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Cruiseco Adventurer – Mekong Report – July 2013

As experienced by Amber Reid

Vietnam and Cambodia were the most intriguing countries to travel through, from the landscape, to the people and of course the food. I really enjoyed the mixture of bigger cities and smaller villages that we experienced on the Cruiseco cruise-tour.

We were met right at the gate in Saigon off our flight by our tour guides and helped through customs with our bags, and taken to the Caravelle Hotel, which is an incredible hotel located right in the heart of Saigon. The afternoon was free, then the next morning we had an included city tour which took us to the Cathedral, Reunification Palace, American War Museum and then for a delicious traditional lunch.

The final afternoon we had to ourselves – to attempt crossing the insanely busy roads (5 million people with 3 million motor bikes!!) to get to the markets or just exploring around the city.

The next morning we departed with the group to board our “home away from home” for the next 7 nights, the new Cruiseco Adventurer river cruiser. Cruiseco Adventurer has been designed perfectly to compliment the surroundings, at the same time having a fresh and contemporary feel. The cabins are spacious with enough room to fully unpack all of our bags and store them away for the week. Large bathrooms with glass doors on the showers, (not curtains!) are a good size, we were in a Junior Suite, so we also had the extra luxury of a full size bath tub as well as a separate shower. The rooms have both an outdoor and a French balcony which was perfect as we could either sit outside in the afternoon or if it was too hot, sit inside with the curtains wide open and watch the Mekong pass by.

Most free time was spent up on deck (often with a cold drink in hand) enjoying the sounds of the river, with local children running along the banks chasing the ship waving and calling out, and the crew from local fishing boats gazing up as we sailed by, always with a friendly smile. The pool on board (located up on the top deck) is a good size for a refreshing dip, and the perfect temperature to relax in after our morning and afternoon excursions.

The food on Cruiseco Adventurer was beautifully presented at every meal! For breakfast we had a full buffet selection each morning with fresh pastries, fresh fruit, a wide selection of hot foods, and an egg station where our friendly chef would make the most amazing omelettes! Lunch was always fun; all the passengers really enjoyed the “Action Station” where one of the chefs would cook more traditional Asian entrees such as Pho soup, Vietnamese and Cambodian pancakes – these were my favourite – as well as having an al a carte option for our main course. Dinner was a selection of Asian and Western food and all served al a carte.

Our pre-dinner cocktail was always a highlight, trying a new drink each day while we listened to the nightly briefing from the Cruiseco Manager Rosie for what our options were for the next day. One of the best parts was seeing what local dress Rosie was going to be wearing that night and guessing what colour it would be – there was a different colour for every day of the week!

Entertainment on board was a combination of local cultural performances in both Vietnam and Cambodia, some movies and documentaries were shown of an evening before a few of the ports to help further explain what we would be experiencing.

The staff are amazing, everyone is so friendly and will go out of their way to make sure everyone is happy and has everything they need. Right from the moment we boarded they were out waiting for us with big smiles and welcomes. Rosie, the Cruiseco manager on board is always at the ready for everything bringing extra water bottles on shore excursions (in case anyone forgot or wanted more), taking passengers who found the heat too much back to the ship and even joining in with karaoke at night time in the bar.

One day there was a massive downpour, just as we were about to disembark the ship for a shore excursion. The passengers needed to walk up a muddy hill to begin the excursion. It seemed like the entire crew came out to help us up the hill and then while we were away on the excursion, they brought a quantity of sand from a neighbouring village to spread on the hill, to make sure it was safe for us to walk back down again. Once back on board they swapped our muddy shoes with fresh slippers and a drink, only to clean them and have them back to us by dinner time! Now that’s service!

The shore excursions each day were a highlight whether we were dodging past motorbikes and people at the local markets with some very interesting sights and smells, or visiting the pristine Royal Palace. We had two sets of guides – Cambodian guides in Cambodia and Vietnamese guides in Vietnam – both had the most fantastic knowledge of everywhere we went and added their own personal stories into their commentaries. This was most moving when we were in Phnom Penh and our guide told us his story of being a small child and surviving the Khmer Rouge and what he thinks happened to his family. The tour to the Killing Fields and S21 Detention Centre are optional although I highly recommend it as it is an incredible although horrific piece of history. For the passengers that didn’t want to go to these places Rosie organised a tuk tuk to take them either back to the ship or to the Russian Markets for the afternoon.

Our other excursions saw us welcomed into many a family run business – silk factory, rattan matt factory, rice (where every single part of rice is made into something) factory and a copper factory. Most of these factories have been run by the same family for generations and everyone works alongside together and they were more than happy to show us how everything was done. We would normally have the children walking around with us asking us questions and sometimes practising their “Gday Mates” which they found funny. It was so humbling going to these villages and seeing the very different way of life to ours, and how everyone works together.

We finished up in Siem Reap which were two very intense days visiting some of the major temples including Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Bayon Temple all of which are incredible and our guide was very good at explaining why each was significant and their history. I would definitely suggest an extra day in Siem Reap, two days is just not enough to explore adequately. The Raffles Hotel D’Angkor is beautiful; the 35 metre lap pool set in the gardens is the perfect way to freshen up before taking a local tuk tuk to the night markets and “pub street” ten minutes from the hotel.

In summary, I would definitely do this entire cruise tour again. We went at the beginning of the season in July, when the water levels were lower so would love to go back and do it in the high season (October – March) to see the change in the landscape. We were told some of the villages that we went to would be partially underwater in a few months’ time. The stand out for me in both Vietnam and Cambodia were the people, everyone is so happy to have you there, interacting with you and from our side, seeing how the local people live.