Has anybody else been watching Sue Perkins’ jaunt up the Mekong River on the BBC? It is making me incredibly nostalgic – I was only there last year but already I am talking about it like it was something I did when I had knobbly knees and milk teeth. Actually I do still have knobbly knees, that’s unfortunately a child-like trait I have managed to carry into adulthood.
Anyhow, enough about unfortunate body parts. The Mekong. The mighty Mekong. For anyone who doesn’t know much about the Mekong – allow me to fill you in. It is the longest river in Southeast Asia – and stretches all the way from the icy Tibetan Plateau to the south coast of Vietnam, meandering through Laos and Thailand and Cambodia, before finally flowing into the South China Sea.
It is actually a river that changes an enormous amount – in the very south (the Mekong Delta in Vietnam) it is very, very busy and quite industrial. Surrounded by masses of rice paddies, the Mekong splits into hundreds of canals, waterways, rivers and streams in the south of Vietnam there is quite literally, “water, water everywhere”… but yes, plenty to drink too before I get too carried away with the Coleridge analogy. Especially rice wine, if you like that.
So in Vietnam the Mekong is heaving; industry revolves around it, huge motor boats and floating tanks with deafening engines go up and down the main river ‘highways’ every day. Little ferries have to cross the river, which is up to 1km wide in places, just to connect people to surrounding villages and towns.
But as I was saying, it does change dramatically as the Mekong winds its way into Cambodia. Here you are more likely to see children on small boats paddling over to see their friends on the other side, postmen on sampans and toothless men waving from their homes on stilts on the banks. It’s a completely different atmosphere.
So, as I watch Sue Perkins meander up the Mekong (and had a little cry when she visits the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, Cambodia – just as I did when I was there last year), it is hardly surprising that a number of people have contacted me about cruising the magical Mekong themselves.
This week I will be taking a look at some of the best cruise options for the Mekong River. But before I look at them all, I wanted to take a special look at a brand new ship that has been launched this year; the Mekong Aqua, which is really a very fancy indeed 5* floating hotel, that makes the most of its dramatic changing scenery with floor to ceiling windows in all the suite cabins. Forgive me while I swoon a little…
This luxury boat travels along the Mekong River between Saigon in Vietnam and Siem Reap in Cambodia, which takes seven nights. However it also stops in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, enabling people to join for just four or three nights as they travel between Phnom Penh and Saigon or Siem Reap.
Like other popular cruises on this route, it includes excursions every day to get you off the boat and into the local communities. Highlights include visiting remote fishing villages in Cambodia, passing floating houses and markets, visiting family homes and local markets and cycling through charming landscapes. You will have the opportunity to board smaller sampan-style boats which will take you into flooded forests and more off the beaten track.
But then, and this is the really good bit, when you get back on the boat all sweaty and hungry (because let’s be honest, this happens to the poshest of the posh too), you can jump in the plunge pool at the back of the boat and watch the changing scenery as you motor down the river before heading for a Michelin-starred meal.
Yes, you heard me correctly, this boat serves a Mekong influenced cuisine by Michelin starred Executive Chef David Thompson of Bangkok’s Nam restaurant. Dinner is served on fine china while their sommelier selects wines in crystal glassware. And fret not, all meals are included while onboard as well as beverages (non-alcoholic, selected wines and beer).
I can’t wait to try out this new boat, which promises to bring something really unique to the Mekong River… with excursions that promise to take you away from the crowds (while a Michelin-starred chef works on the evening’s feast) and rooms with some of the best ever-changing views in South-east Asia; what’s not to love. It does of course, come at a price. The 3-night cruise (from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap or Saigon) starts from about £2,340 for two people, while the seven-night cruise that runs from Siem Reap to Saigon is around £5,500. Food and specified drinks are included as are all activities. For more details click here.
Later this week I’ll be talking about some other options if this is a little out of your budget. In the meantime we can all enjoy being arm chair tourists with a little help from Sue Perkins!
Have a lovely weekend.