Why Add An APT Mekong River Cruise To Your Travel Bucketlist

Fisherfolk cast their nets on a beach at the Mekong Delta in south Vietnam

3.04min read

Published 2 September 2018


Ariver cruise in Asia is the best way to experience the culture and see Cambodia and Vietnam on the Mekong River...

Flight Centre Bridgepoint Travel Expert Michele Neumann took the slow travel approach on an APT eight-day Luxury Mekong river cruise. Spending a few days in Siem Reap pre-cruise to explore the Angkor Wat temple complex and the tropical Cambodian jungle, complete with monkeys, Michele and her husband boarded the cruise in Siem Reap, heading up the Tonle Sap River to the Mekong River and ending their trip in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for an immersive experience in Indochina.


Floating houses on Tonle Sap River
Colourful floating houses are a fixture on Cambodia's Tonle Sap River.

Expectations of a river cruise in Asia

This was my first river cruise and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the Luxury Mekong river cruise highlighted the most interesting cultures and histories of any country I have previously visited.

We did worry about our age difference (my husband and I are in our late 20s to early 30s) compared to the average passenger age on board, however we met so many new friends from Canada, New Zealand, the UK and Australia. We felt very welcomed and made great lifelong friends among the other couples, solo travellers and a multi-generational family from the UK. By the end of our trip, our dinner table had grown from four to 16!

Imposing gates in Oudong, the former royal capital of Cambodia.
Imposing gates in Oudong, the former royal capital of Cambodia.

Life on board

The river cruise itself was wonderful. The onboard meals were 5-star, from the welcome dinner on the first night; a five-course dining experience in celeb chef Luke Nguyen’s signature restaurant, Indochine, to traditional Vietnamese breakfasts.

All our activities were seamlessly organised. As everything was included on our APT river cruise, the only additional experiences we paid for were massages and facials on board – bliss! It was fantastic not having to worry about paying for everything.   

We loved sitting on the balcony of our cabin with a glass of wine, watching life on the Mekong River pass by. We witnessed the most incredible sunsets and loved waving to locals fishing on their boats.

Outdoor markets in Sa Dec, Vietnam.
Outdoor markets in Sa Dec, Vietnam.

Cruising the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers

Boarding the RV AmaLotus in Siem Reap, on day two we made the incredible journey to the wetlands near Kampong Chhnang, passing floating villages on the Tonle Sap River. Later, the ship sailed to Koh Chen, a village known for its silver and copper workshops.

Cruising further down in Cambodia, I experienced one of the many highlights of my trip, being able to partake in a Buddhist blessing ceremony in Oudong, which was the former royal capital of Cambodia until the mid-19th century. Later on day three, we had another standout moment – an ox cart ride in the rural areas near the village of Kampong Tralach.

That night we arrived in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh and spent the next day sightseeing – I loved exploring the Royal Palace and seeing its grandeur. The following day we said farewell to Cambodia and crossed into Vietnam for an interesting contrast between the two countries.

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh
Gilded in gold, the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is an awe-inspiring sight. Visitors are able to enter the Throne Hall and the adjacent Silver Pagoda building.

On day six, we cruised to the untouched riverside town of Tan Chau, a thrill to explore by rickshaw – very fast and exciting! We also visited an evergreen island to witness everyday village life on the Mekong Delta.

Meandering further down the river on day seven, we came to Sa Dec, a town made famous in the novel, The Lover. Another cruise highlight occurred later in the afternoon at the port stop of Cai Be, where we learnt how rice paper is made and got hands-on wrapping coconut candy (with the opportunity to buy and eat the treats – truly delicious!).

On day eight – the final day of our river cruise – we disembarked in Ho Chi Minh City for a farewell lunch and a private driver to take us to the airport for our flight.

A river cruise in Asia is the best way to experience the culture and see Cambodia and Vietnam from the Mekong. If you were staying on the mainland, you would miss out the buzz of life along the river and meeting the locals. We enjoyed the immersive experience as well as returning to our luxury ship at the end of the day. In fact, we’re going on another river cruise in Europe later this year.

Scooters in Ho Chi Minh City
Being immersed in the throngs of buzzing Ho Chi Minh City is an exciting way to conclude your Mekong river cruise.


Tips for first-time river cruisers:

1. Make sure you enjoy the scenery from the river ship's Observation Deck. Sit back and relax, savour all of the sights.

2. Speak to the local children when you're visiting the villages, they really want to practice their English. And if you are visiting the schools, bring along little things to give to the school such as pens, colouring books, crayons, balls etc. 

3. Speak to the staff on board your river cruise. On our cruise, they came from local villages and had been employed with APT for many years. They can tell you many stories of their local lives back home, and many travel for hours once they leave the ship to return to their families. 

All images: Getty Images

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