We invited journalist Kate Andrew to experience our Mekong River Cruise earlier this year. Below you can read about her experience…
Buffalo are paddling among water hyacinths, as boats with ‘eyes’ on the front glide past us, and children run along the river bank, waving and calling ‘hello!’
I’m cruising down the legendary Mekong with Mercury Holidays on a colonial-style river boat – feet up on the teak deck, but with far too much to see to contemplate browsing on my phone.
Every bend in the river reveals something new – couples hauling in fishing nets to their flimsy river craft, floating villages, small ferries carrying queuing motorcyclists, stilted houses, paddy fields and gilded temples.
This immersive, meditative and most photogenic journey between Siem Reap and Saigon combines scenic sailing and captivating shore trips – the perfect way to observe daily life in busy Vietnam and unhurried Cambodia.
A tapestry of impressions, it begins, after a relaxing flight with Vietnam Airlines, in the lost world of Angkor Wat, a 12th-century icon matched by few other places on earth.
The symmetrical temple is the heart and soul of Cambodia and seeing it for the first time is a spine-tingling moment.
Almost as magical is Ta Prohm, a location for Tomb Raider I, where tree roots entwine ancient temple walls, while the stone faces of Bayon smile benignly down on us from every angle.
Siem Reap is a must-see destination in itself – but there’s so much more ahead to leave us wide-eyed.
We join our Mekong river boat at vast Tonle Sap, Asia’s largest freshwater lake – and sail out through a bustling floating village, complete with schools and churches.
Our four-star floating home is Croisi Europe’s RV Indochine, where teak decor reflects the French colonial era.
And very civilised and convivial it is, too. Meals are delicious, beds and cabins comfortable and quieter moments enhanced by archive films, talks, Cambodian dancing or food demonstrations. What’s more, with a bilingual French cruise director and a series of three excellent guides for our smaller, English-speaking group, we feel very spoiled – almost experiencing a private tour within a tour.
Mercury Holidays provides outstanding guides, whose insights and personal stories add so much to the holiday.
Here, their most moving accounts concern the legacy of war, and there are visits to a harrowing genocide museum in Phnom Penh, and the Cu Chi Tunnels, used by the Viet Cong, near Saigon.
But mostly it’s a relaxed joy to be shown around by these local friends as they take us ashore by motor boat to visit colourful markets and pilgrimage sites, take sampan rides and watch regional produce being made.
One excursion, to the pottery village of Kampong Chhnang, sees us spending time first with a welcoming lady potter and then a cheery palm sugar farmer with a gap-toothed grin, who has us dressing in local garb and happily lets my partner scale a palm tree by bamboo ladder.
Being in a smaller group, our tour is more flexible, allowing us to follow celebratory music to a traditional Cambodian wedding, where we climb the steps of a stilted village house to welcoming smiles and joined-palm greetings.
Another highlight is a ride in ox carts to a frescoed village temple where a Buddhist monk dispenses blessings. And the fairytale Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh are dazzling edifices – where King Sihamoni, a former ballet dancer, is often at home.
In the riverside market at Sa Dec, fish are so fresh they are splashing about in their basins, while pink, spiky dragon fruit are piled high and pungent durian fruit challenges us to try.
After so many happy glimpses of daily life along the river, there’s yet more to see in vibrant Saigon.
The mighty Mekong – and Mercury Holidays – has brought us gently through laidback Cambodia and into the bustllng south of Vietnam, with wondrous sights at every turn.
Follow in Kate’s footsteps
and discover the Magical Mekong for yourself…
|Mekong River Cruise – 14 days from £2849pp|