The River Saigon is a sister ship to the River Orchid. // © 2013 Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
We jerked back and forth chuckling gleefully as our elephant marched toward the South Gate of Angkor Thom. As expected, the rump of an elephant did not a smooth ride make, but it would have been foolish to pass up the chance to view Cambodia’s Angkor Archaeological Park from such a unique perspective. This optional excursion, including a temple hike and a picnic breakfast along the moat of Angkor Wat, was among several memorable moments I had during Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s 15-day Timeless Wonders of Vietnam, Cambodia & the Mekong itinerary last fall.
The cruise-tour began and ended with hotel stays at high-end properties that were right in the heart of the action (InterContinental Hanoi Westlake, Victoria Angkor Resort & Spa and the Park Hyatt Saigon), each inclusive of decadent breakfasts spreads ranging from eggs Benedict to made-to-order Vietnamese pho.
Onboard the 30-cabin River Saigon, the days unhurriedly drifted by as we took in the vistas of small villages and floating markets along the Mekong or chatted with fellow intrepid travelers on the sundeck of the ship.
The handcrafted, colonial-style vessel — launched in 2012 — is understated in its design, making it an appropriate fit for the region. Staterooms measure 168 square feet, with French doors, comfortable hotel-style beds, hardwood floors and silk tapestries. There are no in-room televisions or telephones (guests can contact the office via intercom), so relax on one of the outdoor lounge chairs and dig into a copy of Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American” or Marguerite Duras’ “The Lovers,” which reference cities, monuments and other points of interest that guests will encounter on the itinerary.
“You’re not going to get the Super Ship Antoinette on the Mekong,” said president and CEO Guy Young. “We need to set the right expectations for our clients because even though our ships in Cambodia and Vietnam are beautiful and fit the destination extremely well, they are not the same as our European ships — and the itinerary is a bit more active.”
At the end of March, Uniworld will end its charter of Pandaw Cruises’ River Saigon and exclusively sail the 60-passenger River Orchid, which was inaugurated last month. The sister ship is very similar to the Saigon but not without a few thoughtful improvements. The Orchid features two suites, measuring 232 square feet, which open up into a large deck on the bow of the ship. Unlike the Saigon, the bar on the sundeck is enclosed and air conditioned — which can be a saving grace after a full day of shore excursions. Overall, the Orchid’s decor has a brighter, lighter feel, and the furnishings throughout the ship have been upgraded as well.
“The overall feedback that we are getting is very positive,” said Young. “Our service is fantastic, the food is good, we have relatively small tour groups compared to our competition and the destination is just incredible.”