Cruises that ply the Baltic Sea, the Norwegian fjords or the waters of Southern Patagonia are still 2017’s hot vacation ticket, but now there’s a new type of cruise in town. Asia has barely put itself on the map when it comes to sailing adventures, but this is all set to change with the growing popularity of river cruises – a unique way of venturing beyond the cities of countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The best-selling route, along the Mekong or the “Mother River of Southeast Asia”, can be experienced as part of a Vietnam river cruise and here’s what you can expect if booking onto a tour through Asia’s waterways for the first time.
Your Vietnam river cruise itinerary will begin and end in Vietnam
Tour companies offering river cruises in Vietnam have very similar itineraries so you can expect to begin and end in the same country, although you’ll likely cross over into neighboring Cambodia and even Thailand at some point along the way.
River cruises begin and end in either Hanoi in the north of Vietnam or Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) in the south, neither of which are actually on the Mekong River and so coach transportation or a flight to the next destination is generally required.
Avoiding the rainy season (July through October) is recommended, although cruises are affected by the height of the Mekong, which is at its peak in September, making this also a good time to plan your adventure.
You’ll see an incredible array of historic sights and endemic flora and fauna
Part of the attraction of a Vietnam river cruise along the Mekong is the fact that this waterway is home to a large range of flora and fauna. Over 20,000 types of plants, 430 animals and 1,200 birds live along its banks and at least 1,100 fish species swim through its shallows – making it second only to the Amazon River in terms of fish biodiversity and providing a livelihood to around 60 million people in the six countries through which it passes.
But a cruise along the river in Vietnam is also a chance to see some of Asia’s most historic – and at times, saddening – monuments. In the Cambodian half of the tour, a visit to Angkor Wat, an intricately decorated 12th-century temple and one of the globe’s most important archaeological sites, is pretty much guaranteed.
The harrowing Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which documents the millions who died under the Khmer Rouge regime, in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh may also feature in your itinerary.
But you can also expect to visit plenty of temples, tiny, traditional villages and have a chance to learn more about the local people who’ll you see working and living beside the river.
The quality of the cruise – and its itinerary – can vary
Many of the itineraries for river cruises in Vietnam are similar, but there are some differences in the cities that are included, so always check on a map to ensure that your top choices of destinations to visit are part of the route.
What’s more, the quality of the service you’ll receive on board does vary. Some are all inclusive (including alcohol throughout the day), while others provide meals on board but expect you to pay more for drinks. It’s also a good idea to look at the type of accommodation each company offers within each price band, particularly with regards to what view of the passing river shore you’ll have – an important consideration for those who plan to sit back, relax and soak up the incredible scenery.