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For some travelers, the main draw of a river cruise is to lazily enjoy beautiful landscapes as they drift by the ship’s windows. Such passengers are content with the luxury onboard, and they hardly care about leaving the ship.
However, those are not the ideal clients for Avalon Waterways’ 13-day Fascinating Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong river cruise. Sure, guests can choose to sit and watch the scenery — there are plenty of beautiful vistas to take in — and the ship is luxurious, but what makes this Avalon itinerary so special is what happens on the shore.
On a recent sailing onboard Avalon Saigon — which was launched in October and is specially designed for the Mekong — we experienced one unforgettable excursion after another.
The most rewarding moments of the trip were the stops we made in small villages along the river. We traveled by ox cart, sampan (a long wooden motorboat), cyclo (a bicycle with a passenger seat in front), moto taxi (a motorcycle pulling a small carriage) and more — whatever it took to get us where we hardly ever saw other tourists.
Along the way, we met dozens of locals, such as a former Viet Cong fighter who told us how grateful he is that citizens of his country and the U.S. can now be friends. In Cu Lao Gieng, Vietnam, a man who builds wooden sampans by hand educated us on the economic importance of the Mekong to local people.
Other excursions were related to the region’s unique history. A day trip took us to sites in Cambodia that are connected to the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, including a “killing field” where thousands were murdered. These grim visits were made even more poignant by the stories local Cambodians shared with us about this period when nearly a quarter of the population was exterminated.
Another highlight of the itinerary is Siem Reap, Cambodia, and the famous Angkor Wat temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to Angkor Wat, Avalon visits several other ruins in the area, including Banteay Srei, Ta Prohm and Bayon Temple, which features more than 200 giant carved images of Buddha’s face.
After a long, hot day of exploration (and boy, was it hot), I was always grateful to return to the luxury of Avalon Saigon. The ship accommodates a maximum of 36 guests in 18 Panorama Suites that measure 245 square feet each. The decor features rich wood and textiles from the region, and the cabins utilize Avalon’s signature Open-Air Balcony room configuration — wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows that open across from the bed, making it easy to lie back and take in the landscape as the ship sails along. The rooms also come with a love seat, a desk, lots of closet space and a large bathroom.
One of the highlights of the cruise was the food prepared by the ship’s Vietnamese and Cambodian staff, which is served in the ship’s elegant wood-paneled dining room. Every meal included several local dishes and unique combinations of Western and Asian cuisine.These days, many travelers define luxury as the ability to experience far-flung destinations in total comfort. For such clients, Avalon Saigon will be an ideal base camp for exploration.
The DetailsAvalon Waterwayswww.avalonwaterways.com