Amalotus Mekong River Cruise

Part 3 of the Far Eastern Trilogy that my wife and I recently completed covers the main reason for the journey – the cruise along the Mekong River between My Tho in Vietnam and Siem Reap in Cambodia.

Day one saw us departing our hotel in Saigon late morning for the 90 minute coach transfer to the Mekong Delta port of My Tho: a bustling river port that is the southernmost hub for Mekong River cruising and tours…

 

 

We had booked a Catergory A Suite on Saigon Deck…

…which offered a French Balcony in addition to a outside balcony…

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…seen here from  an exterior aspect …

Indeed, 90% of the Amalotus Suites have both a French Balcony and Outside balcony.

The suite had a reasonably sized en-suite…

 

The centre of the ship’s passenger activity was the very spacious Saigon Lounge and Bar…

 

The Main dining venue was the Mekong Restaurant

 

Breakfast and lunch onboard were semi-buffet affairs. Beverages were always served at the table with free flowing complimentary wines and beers for lunch and dinner.

Breakfast was a  pretty steady Western affair with the exception of a Noodle Soup Bar…

 

Lunches and dinners were heavily biased towards  Asian dishes and flavours. Having said that,  there was always a star Western main course each evening plus an alternative selection of the steak, chicken and salmon variety.

One excellent feature was that a presentation of the main course meals was displayed at the Restaurant entrance in order that diners could see exactly what the dishes described looked like…

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 (Spot the Rack of lamb centre right)

The upper deck (Sun Deck) was partially  shaded…

It was very comfortable with quality furniture and also had a bar serving alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and teas, coffees and snacks.

At the aft end of the Sun Deck there was a swimming pool…

…while at the front end passengers had use of the Bridge Deck for scenic viewing of the way ahead…

 

Other facilities on board included a small gym, a spa with three separate massage rooms, a small quiet reading room forward and a reception and tour manager’s desk in the central atrium area.

We soon discovered that Amalotus offered a large amount of space per passenger and exuded a rather boutique atmosphere. With the exception of premium branded spirits, drinks were complimentary and we found the ‘house’ gin more than acceptable…

…Cheers…

 

The Itinerary

Following a standard safety drill Amalotus set sail at 4.30 and we headed up the Mekong River as far as Cai Be, where we moored midstream overnight.

On the first evening we had the usual Captain’s Welcome Party followed by an excellent introduction as to what we could look forward to each evening, a Luke Nguyen Vietnamese Banquet Dinner

 

The following morning we headed for the first of many shore excursions. Each passenger was allocated their own personal ‘Vox Box’ in order to listen to the commentaries of the guides…

These proved invaluable, especially to those of us who like to wander off in search of that unusual photograph.

Passengers were split into four groups, affectionately known as ‘families’ and each family identified by a colour. The tour manager arranged excursion departure times in order that each ‘family’ would benefit from a ‘first away’ departure.  It as a very fair system.

The tenders were all provided locally and stayed with the Amalotus for variable times depending on the length of our daily journey. While in transit for short distances the tenders would be towed by Amalotus…

Cai Be sits on a tributary river of the Mekong and is a hive of water activity. This tributary also supports a large floating market, actually more wholesale than retail. These sellers identify what they are selling by hoisting an example of the produce  from the boat’s mast…

 

Cai Be is a colourful port area filled with old colonial buildings and an impressive French Gothic Cathedral…

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While in Cai Be we also visited what was described as a ‘Candy’ workshop…

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…and a rice paper manufacturer…

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We also took the opportunity to sample the local snake wine…

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…before eventually returning on board for lunch while Amalotus sailed to our next stop, Sa Dec.

As the main provincial town of the district Sa Dec is considerably larger than Cai Be and has an infinitely busier waterway…

Our first stop on the afternoon excursion was the local Brick factory…

We soon judged how labour intensive it was, observing the unloading of the basic clay  briquettes …

 

The raw materials for brick making are of course in abundance. The Mekong River with dense banks of clay and the Mekong’s innumerable rice farms – providing a by-product of the paddy fields – the rice husks – for fuel. There are some interesting facts available to those keen to use the internet – it takes about 150 tons of husks to bake a batch of bricks by this relatively low-tech method. The process takes 55-60 days to fire, and another 10 to cool.

 

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There was more to see than just bricks at Sa Dec though. It had a bustling street market. Little goes to waste in Vietnam, particularly offal…

The Vietnamese people love their seafood, and despite its distance from the sea, Sa Dec’s market illustrated this fact…

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The highlight of the Sa Dec excursion was however a visit to its most famous home.

Between 1928 and 1932 the French writer Marguerite Duras lived in Sa Dec. During that time she had a love affair with the son of a wealthy Chinese family, Huynh Thuy Le. This love affair became the basis for Duras’s award winning novel, The Lover.

‘The purportedly autobiographical novel, published in 1984, tells the story of a teenage French girl’s affair with her wealthy Chinese lover in colonial Indochina which was later made into a film of the same name’.

http://www.thingsasian.com/stories-photos/44466

APT had arranged for us to have tea at the ‘House in Sa Dec’ complete with a tour and presentation of its history…

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Finally in Sa Dec we were given a tour of the very colourful riverside Cao Dai temple...

The following day we completed our border crossing formalities between Vietnam and Cambodia…

Though this took most of the morning it proved an ideal time to relax on deck and observe the hive of activity of the Mekong River. There was no involvement for passengers. The Amalotus staff arranged all this and the visa fee of 35 US Dollars was added to our on board account.

After lunch we moored off the town of Tan Chau.The afternoon excursion once again took us into the heart of the countryside where we visited first the home of a village Head Man…

followed by a visit to a ‘rattan mat’ factory…

…and a silk factory…

The afternoon also included a long ‘Xe Loi’ (rickshaw) ride, which proved great fun,  between the countryside visits and the silk factory which was actually in the main town…

The following morning we arrived at Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital. We were scheduled for an overnight stop in this vibrant city that I had last visited some 10 years ago though my wife had not. I was determined that we would make the most of it.

Needless to say though I re-acquainted myself and some friends with the delights of a few drinks at Phnom Penh’s famous Foreign Correspondents Club…

There were many APT excursions including visits to the Royal Palace complex, seen here the ‘Temple of the Emerald Buddha’ or its alternative name, the Silver Pagoda

 

…the Killing Fields, seen here the Commemorative Stupa filled with the skulls of the victims at  Choeung Ek…

…the amazing interior of Phnom Penh central market…

…and Wat Phnom, the Mountain Pagoda,  the tallest religious structure in the city…

Another excursion took us to the genocide Museum at Tuol Sleng.

Phnom Penh proved a phenomenal visit and is really worthy of more photographs. I will produce, in the near future, a full report of the visit in the form of one of my ‘One way to do…’ series.

Our two days completed in Phnom Penh we sailed after lunch and continued our journey up the Mekong River, docking at Kok Chen…

Docking? Well this was the first occasion we experienced the versatility of the Amalotus…

We approached the river bank…

The crewman pole-vaulted ashore…

and once tied up securely, we streamed ashore…

Kok Chen was another of those visits where we really managed to delve into  the cultural life of the Cambodian people. Kok Chen  is a small village that specialises in silver and copper decorative items such as jewellery and artefacts. Despite its small size it supports a pagoda with numerous stupas…

 

and the pride of the village, its river racing canoes…

The following day, our penultimate full day on board Amalotus,  saw us berthing on yet another river bank…

 

 

…in order for us to make the 40 minute journey to the Vipassana Dhura Buddhist Center, the largest of its kind in Cambodia. As part of our visit APT had arranged a monk’s blessing, for those that wished, in the Monastery Temple

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The internal decor of the temple was something to behold…

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The monks and novices were most accommodating, particularly when I had wandered off and found their amazing dining room. There was no problem allowing me to take photographs…

…obviously not such a bad life.

Our day at Oudong ended with an ox cart ride through the Kampong Tralach district to where Amalotus was berthed…

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I previously mentioned the groups or families that we were split into. Each Family had its own guide and colour. I would guess this next photograph illustrates how the individual guides took care of their group during activities …

We were in ‘green’ family and that’s our guide on the bike with his green wand.

Our final full day saw us taking an excursion to the riverside town of Kampong Chhnang – that’s the correct spelling. Very dependent on fishing the town naturally had a sizeable floating village on its doorstep…

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…as well as its stilted houses on the waterfront…

The walking tour through the town produced two memorable photographs. Our guide giving us a demonstration on how to eat the Cambodian version of Duck Egg embryo

…and this gem…

The visit to Kampong Chhnang concluded our excursions from Amalotus though of course there was our stay in Siem Reap still to come.

Needless to say there was a special ‘farewell dinner’ on board Amalotus as we said our goodbyes to the staff who had looked after us so well, in particular the English table’s outstanding waitress, Soun…

…and not forgetting the final dish she served that evening…

The following day we set off by coach for the transfer from Prek K’Dam for Siem Reap.

As with Phnom Penh, Siem Reap is one fascinating place to visit.

APT had arranged for us to be accommodated at the prestigious Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra hotel…

 …a Cambodian garden sanctuary with its lavish rooms…

…and iconic Mouhots Restaurant  –  surrounded by a lake that reflects the clear moonlight through floor-to-ceiling windows while we experienced the most romantic and luxury Khmer/French  fusion cuisines and service…

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…following some relaxation poolside….

Siem Reap is of course the centre for visiting the world famous temples of Angkor Wat. With this in mind APT again did their customers proud. The morning following our arrival we were woken at 4 am in order to be in a position to witness the sunrise over Angkor Wat

Not satisfied with that spectacle they laid on champagne and nibbles to accompany the sunrise. We then were given a guided tour of the whole Angkor Wat complex which included an APT organised ‘first up’ (priority treatment) the steps to the King’s Temple, the highest point inside Angkor Wat…

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…which offered some magnificent views in all directions…

 

Another visit took us to the Angkor Thom and Bayon Temple. But for me by far the most fascinating was the separate excursion to the Ta Prohm Temple – possibly better known for its featuring in the film, Tomb Raider… 

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and finally: anyone seen Lara Croft?...

 

International flights were with Singapore Airlines and internal flights were with Vietnamese Airlines

Summary

I trust those who have followed this trilogy have both enjoyed them and found them informative. I appreciate that they have been of almost tome proportions but on this occasion I felt it necessary to give the amount of information that give  justice to APT’s organisation .

APT certainly take their guests deep into the cultural side of these two countries and no one can fail to get an appreciation of what life is like in both Cambodia and Vietnam from, shall we say, behind the scenes.

Their organisation and attention to detail is second to none and the enthusiasm of their staff, at every level, was exemplary.

The full programme that we undertook doesn’t come cheap but, as the saying goes, “you do get what you pay for”.  When one considers the levels of accommodation, the inclusive excursions, drinks and gratuities, this proved all-round great value for money

Of the 100 passengers onboard Amalotus for the Mekong River part of the journey there were a dozen from the UK, the vast majority being  Australians. Prior to joining Amalotus the tour group numbered 37 of which just 6 were British

The final question of course is “would we use APT again”. The simple answer is yes: we have already booked to do the Irrawaddy with them from Yangon (Rangoon) to Mandalay.

 

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3 responses to “Amalotus Mekong River Cruise

  1. Wow… as usual a well rounded informative trip report from our seasoned Travel Reporter Richard. Glad to see all these areas of the world you both travel to. Excursions sounds exhausting but the snake wine , that is something else and I know you are a man of unique tastes. Well done

  2. Excellent and very informative report. We have booked a similar tour with APT for 2016. Your photos are very helpful to see where we will be staying.

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