Set Sail Across Time: Boutique Luxury Cruising on the Mekong River
From Siem Reap in Cambodia to Saigon in Vietnam
Sailing seemingly across the ages from timeless rural Khmer life to the bustle of contemporary Vietnam along the Mekong River, the 20-suite Aqua Mekong has revolutionized luxury travel on this epic waterway.
On the Tonle Sap Lake, you board your 3-story, five star Mekong abode and settle into your retreat with its window wall conferring an endlessly captivating panorama best enjoyed on your California king bed, terrace or daybed.
Come morning, we set off by skiff into the 22,000-hectare Prek Toal Core Bird Reserve, one of the largest freshwater bodies in Asia and the last refuge in Southeast Asia for large waterbirds like the spot-billed pelicans, milky stork and masked finfoot. Visit the floating village of Moat Khla, accessible only by water, and attend a Buddhist blessing ceremony in this isolated community.
Our adventures continue the next day among remote villages around the Tonle Sap Lake, designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1997. In Chhnok Tru, we “slide” into an ice factory and learn what it’s like to live in a town where schools, churches, pagodas and even the police station all float. We sail on to Kampong Chhnang, known as the ‘Port of Pottery’ because archaeological findings here date to the 6th century.
Culture thrives along the Mekong, as we see in Koh Chen, a silversmith village known for finely crafted silver bowls, regularly chosen by Cambodia’s king as gifts for visiting dignitaries. Then we set off for the ‘silk islands’ where renowned weavers invite us to admire their intricate handiwork. Biking is optional for those who wish to explore deeper.
Aqua Expeditions shows you around the Cambodian capital by motorized tuk-tuk, taking in the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the National Museum of Cambodia, home to the world’s largest collection of Khmer art. If you wish, visit the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide and the Killing Fields before returning onboard for an evening’s Apsara performance, as memorialized in stone at Angkor Wat.
Together we say ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ as we sail towards Tan Chau, a vibrant border town where we take xe loi rickshaw or pedal around Long Khanh island. We walk through verdant plantations surrounding the typical Mekong Delta village of My An Hung where we are welcomed into a local’s home to taste Vietnamese fruits and listen to folk songs.
On our last full day, we begin at Binh Thanh mat weaving village or in Sa Dec at the house of Marguerite Duras’ legendary lover, Mr. Huynh Thuy Le. Continue downstream for Cai Be, zigzagging in sampan past fishermen on long tail boats. Walk or cycle among open courtyard houses, some dating back more than 100 years. Gracious locals invite us inside.
Before we say goodbye in Saigon, we stop at the mysterious Vinh Trang Pagoda with its mélange of architectural styles and three imposing Buddhas plus an impressive collection of bonsai trees. And with that last look back, we cruise into the fascinating cacophony that is modern Vietnam.
AQUA MEKONG – MEKONG RIVER – CAMBODIA & VIETNAM
Cruising Asia’s Mekong River between Cambodia and Vietnam, the 205-foot Aqua Mekong is a floating five-star hotel with a guide to guest ratio of 1 to 10. The sustainably crafted ship’s 20 designer suites – the river’s largest guestrooms — overlook the Mekong through floor-to-ceiling windows. This is the only ship on this stretch of the river to offer a fully equipped gym, screening room, outdoor cinema, observation deck, and an upper-deck pool. Dine on world-class dishes created by top Southeast Asian cuisine chef, David Thompson and board the Mekong’s only private tenders for expert-guided shore excursions to serene Buddhist temples and stilted villages or explore the unique landscape by bicycle and kayak. A full-time paramedic ensures guest safety on every adventure.
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Past guests Quotes:
“The ship is a beautiful floating resort and an ideal place to explore places few people see, places less touched by modernity and places with beautiful topography, all from the comfort of the luxurious accommodations and living quarters on board. But as nice as the ship is, it is you, the team on board that truly create the experience. The warm smiles, the personalized touch and the simple yet refined dedication to service make the Aqua feel more like a private yacht than an exploration river boat. The intimacy of the hardware is only embellished by the heart and soul infused in the team which I find remarkable to do in such a short time since launch. From the wait staff to the bar tenders, to the amazing tour guides, the house keepers, and the cruise directors, everyone knew us by name after one day, knew our preferences, and always managed to make anything we wanted happen – any time of day.”
“We were impressed at the friendliness and helpfulness of all. The modern design of the boat, excellent Asian food and choice of interesting excursions. Beach cocktails a highlight!”
Gillian and Jay K.
“The Aqua Mekong is the ultimate in the commingling of modern 5-star luxury and soft adventure. In fact, Aqua Expeditions riverboat cruising, whether on the Amazon or the Mekong, may just be as game-changing in its world as Adrian Zecha’s Amanresorts was when it launched with Amanpuri in 1988.”
Nancy Novogrod, Editor in Chief, Travel + Leisure