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Cruising the Mekong in style

We set sail from Phnom Penh, Cambodia on the stunningly swollen river. So much so, the telegraph poles stand isolated in the river along with small wooden tin roofed houses surrounded by a patchwork of trees and bamboo.

Cruising all afternoon we learn how to make cold spring rolls filled with shrimp, carrot, noodles, mint and lettuce – a delicious afternoon snack!

We arrive at the Cambodian/Vietnam border. There are no fences, cables, bridges or rows of boats to demark the territory between the two countries, rather a set of stone steps on the bank with a flag pole either side and the respective flags hoisted high. After border formalities, all taken care of by the crew, we enter Vietnam and sail to Tan Chau where we anchor offshore for the night. It begins to rain, heavy rain, with bolts of jagged lightening dramatically illuminating the night sky.

The next morning we travel up the canal by speedboat to the town of Chau Doc. Lining the banks are houses on stilts with wooden boats tied up, their bows decorated with the ever seeing Mekong eyes to keep them safe. We later stopped to look at a fish farm. Not a conventional farm, however. Fish are kept under the houses in pens, fed and fattened before being transported in boats, usually live, to the fish processing factories. Taking a small channel our boat docked at a rickety wooden walkway that led to a Cham village where the people are amongst the Muslim minority in Vietnam. We crossed the road to see their mosque and the previous water levels that flooded the village are pointed out to us. Nearby, vendors sell vegetables on wheeled stalls that they gradually move along the street through the neighbourhood. Returning to the ship we weighed anchor and set sail once again.

There really is no better way to explore the rural charms of Cambodia and Vietnam than by cruising the Mekong and the Pandaw boat offers a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere with excellent staff and wonderful regional food. Paul Craven has just returned from a 3 night/ 4 day Mekong River Cruise on board the newly refitted Pandaw Mekong . His voyage started in Phnom Penh crossing watery borders to disembark near Ho Chi Minh City.

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River Cruise along the Mekong

The idea of a river cruise in some far off distant land has appealed to me for some time. Rivers are the life blood of a country with everyday life clearly visible on the bank. The thought of slowly drifting along, watching the world go by and not having to unpack and repack every few days was alluring. Add to that shore excursions to remote villages and temples, delicious food and the opportunity of an afternoon nap simply added to the attraction.

So when an opportunity presented itself to cruise south from Vientiane on the Mekong, I jumped at the chance. The boat and the experience lived up to all my expectations. At 48m long, it had a large, partially covered upper deck with reclining chairs, bar and lots of space. The middle deck had four air conditioned suites with balconies and an open air dining room. The lower deck housed the en-suite cabins with sliding French windows and air-conditioning should you need it and the wonderful Laotian crew to look after our every need.

But that is where the fantasy ended. All the excursions were into Thailand, and that area is dull with nothing of any importance to see. As such I will not bore you with the details. Such a shame.

There are two lessons to learn. The first is that our role is not only to find new and exciting ideas for travel but equally importantly it is to experience the things we would not recommend.

The second lesson is that fortunately we have tried many alternative river boat journeys on the Irrawaddy, the lower section of the Mekong, the Amazon and Brahmaputra to name but a few. They meet all our expectations.

Please call the Voyages team on 01285 880 981 for details of all our cruise holidays.