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Mekong River Cruise Guide

  • Visit magnificent destinations including Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh and Saigon on a memorable Mekong river cruise
  • Discover stilt houses, rice paddy fields and orange-robed monks with the help of an expert guide
  • When to go on a Mekong river cruise, what to pack and essential travel tips when visiting Cambodia and Vietnam

The mighty Mekong river stretches almost 3,000 miles, flowing from China through Burma, Thailand and Laos into Cambodia and Vietnam. The latter two countries were once accessible to only the most intrepid explorers, but today’s travellers can explore fascinating cultures, awe-inspiring landscapes and sacred sights on a luxury Mekong river cruise.

Why go on a Mekong river cruise?

Keen to travel to South East Asia but can’t decide between a holiday to Vietnam or a holiday to Cambodia? Then why not combine trips to both amazing countries on a Mekong river cruise? It’s an easy and hassle-free way to visit magnificent destinations including Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh and Saigon all on one incredible trip. You’ll get the chance to learn more about each country’s culture, take in its spectacular scenery and, of course, meet wonderful local people.

The benefits of discovering Vietnam and Cambodia on a Mekong delta cruise are endless. Enjoy luxurious accommodation and first-class dining in city hotels and aboard your river ship, and an expert guide will accompany you on excursions to popular must-see sights. Bringing history to life and sharing insights about stilt houses, rice paddy fields, orange-robed monks and more, Mekong river cruises are a comfortable, leisurely way to explore two captivating lands.

Mekong river cruise destinations

Often you’ll be faced with two options when booking a Mekong river cruise. Travel upstream from Saigon to Siem Reap or sail downstream and embark on the opposite journey. Whatever you choose, the destinations on your itinerary will be the same, just in a different order.

While in Saigon – or Ho Chi Minh City as it’s also called – you’ll discover a dynamic, bustling city that never seems to sleep. Visit the impressive Notre Dame Cathedral and Saigon’s remarkable colonial-style post office, while a trip to the lively Ben Thanh market is a must – you’ll find some unique souvenirs to take home. A more thought-provoking excursion, however, is to the Cu Chi tunnels, a complex underground network used by Viet Cong soldiers during the Vietnam War.

Further along the Vietnam river at Sa Dec, a colourful local market awaits, while a tour around the nearby Cao Dai Temple is sure to intrigue. Cao Dai Temple is the centre of a unique indigenous religion – Caodaism – that was established in 1926. Taoism, Buddhism and Chinese Confucianism are all worshipped here, too, as well as Christianity, Islam and spiritualism. The temple’s saints include Joan of Arc, Shakespeare and Winston Churchill.

mekong river cruise cao dai temple

Cao Dai temple, Tay Ninh, Vietnam

When the Mekong River reaches Phnom Penh, it’s easy to see why Cambodia’s busy capital was referred to as the ‘Paris of the East’ during colonial times. Many elegant buildings have been preserved in the old French Quarter, a stark contrast to the architecture of the city’s Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. One quirky way of seeing the must-see sights of Phnom Penh is on a cycle-rickshaw.

Arriving in Siem Reap, the excitement mounts as the town is the gateway to one of the largest religious monuments in the world, Angkor Wat. The temple is part of an immense UNESCO-listed archaeological site, and home to over 150 significant monuments. The best time to visit Angkor Wat is as the morning mist lifts – bring your camera to capture an iconic holiday shot.

mekong river cruise angkor wat

Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Other highlights of a Mekong river cruise

Cruise along the section of river in the heart of Cambodia, near Kampong Chhnang. Astonishingly, the flow of the river Mekong changes its direction here, depending on whether it’s the dry or wet season.

This part of the Mekong River is also home to numerous endangered species, including the Irrawaddy dolphin and Mekong giant catfish. The surrounding area provides an incredible ecosystem with around 20,000 plant species, 1,200 types of bird, 800 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 430 species of mammal. New species are being discovered every year.

The best time of year for a Mekong river cruise

The dry season in Cambodia and Vietnam falls from November to March, but don’t be put off booking a holiday during the wetter months. Rain showers only last for half an hour or so, and the temperature will still average 30°C (87°F) in Phnom Penh. Higher water levels can sometimes mean shorter transfer times to attractions. Plan your trip carefully and ask for advice from your cruise company as to the optimum time for your particular Mekong river cruise.

What to pack for a Mekong river cruise

As with any river cruise, the dress code onboard your ship will be relaxed and informal, so bring comfortable clothing. Lightweight, loose-fitting shorts, tops and trousers will be appreciated in the heat, as will a sun hat and sunglasses.

Remember to pay your respect when visiting places of worship and cover up your knees and shoulders. A short-sleeved shirt or blouse is appropriate attire. You may be frowned upon, or even refused entry if you simply throw a shawl or scarf over a strappy vest top. It’s also worth noting that you must remove your hat when visiting a Buddhist temple and any time you’re in the presence of a monk.

Trousers, long dresses or skirts and long-sleeved tops are worth packing to prevent mosquito bites. Pack plenty of insect repellent, too. Mosquitoes can be a problem if you’re unprepared, especially during the rainy season, so pack wisely.

Other essentials include sunscreen, a camera and, most importantly, good walking shoes. While excursions ashore will be at a leisurely pace and sometimes involve other transport such as a rickshaw or junk boat, you could be on your feet for several hours at a time. No one wants to be thinking about heel blisters when facing a spectacular sight.

mekong river cruise woman tourist relaxing by the mekong

Relaxing by the Mekong River

Explore Cambodia and Vietnam on a Mekong river cruise

Intrigued to find out more about Cambodia and Vietnam? Look no further than our 15-day journey on the Mekong cruise, the ideal way to immerse yourself in two fascinating cultures in just one holiday. Start from Saigon or Siem Reap, you decide.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.