observation lounge and the masseurs in the main River Café lounge, offering 10-minute complimentary tasters to ease any accumulated shoulder tension. I also love the sophisticated Crystal Dining Room, where chef Solomon rules the roost, serving everything from the freshest oysters and the fleshiest lobsters to a daily array of delicious Asian dishes.
And then there are the cabins: 34 sparkling, state-of-the-art suites, each with a private sheltered balcony. The Royal Panorama suites also sport baths and a private Jacuzzi, but even the basic Deluxe suites are without doubt the largest I have ever seen on a river cruise ship.
They are thoughtfully designed too, with numerous secret storage areas and substantial wooden doors to separate the bedroom from the lounge, meaning I can write or bask by the balcony while Patrick reads or watches the large TV (complete with an excellent selection of films).
Best of all are the beds: with hydraulic controls they are wonderfully comfortable, and the ‘pillow menu’ has me in raptures. I opt for the age-defying pillow, with its 100 per cent cotton cover treated with Vitamin E to keep my skin moisturised whilst I sleep. Bliss.
Scenic Spirit has an almost one-to-one staff-to-guest ratio, and then there is our personal butler, who brings us morning tea or whatever we fancy. The company advise that you won’t need your wallet on board as everything is included, all excursions, drinks and gratuities, and other than specialised spa treatments and souvenirs from the tiny shop. This is indeed the case.
Champagne is also available – by the glass or bottle – at any hour of the day, but even I couldn’t cope with bubbles at 8am. Besides which the aromatic detox shots, which appear every morning, are energising me and doing a power of good.
Energy is a prerequisite on our cruise, as Scenic fill each day with a variety of enticing trips and we’re keen to sample as many as we can. Highlights in Vietnam include a sampan cruise past one of the Mekong’s floating markets; enjoying home-made sweets at a coconut candy workshop in Cái Bè; taking tea in the tranquil 19th century home of French novelist Marguerite Duras in Sa Đéc; travelling to visit a tiny silk factory on saluks (tricycles) and meeting a native family in their home on Tân Châu’s verdant Evergreen Island. We’re also treated to an early evening Vietnamese lion dance on the sun deck; a spectacular sight with the sun slipping gradually below the horizon.
In Cambodia there are more fascinating experiences in store: the Royal Palace with its renowned Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh and a thrilling city tuk-tuk tour at night. The chance to enjoy high tea and cocktails at Raffles Hotel; the outstanding Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom where huge tree roots embrace and envelop the ancient stones, and the bleak Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, originally the barbaric torture headquarters of the Khmer Rouge regime, where everyone is shocked and silenced by the atrocities committed here.
Of all our many excursions, our favourites are Scenic Enrich experiences: once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to delve into local history and culture to discover hidden gems – usually not possible without an expert guide.
My favourite begins when we see our transport assembling on the river bank; each pair of oxen pulling their ancient wooden cart is almost biblical, and we begin our journey to Wat Kampong Tralach with a magical ride in an ox-cart.
We pass fields of lotus flowers, their heads waving gently in the early morning sunshine and a tiny township with what appears to be early morning wedding celebrations. Our trip culminates in a Buddhist monk’s blessing in Oudong Temple where I am showered with jasmine flowers. I am in seventh heaven.
Patrick’s favourite Scenic Enrich moment takes place a couple of days later in Siem Reap, when we visit the incredible Phare Cambodian Circus. The performers are young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who undergo two years of training. The show is breathtaking, polished, and jaw-droppingly good – Cambodia’s Cirque du Soleil, only quirkier.
Scenic has saved the best until last, because it’s hard to choose between the blessing, the circus, and colossal Angkor Wat; stunning at dawn when we set cameras aside to toast the sunrise with more Champagne, and even more resplendent in the evening. Visitors are not normally allowed in Angkor Wat after dark, but Scenic has special permission, so we are blessed with a concert featuring mesmeric Apsara dancers and a farewell gala dinner, in front of the candlelit temple ruins. It is an image forever stamped on my mind.
We return to the sanctuary of the distinguished Park Hyatt hotel, where I reflect on our phenomenal itinerary of the past fortnight. The Mekong may not be a pretty river – it is sludgy from silt – but it is a busy, working, life-affirming one, with a power and dignity that I feel privileged to have witnessed, and will never forget.