When it comes to river cruising, most travelers think of Europe. And these trips are wonderful. But if you are looking for an experience that truly touches (and changes) your soul, take a journey down one of Asia’s great rivers – the Mekong.
Grand temples, colorful cultures, fascinating history and more await you on this incredible adventure – on and off the river. Following are my top 5 reasons to explore this magical itinerary.
Ho Chi Minh City
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city. Vibrant and busy, this economic hub brings together both new and old Vietnam, where skyscrapers loom over ancient temples. Of special interest are many historical sites, especially those related to the Vietnam War and French colonial monuments. The city is also famous for excellent food – French influence combined with unique flavors of the region.
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and one of the most ancient in the world. Here too you will feel the history of French colonization with well preserved colonial buildings. Known for its the two main neighborhoods, the French Quarter and Old Quarter, both are filled with attractions and are easily accessible on foot. Shopping, colonial buildings, ancient pagodas and unique museums all ready to be taken in. Hanoi has a vibrant night life and is also know for exceptional cuisine.
Hanoi is the gateway to iconic UNESCO World Heritage site of Ha Long Bay, an area with extraordinary scenery. The bay is dotted with over 1600 islands and islets and has a diverse natural landscape, from long sandy beaches to amazing caves and land made of limestone.
Fun fact: Ha Long, literally translated, means “descending dragon”. According to ancient legends, Vietnamese people believe they have descended from dragons themselves.
(Note: Hanoi is generally a pre or post cruise add on.)
Phnom Penh is the capital and largest city in THE Kingdom of Cambodia, and sits at the juncture of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong and Bassac Rivers. The city was founded in 1434 to succeed Angkor Tom as the capital of the Khmer nation and became the nation’s capital after it became part of the French protectorate.
Lonely Planet describes the city as an “assault on the senses” – buzzing with life all throughout the streets, crazy motorbikes whizzing past without any thought to pedestrians, markets exuding pungent scents alongside ancient Buddhist temples and palaces.
TEMPLES AND ANCIENT CITIES
Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is an enormous Buddhist temple complex, originally built as a Hindu temple. Said to be the largest religious monument in the world, it means “temple city” when translated from the Khmer language.
Angkor Thom is an impressive royal city, the last capital of the Khmer empire (that once covered the area of modern-day Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam Laos). Translated from the Khmer language it means “Great Kingdom”. Bayon Temple, a temple dedicated to Buddha, is in the heart of Angkor Thom. According to Siemreap.net, Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment after a long period of meditation under a banyan tree, thus the religious significance of the banyan trees growing in the area. The local Khmer working on the restoration of the city were responsible for its final name – they mispronounced Bayon instead of Banyon and the name stuck.
THE CULINARY DELIGHTS
Whether you are in the cities, out in the country or on board ship, you will find exception culinary options. Regional foods are always fun to explore, especially street food. A walk through the markets will surely tantalize your senses. And the French influence on the region’s unique flavors are delightful.
This itinerary offers you the opportunity of meeting and interacting with variety of locals. Your guides that accompany you on the ship along with the local guides bring amazing insights and perspectives. They may have lived through the war or Pol Pot regimes – their stories are certainly emotional and chilling. They may be from the younger generation and bring a totally different view. Excursions have you interacting with locals on tuk-tuk rides, with monks in temples and children in schools. There is no shortage of interacting with the warm and friendly people of the region.
There are so many experiences to be had on a Mekong itinerary. You will have many – specific ones depend on the itinerary and cruise line you are with. Here is a sampling of experiences you can have:
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Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder