Cruising down the spellbinding Mekong
Lena, a happy Travablue traveler, writes about her enchanting Mekong river cruise from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh:
The Mekong is more than a river. In Southeast Asia, it is life itself. The Mekong begins on the cold deserts of the Tibetan Plateau and follows a wild course through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to the South China Sea. Almost all the captivating sights in Southeast Asia can be seen along the riverbanks of the Mekong. So on my second trip to Cambodia, I boarded a colonial-style boat from Siem Reap for an unforgettable week-long river cruise down to Vietnam.
Cruising along the Mekong is not like taking the AMA Waterways on the Rhine. My cruise had all the basic necessities, and was tasty, but not luxurious (but I hear there are luxury options just launching). Despite everything, the scenery of milk-tea colored water and lush mountains in the distance was beyond compare. Also, Travablue made all the arrangements for my trip, so I never had to worry about anything.
I boarded my 2-storey wooden cruise after 3 days of touring the amazing Angkor Wat. Unlike the European rivers, the Mekong remains relatively undisturbed. There were no high-rises anywhere in sight, only pristine tropical greenery on the banks. I felt as if I was suddenly on an exotic jungle cruise. The river flow was gentle, so I went to the upper deck and felt the fresh breeze until we were on the lively Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in the region. We stopped by a floating village and marveled at the amazing stilt houses. The floating village was just like a normal busy town, except the roads are flowing water.
We continued along the gentle Mekong going past mangrove forests. The cruise made a short stop by a small Cambodian village where I immensely enjoyed an ox-cart ride through scenic paddy fields and bright-white pagodas. Then we made another stop to tour the Silk Islands, to see how authentic Cambodian silk is woven using traditional machinery. Soon, we were on our way to Phnom Penh.
We docked in Phnom Penh for 2 days to tour the city and the surrounding area. Cambodia’s capital is intoxicatingly vibrant and is a great place to try many different varieties of regional cuisine. There are also several must-see historical landmarks like the Royal Palace. Nearby, there’s this crazy town called Skuon, where I bravely tried some deep-fried tarantula (I still can’t believe I ate a spider leg).
From Phnom Penh, we cruised towards the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. The scenery on this busy waterway was stunning. We went past picturesque paddy fields tended to by farmers in conical hats, little houses on the riverbank where little kids played with inflatable balls, and busy floating markets. I saw the best of the best of rural Vietnam.
The cruise arrived at Ho Chi Minh, where I disembarked during a mesmerizing sunset. I couldn’t believe I’ve been cruising for 7 days. I barely felt the time pass by.
From Ho Chi Minh, I took a direct flight to Sabah, Malaysia, for a diving vacation. But I wished I could have continued my river cruise some more. Maybe next time, I’ll include Laos and Thailand, too.