From the charming ports of Cambodia to the bustling hubs of Vietnam, Stuart Forster immerses himself into local life on the Mekong River, the lifeblood of Southeast Asia.
Let Stuart show you what to expect on a 15 night Viking cruisetour along the Mekong River, which includes 270 miles between Kampong Cham, Cambodia, and My Tho, Vietnam – a tenth of the mighty River Mekong’s total course.
The Mekong is very much a working river, supporting millions of people along its shores, so a cruise here is an opportunity to see first-hand the commerce and culture that make the region so fascinating.
Plus, the journey comes with all the usual benefits of river cruising, from onboard fine dining and intimate excursions to being able to dock in or near the heart of a city and walk to the center of town.
With your feet up on the sun deck, you’ll have a prime spot for observing life on the river. Fishermen are busy working in narrow wooden boats with arched canopies. Smiling kids wave before launching themselves into the slow-flowing, golden water from lush banks that provide a habitat to 430 types of mammals, a host of reptiles and amphibians, plus 1,200 bird species, including egrets and kingfishers hunting for fish.
Kong, a Cambodian with an Aussie accent, and Tony, who’s Vietnamese but sounds passably American, are the cruise’s program directors and explain how you’ll meet each evening on the sun deck to discuss plans and excursions for the day ahead. There’ll also be a series of movies and lectures in the library, after dinner each evening, on subjects as diverse as modern Cambodian history and Southeast Asia’s wedding ceremonies.
Rising early the next day, grab your camera for a pre-breakfast stroll around the gilded Wat Dey Dos pagoda, opposite the dock. With ornately painted shrines depicting scenes from Buddhist mythology and golden statues of monks and animals, it’s a taster of the visual feast awaiting you at the twin mountaintop monasteries of Phnom Pros and Phnom Srei.
In Phnom Penh the ship will moor alongside the Sisowath Quay, an area buzzing with life come dusk. Locals meet en masse to exercise, including group aerobics sessions accompanied by music, to socialize and to browse mobile stalls selling snacks such as deep fried tarantula; a delicacy that takes a brave heart to eat. Enjoy wandering through the night market, where clothing and handcrafted ornaments are sold for dollars, Cambodia’s de facto currency.
Explore the cultural highlights of Phnom Penh sitting in the armchair-like seats on the front of cyclos. Drivers in traditional bamboo hats skillfully pedal the heavy iron-framed vehicles through busy streets. This proves a rewarding means of photographing everyday life in the Cambodian capital.Sailing south, into the Mekong Delta and Vietnam, it’s soon apparent the river is the focal point for local life. On the sun deck enjoy relaxing, chatting with fellow passengers and observing activity on fish farms, at ferry stations where people and vehicles board open-sided vessels, and, captivatingly, aboard the many low barges dredging sediment for use in construction.
To taste more of life onshore transfer onto a sampan, a covered wooden motorboat, enabling you to navigate into canals and narrow tributaries. At Sa Dec and wander through the quayside market, where hollering female traders in conical non la hats are happy to be photographed by the live fish and exotic fruits sold at their stalls.
Disembarking at My Tho, an hour by road from Ho Chi Minh City, marks the end of a pleasantly paced river journey that’s provided an array of memorable insights into the culture, heritage and diversity of daily life in the Mekong Delta.
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