What my Mekong cruise was really like

Cruising down the Mekong on my virgin voyage into the world of cruising was an unforgettable experience that I just had to share on Travel Writers Radio with Graeme Kemlo. G&T’s at sunset, Angkor Wat at sunrise and meeting some of the happiest people I’ve ever encountered were just a couple of the highlights of this 8-day Mekong cruise from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City aboard the Toum Tiou II with CF Mekong Cruises by Croisi Europe.

Credit: CF Mekong Cruises

Ta Prohm temple, aka Tomb Raider temple

Our tour officially began in Siem Reap, where we spent two nights at the Regency Angkor Hotel and went on an unforgettable temple hop to Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm. We also visited the Artisans dÁngkor art centre, which supports young artists from Cambodia’s rural areas, and the lively Pub Street, where crunching on barbequed tarantula and washing it down with beer isn’t that uncommon.

The following day we transferred to Koh Chen and settled into our cabins aboard the Toum Tiou II, which included ensuites and air-conditioning, a luxury that I was eternally grateful for as it gets pretty steamy in this part of the world.

Mr Ry and Smiley – possibility the happiest people on earth?

On day two of our Mekong cruise, we set sail to Kampong Chhang on Tonle Sap Lake and visited Andong Russey Pottery Community, where I met one of the happiest people on earth—Mr Ry. His ecstatic disposition may have something to do with the rice wine he and his wife make. Or maybe he is just high on life, especially when shimming up palm trees to collect the sap to make palm sugar, which is sold alongside the handmade pottery this village is famous for.

Colourful fishing villages along the Mekong

On day three, we took an oxcart to Wat Kampong Tralach Leu Pagoda, adorned with murals of daily life, where a monk blessed us. We set sail to Camodia’s ancient capital, Udong, and had a fascinating chat with one of the nuns who lives at the Vipassana Dhura Buddhist Meditation Centre. Mind you, it was a very quiet chat because we had arrived during prayer time. After wandering through the centre past ornate temples and handcrafted homes placed around a tranquil lake, I began to understand the appeal of meditation and why many nuns and monks dedicate themselves to this centre.

The sparkly Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

The following day, we steamed into the sparkly lights of Phnom Penh and visited the shiny Royal Palace before exploring the Art Deco Central Market, back streets and elegant French Quarter for a peek into the daily lives of local Cambodians. As the capital of Phnom Penh, I highly recommend taking more time here before joining the cruise and visiting the Killing Fields and former school Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, aka S21. I won’t sugarcoat it. This is a confronting and upsetting experience, but I feel you can’t visit the city without paying tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. If you spend more time in Phnom Penh, the Anik Palace Hotel offers very comfy beds and a rooftop bar for epic sunsets.

Anik Palace Hotel, Phnom Penh

We crossed the border the next day, and the staff took care of the formalities on our behalf as the Mekong became busier, functioning as a watery highway and leaving behind the Cambodia’s colourful fishing villages. We arrived in Tra Su Forest and took a motorboat and rowboat through this stunning biodiverse area before heading to Chau Doc to take a cable car up Sam Mountain for incredible views of the verdant landscape where Cambodia meets Vietnam.

Where Cambodia and Vietnam meet from Sam Mountain

The next day I wondered if unicorns do exist when we visited Unicorn Island (aka Thoi Son), famous for its honey and sampan rides through the mangrove lined canals.

Looking for unicorns on Unicorn Island, aka Thoi Son

Sailing into Ho Chi Minh at sunset was a spectacular way to arrive. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we transferred to Vespas to zip through the city of over seven million motorbikes with Urban Venture Tours. Cultural immersion was planned for our final couple of days as we visited the Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, Post Office, City Square, Opera House, Giac Lam Pagoda and Chinatown made all the more vibrant as Luna New Year celebrations adorned the city, along with young women posing in traditional Vietnamese outfits for photos – given the crowds, I suspect they made history by breaking Instagram that day.

Posing for Luna New Year in front Ben Thanh Markets, Ho Chi Minh City

I was fortunate enough to spend a few more days exploring Ho Chi Minh City. If you’re basing yourself in the vibrant District 1, I highly recommend staying at the grand Hotel Majestic Saigon. But here’s a tip: opt for a room on one of the higher floors, as there is a nightclub next door pumping until the wee hours.

Giac Lam Pagoda, the oldest pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City

Vietjet conveniently flies between most Australian capital cities, including direct flights from Perth to Ho Chi Minh City. It’s definitely worth upgrading to SkyBoss class, Vietjet’s answer to Premium Economy, for a dedicated check-in counter, lounge access, care packs (I always love a snuggly blanket when flying), meal inclusions, and seats at the front of the plane. Please read my full review of my flight here so you, too, can fly like a boss.

Here’s a link to my review of CF Mekong Cruises on Tripadvisor

Full disclosure: I was an indulgent guest of CF Mekong Cruises, Anik Palace, Regency Angkor Hotel, and VietJet. Here is my review of the Mekong cruise on Tripadvisor.

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