- I went on CroisiEurope’s From the Mekong Delta to the Temples of Angkor river cruise, an 11-day tour that starts in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and ends in Siem Reap.
- The cruise tour goes deep on history and culture, and all activities—including tours of Angkor Wat temples and Ho Chi Minh City, plus a tuk-tuk tour in Phnom Penh—are included in the price of the tour (as are meals).
- Read on for my full review of this river cruise experience.
CroisiEurope River Cruises’ From the Mekong Delta to the Temples of Angkor river cruise departs Vietnam on a memorable voyage to Cambodia’s sacred temple complex at Angkor Wat. Four small ships cruise the Mekong River in both directions on 11- to 17-day itineraries (including land tours) between August and April. I sailed on the 31-stateroom RV Indochine II, which stands out for all its cabins offering balconies (a feature I loved).
BEST OF THE BEST: Best Tour Companies for Guided Tours
France-based CroisiEurope Cruises is a family-run river cruise company that began in 1976 and now has more than 50 ships operating in destinations around the world.
Things to Know About CroisiEurope’s From the Mekong Delta to the Temples of Angkor River Cruise
- CroisiEurope has four colonial style, wooden, three-deck Mekong River ships. While the RV Lan Diep (22 cabins), RV Toum Tiou II (14 cabins) and RV Indochine (24 cabins) are similar, the 31 cabins on the premium RV Indochine II all have private balconies. I loved having a balcony to watch river life flow by from the comfort of my cabin.
- Why Go? The Mekong River, approximately 4,300 miles long, flows from the Tibetan Plateau in China through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam. Nearly 17 million people live along just Viet Nam’s section of the rich Mekong Delta. Its banks, filled with life and industry, are even more interesting than the largely jungle landscape.
- On CroisiEurope river cruises, onboard activities, meals and non-alcoholic beverages are included in rates. What makes this cruise line good value is that all guided shore excursions and tours – including meals off the ship – are also included in rates. Because there’s no additional cost, everyone participates in the excursions and there’s more of a chance to make new friends on the trip.
- Poor infrastructure in parts of Vietnam and Cambodia make it tough to get around. Using a cruise ship for transport, plus organized tenders and ground transportation, removes that hurdle. Due to the language barrier, it’s very helpful to have expert guides lead shore excursions and sail with you to add onboard enrichment.
SOLO TRAVEL TOGETHER: 10 Best Tour Companies for Solo Travel
- CroisiEurope is based in France and guests are mostly French, with some Canadians, Belgians, and Germans in the mix. Guides are provided for any language speakers who sail. On our ship, four English speakers (out of 56 passengers) had their own full-time guide. A photographer from Barcelona joined our “English Speakers Table” at meals so he could practice his English, yet on excursions, the company had booked a Spanish-speaking guide just for him.
- The Mekong Cruise runs in both directions throughout the cruise season. We suggest you sail northbound from Ho Chi Minh City to Cambodia because the trip’s highlight is the magnificent temple complex at Angkor outside Siem Reap.
- The only downside of a river cruise is the unpredictable environmental impact of damming rivers and global warming. We lost the final day of being on the boat because the water level at Tonle Sap was too low to cross safely. Instead, the company arranged comfortable tour buses for the five-hour ride and made stops at two new attractions enroute to Siem Reap in Cambodia.
How to Book
2024 departure rates begin at $2,702 per person double occupancy for the 11-day version of this trip. You can book online, through a CroisiEurope agent on the phone (800-768-7232) or via a travel agent.
Important Details About “From the Mekong Delta to the Temples of Angkor” River Cruise
Each day of the Mekong River cruise, the ship stops for morning and afternoon shore excursions at small villages by the riverbank. CroisiEurope’s Cruise Director, Nicolas, thoroughly explained each excursion, what guests would experience, and the mobility requirements.
GO IN COMFORT: How to Choose the Best Walking Shoes for Travel
Most itineraries include stops at Ho Chi Minh City, My Tho, Cai Be, Vinh Long, Sa Dec and Chau Doc in Viet Nam; plus Phnom Penh, Koh Chen, Kampong Tralach, Kampong Chhnang, Siem Reap and Angkor, Cambodia.
In the villages, attractions might include an ornate Buddhist temple, the workshops of silver craftsmen or weavers, or a ceramics factory or fish farm. Expect to shop at busy produce and bargain clothing markets, tour flower nurseries in Sa Dec, hike through the countryside, cruise canals in a wooden longboat, and visit the village of Kampong Tralach in an oxcart.
The ship docks overnight at both Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and Phnom Penh. Older travelers will relate to historical attractions from the Vietnam War (1955-1975) and the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979.) Art lovers will appreciate the museums, palaces, and UNESCO World Heritage sites enroute.
A Day On The Mekong River
Our typical day aboard ship began with breakfast, then an excursion, shower and lunch. After lunch, when the sun was high, I enjoyed a nap, then an excursion, returned to join a ship’s activity, then got ready for dinner.
AT YOUR OWN PACE: 9 Best Companies for Hiking and Walking Tours
In the afternoons, there were cultural talks by the guides and a fruit and vegetable carving class with the chefs. One cocktail hour, we tried an insect tasting of roasted crickets, spiders and scorpions –- a local treat. Each evening at 9:00pm, a relevant film (the Catherine Deneuve-starring “Indochine,” Roland Joffe’s “The Killing Fields” or a documentary) was screened on a big TV in the lounge.
Modern History Activities
Two nights are spent docked in Ho Chi Minh City to see the traditional Chinese Market and the Thien Hau Temple, now in the shadow of glittering highrises. Guides point out Vietnam War era sights such as the “American Embassy” roof (in fact, CIA Headquarters), site of the evacuee airlift as Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. The Cu Chi Tunnels tour to see the hand-excavated, underground city used as shelter by the Viet Cong, is a tribute to Vietnamese ingenuity.
In Phnom Penh, guests do a city tour by tuk-tuk motorbike taxi to see the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda, with its solid silver floor tiles and emerald Buddha. Some of the best-preserved Khmer sculptures from Angkor, housed in the National Museum, offer an exciting preview of the trip’s climax. We also paid a sorrowful visit to S-21, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Our guide, whose parents lived through the Pol Pot era, explained this Security Office was where prisoners of the Khmer Rouge were interrogated and tortured.
Monuments of Ancient History
The UNESCO World Heritage site at Angkor, a bucket list item for many, is extraordinary in its scale and beauty. The Angkor Archaeological Park boasts significant remains of stone Hindu and Buddhist temples built by the Khmer Emperors between the 9th and 15th centuries. The CroisiEurope land tour selectively explores a few of the 300 temples in the 154-square-mile complex over three days/two nights. You tour the most famous temples of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Bayon.
PACK WELL: 10 Essentials for Your Carry-On Bag
A good guide is essential to understanding why Angkor temples are unique architecturally and historically. The fact that locals still worship there and leave offerings daily adds to the spiritual impact of the site. We spent another two nights in Siem Reap to see more of the temples on our own, a must if you have the time and interest.
The mixed Vietnamese and Cambodian culinary team produce a delicious blend of Continental style salads and proteins alongside dishes local to each port of call. Foods were perfectly spiced to taste authentic but without the fire a local might prefer. CroisiEurope places an emphasis on locally sourced seafood, vegetables, and healthy entrees. Yet breads, desserts, and morning croissants are baked to perfection for demanding French guests.
Breakfast and lunch are self-served from bountiful buffets, while some dinners are table service. The attentive wait staff, elegant in their traditional Cambodian sarongs, remember diner preferences. They noted my allergy to cilantro and were quick to point out the herb in any dishes or sauces.
Amenities Along the Way
Cabins are well stocked with drinking water and toiletries, and there is nightly turndown service. Each night of the cruise, well-priced cocktail and wine specials are curated by the multilingual bartender. The 24/7 coffee, tea and house-made biscuits station is always available on the sundeck. While gratuities are included in rates for all crew and cabin attendants, the Cruise Director and Purser are very helpful in arranging additional gratuities guests may want to leave.
Another surprise was the luxury land tour to Angkor. The sophisticated town of Siem Reap is packed with art galleries, boutiques, and fine restaurants supported by a large base of international expatriates. CroisiEurope hosted two meals and a wonderful night of theater in town during our stay. Our land tour base was the opulent Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort. The beautiful gardens, bird sanctuary, lagoon pool, and elegant restaurant made the hotel itself a highlight of the trip.
CruiseCritic.com gives the CroisiEurope Mekong Cruise an editor rating of 4.5 stars out of a possible 5 stars.
Best for/Worst for
In my opinion, the CroisiEurope From the Mekong Delta to the Temples of Angkor river cruise exceeds expectations as an exciting and interesting yet also relaxing river cruise. There is little shopping or entertainment available, making it best suited to adult history and culture buffs. Anyone with an interest in the French Colonial era or Vietnam War years in the Vietnam-Cambodia region will be fascinated. There were many extended family and adult children with elder parent groups on our tour and all enjoyed the experience.