Carve out time before and after a Mekong River cruise to explore Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos to make the most of your journey.
By Haley Beham
As the Mekong River makes its way from the mountains of Tibet to the South China Sea, it snakes past weaving villages, floating markets, and towering temples. At 2,703 miles long, it is one of the longest rivers in the world, and the lifeblood for many in Southeast Asia. Along its lush rural shorelines, you’ll find Buddhist monks and villagers going about their lives, fishermen casting their nets into the water, and local sampans making their way down the river.
As the first five-star vessel to cruise the popular stretch of river between Vietnam and Cambodia, the Aqua Mekong is making waves. The sustainably crafted ship has 20 suites overlooking the Mekong through floor-to-ceiling windows and is the only ship on this stretch of river that includes amenities like a fully equipped gym, screening room, outdoor cinema, and an upper deck pool. With a guide to guest ratio of one-to-one, excursions from the boat are in-depth. From the Aqua Mekong, board a skiff to make your way through narrow channels to villages like Binh Thanh where locals weave mats from Mekong water hyacinths, or Preah Prosop, a remote village of stilt houses largely untouched by the outside world.
But beyond the shorelines of the Mekong River, there’s so much to discover in some of Southeast Asia’s most iconic destinations.
Vietnam is well known for its incredible landscapes and welcoming people. Before boarding a Mekong River cruise, head to Hanoi, known as the “Paris of the East” for its yellow ochre French colonial era buildings and tree-lined boulevards. Visiting Ho Chi Minh’s house, the sixth century Tran Quoc Pagoda, and the Taoist Quan Thanh Temple will deepen your understanding of Vietnam’s history. Experience modern everyday life in Vietnam through the local street fare. Eating a steaming bowl of Pho Ga (Vietnamese noodle soup with chicken) or a Banh Mi Pate (baguette sandwich with pate) from a street vendor in the Old Quarter is an integral part of the culture in Hanoi. Likewise, the street coffee scene in Saigon is renowned and offers a glimpse of daily life.
Then spend some time sailing in Ha Long Bay. The beauty of the bay is best viewed from the opulent red-sailed Halong Violet as it makes its way through limestone karsts that rise out of the water to hidden beaches and isolated islands. From the five-star traditional junk, take a kayak out to explore narrow caves and the former fishing village of Cua Van, participate in cooking demonstrations with the chef, and recenter with Tai Chi on the boat’s upper deck.
The enchanting land of the legendary Angkor Empire is diverse with warm people, floating villages, and ancient temples peeking over lush jungles. After a cruise on the Aqua Mekong, dive deep into the history of this Southeast Asia jewel, extending your stay in Siem Reap to hop between the temples of the Angkor Archaeological Park, including Ta Prohm, Bayon, and Angkor Thom. Wake before dawn to catch a glimpse of the sun rising up over Angkor Wat, one of the world’s most impressive temples and the largest religious complex on Earth. This world-famous temple is the crowning achievement in Khmer art and architecture.
Outside of Cambodia’s temples, explore the rural communities surrounded by rice paddies and woodland near Siem Reap. Seek a blessing from the monks, visit with local families, and spend an evening in a private country villa listening to traditional Khmer music while a chef prepares your evening meal.
The Mekong River is central to Lao culture and geography. You can’t help but explore this tranquil portion of the river, whether by boat or sitting nearby watching the sun set over it. Stay in Aman Resorts’ Amantaka, set on a large verdant estate framed by the Mekong and Khan Rivers with Phousi Mountain in the background. Take a boat to the Pak Ou Caves where you’ll find two linked caves full of thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues, and visit Wat Long Khun, the limestone cave Tham Sakkarin, or Ban Xiengmene village.
While in Laos, make plans to rise early to witness hundreds of monks processioning through the streets of Luang Prabang, accepting offerings of food from local residents and businesses. It is one of the most timeless scenes in all of Southeast Asia.
Pro Tip! Take the seaplane from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay for a bird’s-eye view of the bay and avoid a two-and-half-hour road transfer. – Vanessa, Assistant to the Vice President of Sales and Marketing
Our Suggested Itinerary:
Journey Down the Mekong | 16 days / 15 nights through Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Ho Chi Minh City, Siem Reap, and Luang Prabang, with a river cruise aboard the Aqua Mekong between Vietnam and Cambodia.