Mekong Immersion

Absorb Vietnam and Cambodian culture on new river ship
BY BILL FINK — Summer 2019

From the panorama lounge of Avalon Waterways’ new Avalon Saigon river cruise ship, I watch Cambodians in traditional wooden sampan boats hurl fishing nets into the Mekong River. The grassy, palm-tree-lined shore reveals villagers working with oxen plows in yellowing rice fields. A three-story Buddhist temple bursts from the jungle like a shimmering peacock, the golden roof accented by statues of mythical beasts. Though this otherworldly scene appears lost in time, it’s just another morning view along my 13-day voyage from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to Siem Reap, Cambodia, called “Fascinating Vietnam, Cambodia & the Mekong River.” 

Avalon built this luxury 195-foot-long, 18-cabin, all-suite ship in 2018 specifically with a shallow draft for the Mekong River, and launched it last September. The air-conditioned cabins, with view-friendly floor-to-ceiling windows, feature large en-suite bathrooms and decor recalling the colonial plantation homes of Southeast Asia. During onboard mealtimes, I dig in to both freshly prepared local dishes and Western comfort food.

Each day, we disembark the ship for shore excursions that take us to destinations such as the bucket-list Angkor Wat ruins, as well as far off the typical tourist track to explore small Vietnamese and Cambodian villages where we meet with local artisans, farmers, Buddhist monks, and even giggling English-language middle-school students. 

Details: From $3,519; 877-797-8791; avalonwaterways.com 

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