Mekong River cruises offer a passing panorama of temples, rural villages, big cities, rice fields, and floating markets in two countries, Vietnam and Cambodia. Some itineraries also include land forays into Laos and Thailand as well.
A Mekong voyage typically starts in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam, and stops at the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh before ending in Siem Reap, Cambodia, gateway to Angkor Wat, the 12th-century complex of stone structures that’s the world’s largest religious monument. You'll also have opportunities to view river dolphins, wats, monasteries and pagodas.
Mekong River trips vary quite a bit in scope and length. Unless you’re taking an extended trip via Thailand or Laos, a Mekong voyage typically starts in either Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) or Hanoi, Vietnam, and stops at the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh before ending in Siem Reap, Cambodia, or returning to their embarkation point in Vietnam.
Some cruises reverse the order and start and end in Siem Reap, Cambodia, best known as the gateway to Angkor Wat, the vast 12th-century religious complex of stone structures that’s the most indispensable stop on a Mekong River itinerary.
Cruises generally allow ample port time to explore Hanoi, Saigon, and Phnom Penh, where many of the sights – typically seen via shore excursion – center around the wars and killing fields that ravaged Vietnam and Cambodia a half century ago. With most of the countries’ populations born well after the wars, however, you’re likely to encounter little anti-American feeling. On the contrary, people are generally very friendly and eager to strike up conversations.
Beyond the cities and world-class icons, though, you’ll also find long, peaceful stretches of river that reveal the everyday life of Southeast Asia. Buddhist temples and monasteries, saffron-clad monks, children splashing in the river, small boats with entire families hawking fish and trinkets, houses built on stilts…the sights are riveting. Lush vegetation lines the river in many areas, and you may spot river dolphins, monkeys, and other wildlife.
English-speaking cruise lines that ply the Mekong include Viking, Pandaw, Uniworld, Avalon, AMAWaterways, CroisiEurope, and Vantage Deluxe World Travel.