A Mekong River Cruise with AmaWaterways

Charms of the Mekong

Katrina Latimer, from AmaWaterways, has kindly agreed to share her experiences of an amazing Mekong adventure. Thank you Katrina.

My husband and I (I sound like our lovely late Queen) recently returned from the most amazing Mekong River Cruise on AmaDara.  We chose to do Charms of the Mekong starting in Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) and ending in Siem Reap (Cambodia).

As we wanted to fly from our regional airport Newcastle International, Reservations booked us on Emirates which is a daily flight via DXB to SGN. We had a 9-hour layover in DXB so actually booked Sleep ‘n Fly for 2 people which was a small, sound-proofed room in the Terminal with a double bed and bedside table.  But my goodness it was worth it.  We had such a sound night’s sleep we woke refreshed ready for our second Emirates flight to SGN.

On landing we were met for a private transfer to the luxurious Sofitel Saigon Plaza which was completely stunning. We spent our first evening enjoying dinner on the rooftop bar with incredible views across Ho Chi Minh City. We had chosen to do one night in Ho Chi Minh City, and had a free morning the following day to explore the city sights and sounds, dodging the mopeds and stumbled across a beautiful oasis of calm amongst the noise called Book Street – a lovely side street full of library cafes and people simply resting and reading. So beautiful.

Back at the hotel we met our Cruise Manager AK who would stay with us for the duration of our trip and one of the Vietnam Tour Guides who escorted both the land package and cruise excursions in Vietnam.

If you want to do Chu Chi Tunnels, you need to stay 2 nights pre- (or post-  if doing Riches of the Mekong) cruise in Ho Chi Minh City.  Other guests we met absolutely raved about it so well worth having that extra night.

Upon arrival in My Tho (pronounced ‘mee toe’) we had a seamless embarkation and were immediately in awe at the decadence of the pristine AmaDara.  All the staterooms have twin balconies (French door balcony and step outside balcony).  We explored the whole ship taking in the beautiful sun deck (covered over to protect you from the searing sun) with a sunny pool, perfect for plunging in to cool down which we did most days.

Then we were off…. venturing into a world less travelled where we were about to have our senses overloaded with sights, sounds and cultural offerings brought to life before our very eyes.

First night onboard the AmaDara was focused on the warm welcome (including safety briefing) from the Captain and crew, settling in, an outline of the 7-night cruise from AK, and also the chance to meet the other guests on board.  A mix of North Americans, British, couples and solo travellers. Everybody up for an adventure.

The first dining experience on board presented us with exquisite fine wines (rose wine upon request).  All meals on board are A La Carte with a show table of each dish upon entering the restaurant, so you know what you are ordering.  I have a gluten free dietary requirement and each night the Restaurant Manager walked me through how the dishes could be altered to accommodate me which was wonderful.

Early the following morning we awoke to join the sunrise stretching on the sun deck which was a wonderful way to start the day, followed by a filling breakfast and quick change ready to join our first group excursion.

Vietnam and Cambodia are very different.  Vietnam excursions come first in Charms of the Mekong and whilst we had pre-advised what excursions we wished to do (all of them!) each morning you joined a group of the same ability eg. active or gentle.  The active tours mostly involved more difficult hikes or longer walks included in the tours so it’s your choice.

This is a country of hustle and bustle, modern religions, colourful temples and live animal markets (not for the faint hearted).  Combine that with traditional craftmanship, showing us how to make rice pancakes and popcorn, using the husks for the fire to cook, and showing us modern day wastefulness is not something they can afford.  So every part of their food chain is used in some way.

There were some fun trishaw rides and visits to silk factories where my husband bought the most fabulous lightweight shirt for $20 (washes a dream).

Each day thereafter we joined the sunrise stretching.  A typical day is to wake up, stretch, breakfast, excursion, back onto the ship for lunch (this can be formal A La Carte in dining room or light lunch on Sun Deck – Caesar salad and French fries anyone?  Yummy!), second excursion of the day OR laze by the pool with a glass of rose.  Change for the evening, pre-dinner drinks at Sip & Sail Cocktail hour then relax for your A La Carte evening meal.  Every guest can dine at the Chef’s table which is a 7-course extravaganza paired with fine wines for each course.  We got dressed up to the nines and revelled in this 3-hour indulgence.

Going over the border into Cambodia on the Charms of the Mekong itinerary is easy with the ship moored in the middle of the river the authorities confirmed our VISAs whilst we chilled (Reception deal with everything for you).

The pace of life in Cambodia overall is slower but there are massive contrasts.  The Killing Fields and Detention Centre being the most somber and harrowing day but completely fascinating.  To realise I was in High School when these atrocities happened (imagining the brutality must have been from centuries ago) was outrageous.  Our Guide, Sean, was 7-years old when the Khmer Rouge invaded and was taken from his family at age 8 to work the fields under the new regime.  His personal stories of loss and overcoming personal tragedies were awe inspiring.  Real life veterans also meet you at the Detention Centre and recount their stories (translated by our Guide) and it’s the excursion that stood out most for me.

On the lighter side there were meandering walks through stilted villages, locals inviting us in to see their beautiful homes (everyone has an Ox and chickens) and more authentic silk villages. We also visited Oknhatey elementary school sponsored by AmaWaterways and delighted in English lessons with the children.

Cambodia is also home to the most magnificent temples.  Here are a selection of my photos.  You must cover your shoulders in the temples (a pashmina is not enough) and dresses/shorts to the knee. If you choose to add the pre- or post-land package in Siem Reap you stay in the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa resort. All excursions to the National Park and the Temples are included.

We got up at 4am to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat and my goodness this is not to be missed.  It is the largest religious building in the world and completely stunning with a full tour after sunrise.  Be prepared to walk a lot and know that the temperatures are very high!  Plenty of water, a sunhat and/or an umbrella can help.

Every excursion has a Tour Guide, and you have an earpiece blue toothed to them so that you always know where you are and what you are looking at! Also had a wonderful Buddhist Blessing at Oudong.

The Captain, Cruise Manager, Hotel Manager (AmaDara) and the whole team onboard AmaDara were a credit to AmaWaterways.  Every comfort offered, every request fulfilled, and the decadence of the ship (and the land package hotels) was truly magnificent.

I cannot recommend this Mekong river cruise highly enough.

Katrina Latimer, AmaWaterways.


If you are thinking about a Mekong River Cruise, I can help you find the right option.

Please get in touch for some ideas, a quote or to book.

Jenny Cookman