Uniworld’s 15-day Cambodia and Vietnam itinerary is popular with guests who want to explore ancient temples and local villages in small groups. // © 2012 Skye Mayring
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
The Mekong River is one of the fastest-growing destinations in river cruising, and the river cruise lines that have established themselves early in the game are showcasing Vietnam and Cambodia in unique ways. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, for one, has focused on giving guests an intimate experience in Eastern Cambodia and Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
On its 15-day Timeless Wonders of Vietnam, Cambodia & the Mekong itinerary, Uniworld transports guests via the 30-room, colonial-style River Saigon. No more than 60 guests are on each sailing and, unlike larger vessels that tend to spend more days in densely populated port cities, the Saigon can dedicate more time to exploring smaller, less-trodden villages, giving travelers greater insight into local culture. Tour groups are smaller too, with one local guide for every 20 guests.
As I discovered on my September trip with Uniworld, small group travel gives guests the opportunity to really get to know each other. Through our many conversations on the sundeck or over dinner, it became clear to me that travelers on this itinerary were of a certain breed. They had a penchant for the exotic as well as many personal reasons for venturing into this corner of the world.
“Now in retirement and in good health, we want to see as much of the world as we can,” said Roberta and Yvon Tarte of Ottawa, Canada, who chose to extend their Mekong cruise with Uniworld’s four-day Bangkok extension. “We decided to travel to some of the farthest away places first and remove them from our bucket list. Given our love of their food and customs, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand were among the many places to see and enjoy while we were physically and mentally ready for the long flights and adventurous terrain.”
Jo Carol Hutchins of Fleming Island, Fla., is also on a quest to visit all of her dream destinations while she still can, and Vietnam topped her list.
“I took this trip because I’m at the end of my diving board, so to speak,” she said. “I specifically chose Vietnam because the country has had a personal impact on my life for many years. My husband spent three years, from 1967 to 1969, in the Mekong Delta and in Da Nang. I wanted to see where he had been and gain a better understanding.”
Elizabeth Kelly of Port Angeles, Wash., had wanted to visit Vietnam since 1996 but couldn’t put her thumb on exactly why that was.
“It wasn’t until I got home and had time to reflect on the trip that I realized that one of my reasons for wanting to go to Vietnam was that I wanted to see for myself that everything was okay there after the war,” said Kelly. “It’s not that I feel guilty personally for the war, but I did want to know that Vietnam had recovered.”
According to Zina Kushner of New York City, Cambodia’s ancient architecture was a huge draw for her and her daughter.
“I had seen the incredible photos depicting the Angkor Temples — especially Bayon Temple, Ta Prohm Temple and Angkor Wat — but wanted to experience them in person,” she said. “The opportunity to learn more about the culture, food and history of the Vietnamese and Cambodian people seemed like a chance of a lifetime.”
Rebecca Redshaw of Port Angeles, Wash., extended her cruise-tour with three extra days in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.
“The days spent on Ha Long Bay were magical,” said Redshaw. “Like the Grand Canyon in Arizona, this corner of the world can’t be captured on film. Hundreds of islands dotting the horizon through the morning mist will forever be a part of me.”
Adventure and new experiences were top of mind for Valerie E. Ertz of Dallas, Texas.
“I was looking for an adventure where I could experience something totally different,” said Ertz. “I learned so many different things about these destinations — culturally, politically and historically — and have been researching and reading in order to learn even more since I returned home. An exotic/adventure trip like this can be a life-changing experience.”
The Timeless Wonders of Vietnam, Cambodia & the Mekong itinerary includes a seven-night Mekong River cruise, seven nights in centrally located, high-end hotels, local guides, the services of a Uniworld tour manager throughout the trip, most meals, complimentary wine with dinner and complimentary soft drinks, local spirits or beer throughout the day. Exclusive of airfare, the cruise-tour begins at $4,999 per person through 2012.