It’s been a few years since we were in Asia. The first time we did a “Yangtze River” Cruise in China which we absolutely loved. This time was no different as we did a 16 Night “Mekong River” Cruise in Vietnam & Cambodia with Uniworld on their “River Orchid” ship and we truly had an INCREDIBLE trip!
Here is an overview & highlights of what we did, what to expect and some tips to make you better prepared for your River Cruise experience in this part of the World.
(Our blog post below is our thoughts & review of the itinerary & what we experienced… you can Click here to read our review of the ship we sailed on, Uniworld’s “River Orchid”)
Our flight from Vancouver, Canada to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam was 17 hours. Of course, as we always suggest, (check out our article where we dive deep into this subject!) we scheduled our flight to arrive a couple of days prior to the start of our River Cruise & Land Tour to give us time to get over the jet-lag & as well to give us “wiggle room” in case of flight delays or cancellations– which happens more often then you would think.
What was the Best part of being in Asia?
It was by far the local people of Vietnam and Cambodia. Of all our trips, we would say that the people here are the most genuine & friendliest, most down to earth people we have EVER met. And this is significant, considering how poor most of them are and how much suffering they have endured due to war over the years. (which you will learn all about during your River Cruise & Land Tour)
Ho Chi Minh City:
Formerly known as Saigon… Ho Chi Minh City was our starting point for our Uniworld River Cruise and is the most metropolis and modern part of the entire tour. Ho Chi Minh sits in the Southern part of Vietnam & is the most populous city in this developing Country with almost 10 million people… and 4 million+ motor bikes… it makes for busy and vibrant streets. Check out our video to see what a city intersection here looks like!
Where did we go? What did we visit?
In Ho Chi Minh City, just to walk about this vibrant city is a special experience in itself. We saw things like their beautiful Opera House, the European style Central Post Office (built in the 19th Century), the Notre Dame Cathedral, a GREAT shopping spot- called the Ben Thanh Market… we also toured a Lacquer shop which is a must see & we did a walking tour of the Reunification Palace which became infamous at the end of the Vietnam War…
But most fascinating was the Cu Chi Tunnels (Pronounced koo-chi-tunnels) where we learned how this vast 150 miles of tunnels was made famous by the “Viet Cong” army during the war as they hid, lived, had kitchens & hospitals, etc, underground. It was an eye opener. We got to hear from a General of the war about his experiences living in the tunnels and fighting in the area & we even got to go underground… of course, not everyone chose to go down into these tight spaces & that was fine as they only had to wait 5mins or so for us to check it out.
Well, after 2 nights in Ho Chi Minh City it was time to sail the “Mekong River” on Uniworld’s “River Orchid” ship (get more details about our onboard experience here) where we learned so much…
Our Uniworld guide, who was born & raised in the region, told us tons of interesting facts about The Mekong River. For instance, it is the world’s 10th longest river and 7th longest in Asia. From the Tibetan Plateau the river runs through parts of China, Myanmar/Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is surrounded by 1,000 plus islands and 21 million people live along the river, many fishing & living in their boats… and he taught us much more, but we don’t want to spoil it for you. 🙂
One morning, we got to experience a “Sampan” boat ride that took us to see a bustling floating market selling tapioca, sweet potatoes, watermelon, pumpkin & everything else you could imagine. Certainly not the type of supermarkets we are use to at home!
We also went to a rice factory and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hold a 50 lb Python snake, (yes a real one!) and we got to “cheers” one another and taste snake whiskey (don’t you dare wimp out!) and we tasted a few sweets and baked rice paper… yum! And of course, seeing how it all was made was quite fascinating as well!
Another morning we enjoyed a scenic cruise observing the local people as they went about their daily lives and noticed them staring back at us as fascinated by us as much as we were by them. They would then wave to us happily, giving us the impression they were so happy we took the time to visit… most traditional homes are simple with one room for the entire family & built on stilts. It’s typical to see hammocks swaying underneath as it’s much cooler in the daily hot sun. In this part of the world, life certainly ticks at a much slower pace, the people seem more at ease then we are used too at home.
We also visited a fascinating floating fish farm and then a serene Monks Temple and got to learn about Buddhism and see how the Buddhist Monks live day to day. It was incredibly interesting and humbling!!
TIP: It’s so hot in these areas that you sweat just standing still- no kidding, so choose clothes that cannot show sweat! Even if you are not a big sweater typically. The best for that is Dryfit or similar. You can find it in the sports section of most retailers.
TIP: Bring along pants and/or Capri pants for this trip (men too) as you will need to cover your knees when visiting Temples and other highly respected places.
Definitely a unique experience during our Mekong River cruise was several times we pulled up to the river bank and the crew made us a comfortable and safe walkway so we could explore a small village or local area… it was REAL authentic travel immersion! Check out this video of them making us a walkway!
One night, Children from a local orphanage came onboard and put on a performance for us and it was very entertaining – not only local music but they did “Gangnam Style” and the works! 🙂 If that wasn’t enough, on another occasion we got to visit a music school where we were given the chance to bring along school supplies from home and hand them out to the kids… it was very rewarding!
TIP: Be sure to check out your Uniworld leather booklet (they send you approx. 3 weeks before your cruise) for a list of supply suggestions to bring.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
This is the capital of Cambodia because of its great central location for trade. It is also situated close to the Tonle Sap Lake which provides rich fishing grounds. Cambodia has a population of 14.8 million people and they mostly speak the Khmer language… written, it looks very different from the other side of the border we just crossed from Vietnam which uses 26 letters like us.
Our morning in Phnom Penh we hopped in a cyclo/rickshaw that was provided by Uniworld (all the shore excursions are included in your Cruise fare) to take us around the city. It was a great way to sit back, relax, and take in the sights of the city.
From the comforts of our rickshaw, we visited the beautiful Royal Palace where the King and his family live. The garden & grounds are fit for a king and there are stunning artifacts to check out. And of course lots of picture taking opportunities.
Then we visited the National Museum, it was filled with ancient artifacts to give you a feel for the military, high powered people and monks back in the 5th to the 12th century… imagine!
TIP: Not only were we asked to cover our shoulders & knees when entering Temples, but we were even made aware that scarves were not acceptable coverage to enter the above sites, but as long as you have a shirt covering the top part of your shoulders, this is acceptable.
Our 2nd day in the Phnom Penh area we took a bus to the “Killing Fields” (TIP: there is a movie called The Killing Fields if you are interested in watching it prior to your trip) which was the scene of one of the most gruesome and horrifying crimes towards the Cambodian people. The visit was a somber but necessary one to understand what this country’s citizens went through not too long ago. P.S. Don’t forget to check out the poisonous tree!
With some time on our own to explore, we took advantage of the $8/hour massages and foot reflexology. Don’t be put off by the price, we had excellent massages. They are exceptionally talented at Thai massage too. Expert advice (Till recently Nancy was a Registered Massage Therapist for 17 years): One thing to always remember when having massage anywhere in the world is that if you start to feel pain, other then from pressure on the muscle, please speak up immediately to let them know.
TIP: In Vietnam US currency is excepted some places but mostly you will need the local currency called Dong ($1 equals around 20,000 dong) but in Cambodia they prefer US dollars. And don’t forget to bring small bills for shopping (to be safe) and also lots of $1s for tipping… and please tip when you’re there no matter the custom where you come from… trust us, you’ll forget the few dollars you drop here & there but it can make a big difference to these people with such low yearly incomes!
TIP: Another suggestion about tipping. Locals reminded us that we should not encourage children to beg by giving them money for nothing, they would rather see their children in school. So, by giving to begging kids, it does not help teach them good skills or encourage their parents to put them in school….we agreed and gave tips in exchange for good service, to musicians, etc. But you follow what you believe… just thought we would pass that info on to you. 🙂
Before heading to one of the highlights of the trip which was Siem Reap for 3 nights to see the Angkor Wat area Temples (which deserves it’s very own blog due to the history and ancient ruins beauty and you can “click here to view it”) we enjoyed a Buddhist Water Blessing by some local Monks in the province of Kampong Cham. It was something really special that cannot be explained in words, but just felt in the moment. You’ll know what we mean once you experience it.
Siem Reap, Cambodia to Hanoi, Vietnam was a quick 1.5 hour flight where we got to enjoy a full day Hanoi city tour. We visited the mausoleum where Ho Chi Minh’s body is preserved. We got to see the jail where political & American soldiers (including John McCain) were held during the war and we enjoyed a cyclo/rickshaw tour of the city’s Colonial area.
Later we were entertained by a legendary creation by rural farmers that dates back to the early 11th century called a Water Puppet Show. It was quite entertaining and impressive considering how long ago it was created.
Our last evening and farewell dinner with our new found friends we made on this Uniworld River Cruise was super fun! We were entertained by local musicians using their traditional Vietnam instruments while we feasted on fabulous food and exchanged emails in hopes that we would meet again on our travels…
The census from the group was that The Mekong River Cruise was a “trip of a lifetime” experience and each would be River Cruising much more in the near future… and we couldn’t agree more!
Many were heading for home in the morning and others wisely stayed and did an overnight “Junk” boat extension to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site “Ha Long Bay”.
Ha Long Bay is located in the Gulf of Tonkin, in the northeast of Vietnam, a 3.5 hour drive from Hanoi. It covers a large area of land including over 1,600 islands and islets, most of which are uninhabited and unaffected by humans, which makes it quite special, mystical and pure. The spectacular seascape of uniquely formed hills and rocks is an ideal place to visit and snap tons of pictures! It was truly another major highlight of our trip!
If you want to see more sites & sounds from our trip you can Check out our pictures & videos of our “Mekong River” Cruise as pictures are worth a thousand words, as the saying goes. 🙂
So, are you ready to experience a Vietnam & Cambodia River Cruise yourself? Then contact Shawn today & he’ll help you get that Dream Vacation planned!
Keep Learning & Cruising.
We appreciate you!
Nancy & Shawn
Your Trusted Cruise Experts!