Expert Review: Mekong Princess Cruise
| Mekong River
A Mekong River cruise is truly an incredible travel experience that gives you a unique view into life along one of Asia’s mightiest rivers. This past January, I had the opportunity to board the luxurious Mekong Princess River vessel and sailed through the Mekong Delta region of Cambodia and Vietnam. With so many Mekong River cruises to choose from, I would like to give you an inside look into my experience onboard the Mekong Princess to see if it matches with your travel style and preferences.
The Mekong Princess is an elegant and spacious 12-suite cruise vessel that reflects the French colonial era of Cambodia and Vietnam. The suites are superbly appointed with sophisticated decor and services. The boat is fairly new, built in 2015, it operates with minimum engine noise and has almost no sailing vibration. The operators have over 15 years of experience operating in the Mekong River area, and they are considered pioneers of the Mekong River cruise industry. The Mekong Princess offers 4, 5 and 8-day cruise options, both upstream and downstream. I was on the 8-day cruise itinerary, with pre and post cruise extensions, making the total an 11-day trip.
The Princess Mekong Cruise 8-Day Itinerary with Pre-Cruise Angkor Wat Tour
I started off with my 2-night pre-tour extension in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I stayed at the wonderful Angkor Belmond hotel property and explored the Angkor Wat ruins. I cannot stress enough how much I recommend opting in for a pre-tour of Angkor Wat. If you’re in Cambodia, this UNESCO World Heritage site and wonder of the world is not to be missed. Angkor Wat is the largest and oldest religious complex in the world and it’s quickly becoming the reason why travelers are going to Cambodia. From Siem Reap, we drove for about 4 hours to get to our Kampong Cham port to board the Mekong Princess cruise. Although 4 hours may seem like a long bus ride, it went by fairly quickly. We were driving though the beautiful Cambodian country side and we were able to make a few quick stops along the way to see a market and to visit the Tonle Sap lake.
Day 1: Leaving Siem Reap and Boarding the Mekong Princess Cruise
Once we boarded the Mekong Princess cruise we immediately felt like we were onboard a mini “Titanic” cruise. The stunning decor was very obviously French-inspired and the service onboard was very attentive to every detail. We settled in onboard and had a delicious first dinner with on board entertainment.
Day 2: Cruising the Mekong in Cambodia and Life in a Local Cambodian Village
The next morning we explored the charming town of Angkor Ban, where we got a glimpse of local life of the village people. We were invited into their homes and visited a local school to give an English class. We also visited a Buddhist temple and had a blessing ceremony by a Cambodian Buddhist monk. Buffet lunch was served on board as we cruised to Phnom Penh. Once we docked in the country’s capital city, we had a walking tour of the nearby sights and then enjoyed a free evening in Phnom Penh city to explore.
Day 3: Cruising the Mekong and Exploring Phnom Penh
Breakfast onboard was served in buffet-style with many Asian and Western options. The kitchen staff can accommodate any type dietary requirement. After our delicious breakfast, we took a cyclo tour through Phnom Penh. We also went to the Royal Palace where we toured the Throne Hall and the Moonlight Pavilion. We went to see the famous silver pagoda where Cambodia’s emerald Buddha is stored. After lunch, we had a bit of a “dark” afternoon visiting the Killing Fields in Choeung Ek. This is where tens of thousands of people were killed and thrown into mass graves. This is home to the giant memorial that displays the skulls of everyone who died during this terrible time. Afterwards we visited Tuol Sleng, known as S-21, which was a school that was converted by the Khmer Rouge to a prison and torture headquarters. When we got back onboard the boat, we had dinner onboard and had local onboard entertainment. A local orphanage came to perform traditional Cambodian folklore dances. The amazing part about the onboard entertainment is that the Princess Mekong only works with local disadvantaged communities. These kids who performed their traditional folklore dances onboard are able to pay for their education because of these opportunities.
Day 4: Crossing into Vietnam - Cruising the Mekong River
This morning we arrived to Vietnam. We boarded a traditional Sampan (wooden boat) to explore the little-known riverside villages (Hong Ngu). This is not a common area for tourists to visit. This is where we met local Khmer scarf weavers, we all had the opportunity to see how kromas where made. We also visited a local temple that is dedicated to the Hoa Hao religion in Vietnam. We then got back on board and cruised to another village. At this village on Gieng Island, we saw how locals build wooden river boats. We walked around and interacted with locals. Afterwards we took a Xe Loi (motorized trishaw) around through the farm fields and visited a French catholic church in the year. Explore these small, remote villages was definitely a highlight of the entire trip!
Day 5: Hidden Port in Vietnam
This morning we visited another typical Vietnamese village, Hoa An, that is known for its flower and handicraft industries. We visited the flower gardens to see how farmers prepare for the new year- their busiest time of year! By motor cart we traveled to another small village where we saw rice fields, fruit farms and we learned how to make conical hats (the typical Vietnamese hats). Afterwards we boarded the boat and cruised down stream towards Can Tho city.
Day 6: Remote Buddhist Temple Visit
This morning we visited a big floating market near Can Tho, we watched how locals live on their boats until all of their produce is sold. This scenery and experience was very “quintessential Mekong Delta.” This is a great spot for photography since the market is very dynamic. Here we stopped to drink local coconut water (known as the anti-aging drink), and then we stopped a local factory to learn how to make Vietnamese rice noodles. We then cruised deeper through the Mekong Delta to see the Phuoc Hau Pagoda, an ancient Buddhist temple.
Day 7: Life Among the Mangroves
This morning we went out on a small wooden boat through a mangrove channel, we were cruising through the small tributaries of the Mekong River. Many people really liked this activity as it seemed like we escaped into an exotic jungle in the middle of the Mekong! Afterwards we walked through a small village to see how locals make coconut candy. We then road a small tuk tuk through the farms to experience more village life. Back on board the cruise we had a cooking demonstration and we cruised into Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon , Vietnam’s capital!
Day 8: Ho Chi Minh City - Saigon
Many ships are forced to dock outside of Saigon, however the Mekong Princess is able to dock right in the city, making it easy for a city tour. This day, we had a full-day city tour. We walked around to see the modern city buildings and luxury skyscrapers, went to the History Museum to learn about the evolution of Vietnamese culture. We visited Vietnam’s Cathedral of Notre Dame, the central post office and the historic Opera House.
Afterwards we visited the colorful Ben Thanh market. After the market we checked into the Intercontinental Hotel where we spent our last night. After lunch we visited the Reunification Hall (the Presidential Palace under the Ngo Dinh Diem regime). Here we went to see the underground Command Post of the now exiled president. At 7:30pm we had a special farewell dinner. Saigon is a very cosmopolitan city and I did not have too much time to explore it. I highly recommend spending another day or so here. There is just so much to do, see, and eat!
In my opinion, the Mekong Princess Cruise is an excellent option for a your Mekong tour through Cambodia and Vietnam. The itinerary is a bit slower paced, we didn’t have any active activities like mountain biking or kayaking, but it was very culturally immersive. We were able to get a real inside look into life along the river. The accommodations and services onboard are exquisite. It was a luxury to call such a spacious and well-appointed riverboat our home for over a week! For more information about the Mekong Princess Cruise, please contact us or call 1-888-215-3555.