How to choose the right Mekong river cruise

Cruise Advice
By

Long before the redoubtable Sue Perkins set forth up the Mekong for her BBC2 documentary, river cruise operators were beginning to develop their programmes, with a particular focus on the stretch through Vietnam and Cambodia, between My Tho and Prek Kdam.

When you first consider such a journey, it will be all about the destination. An extraordinary introduction to life in rural Vietnam and Cambodia can be topped and tailed with must-see destinations such as Hanoi, Hue, Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap for the amazing temples at Angkor Wat. And we cannot recommend strongly enough that you visit as soon as you can - a burgeoning tourist industry in both countries means that things will change very quickly.

Monks at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

But once you have decided that this is your destination, then it is time to consider who you will travel with, and when you look at the options, you will find you have plenty of choice...

Best for outstanding value: AmaDara, AmaWaterways

124 guests, 52 crew, minimum suite size of 251 square feet, and an amazing fly-free bonus currently on offer for 2018: book now!

AmaWaterways - AmaDara pool

Best for expedition activity: Aqua Mekong, Aqua Expeditions

40 guests, 30 crew including four guides, suites of 320 square feet; this is the most luxurious operator on the river, with the highest number of included tours and a variety of equipment including their own skiffs, bicycles and kayaks.

Aqua Expeditions - Aqua Mekong

Best for unique itineraries: Mekong Pandaw, Pandaw River Expeditions

48 guests, crew includes two guides, cabin size 170 square feet, operating a unique itinerary including Kratie and the Mekong dolphins.

Pandaw River Expeditions - Mekong Pandaw

Best for spacious accommodation: Scenic Spirit, Scenic River Cruising

68 guests, 60 crew, butler service, suites from 344 square feet (entry level), Australian style touring with many pre- and post-cruise options.

Scenic Spirit - Royal Suite

Best for an organised land and cruise tour: Viking Mekong, Viking River Cruises

56 guests, cabins from 168 square feet, a standard 15 day fly/cruise/tour programme means everything is arranged to the last detail.

Viking River Cruises - Viking Mekong

Things to note...

The Mekong water levels are highest during the months from August to November, so itineraries may differ at this time of year. Note that for the majority of the year vessels are not able to reach Siem Reap, so if you are planning a visit to Angkor Wat, you will have a long journey by road, or alternatively depending on the itinerary you may be able to fly from Phnom Penh.

Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia

Crossing the border from Vietnam to Cambodia and vice versa can be very time-consuming, so check what the cruise operator offers in terms of excursions on the day of the border crossing. Have they good plans to avoid a tedious wait? At present no visa is required for Vietnam (do check because this can always change) but one is needed for Cambodia. How you obtain it depends on where you are entering Cambodia, so make sure you discuss this with us.

Temperatures are highest in March and April, whilst the 'dry' season is relatively short (November to February) but you can in fact travel on the Mekong for most of the year - check carefully, some operators do not sail from April to July, and arguably for good reason.

Edwina Lonsdale
Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and, together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising.

More about Edwina

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