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30 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2015
I had read very good reviews about this boat but found I was a little disappointed. It could possibly be that we went at the wrong time of year as the Mekong was very low and getting on and off the boat was an ordeal at times. The crew ... Read More
I had read very good reviews about this boat but found I was a little disappointed. It could possibly be that we went at the wrong time of year as the Mekong was very low and getting on and off the boat was an ordeal at times. The crew had to dig out steps in the muddy banks or put cardboard on the damp mud (an accident waiting to happen, gladly I didn't hear of anyone having one). During one excursion we had to disembark from the boat into a sampan and then up a very steep path to shore where unfortunately I pulled a muscle in my calf and was unable to walk. I remained on the sampan until the excursion finished and we returned to the boat. When I mentioned this to the hotel manager she promptly got me an elastic bandage and arranged for me to have a massage at the ships expense, which greatly helped but I was unable to join any excursions the following day. In the brochure free drinks and cocktails were advertised but unfortunately the cocktails were only available on special occasions (Captains Dinner, New Years Eve and final Good bye dinner). The cabins offer a balcony but none of the cabins had one, there was a door which opened onto a shelf which housed the air conditioning unit - there was no room to even get outside. The cabins were extremely dark and the lights had to be on all the time in order for you see around ok. The restaurant catered for all tastes and the staff were always extremely pleasant. The most disappointing for us was that there was no entertainment/quiz/lecture etc after dinner so most people just went to bed out of boredom. Read Less
23 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
This cruise was part of a 12 day holiday of which 7 nights were on La Marguerite. We booked on a fly free cabin upgrade so decided to splurge and book the largest suite. Huge king bed, shame about the dark platform that it sat on as I have ... Read More
This cruise was part of a 12 day holiday of which 7 nights were on La Marguerite. We booked on a fly free cabin upgrade so decided to splurge and book the largest suite. Huge king bed, shame about the dark platform that it sat on as I have an enormous bruise... I took to placing something white on it to remind myself it was there! The cabin was huge with excellent storage and housekeeping were happy to bring more hangers if requested. The rooms were kept immaculate by the housekeeping staff. Bathroom had a spa bath although we had little time to use it. Dining room was pleasant and we enjoyed sharing tables with fellow passengers. Breakfast was varied, lunch plenty of salad options, nice soup. Dinners there was plenty of variety and generally the standard was good. We are very spoilt when it comes to wine and found the complimentary wines were adequate but not fantastic. The complimentary cocktails each night all tasted much the same and I wished we had brought a bottle of good gin duty free! I was particularly pleased that hand sanitiser was compulsory for all guests and staff entering the dining area and this helps against any gastro bugs...well done! The excursions were really great, the organisation was excellent and the local guides were terrific. We had a really good variety of experiences which were not too energetic given the heat is fairly intense. Cold water was freely available and welcome cold drinks and towels greeted us on return to the ship. The staff were fantastic are helping some of the passengers who had less mobility, as it was an age group from early 50"ies plus that was well done. We had several spa treatments which were excellent. The communal area were large enough for the group on board and we both enjoyed using the pool where we met some of the more active fellow passengers. Night life was limited to a trio and DJ... we made our own fun and got the dance floor moving on a few nights. The crew put on a floor show one night which was fun. Several evenings we had local entertainers come on board and perform. That was a little repetitive but that is the culture... don't buy the CD of local music... my husband got carried away and it was blank when we got home for which I am eternally grateful as I thought it was awful anyway! The tour information was at times very repetitive and what could be said in 10 minutes took half an hour and became a lecture...if it were not for the personal charm of the person it could have been man overboard as some of our fellow passengers became restless! Mainly Aussies and Kiwis on board, made for a happy bunch of travel companions. Our two nights in Siem Reap we amazing and I would recommend spending more time there if you like small cities...it was great and the Shinta Mani Resort was fabulous. We knew it would be a long bus ride to join La Marguerite and we would recommend this trip to those wanting to see the culture in a comfortable and well managed way! I was very glad to experience the Mekong River Read Less
17 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2015
From the start of the trip in Siam Reap to the last night in Saigon we couldn't fault a thing. The organisation of all the trips was spot on and Mau, our Cambodian guide was excellent. He is so enthusiastic and knowledgeable with a ... Read More
From the start of the trip in Siam Reap to the last night in Saigon we couldn't fault a thing. The organisation of all the trips was spot on and Mau, our Cambodian guide was excellent. He is so enthusiastic and knowledgeable with a smile that could light up any room. That isn't to say that the Vietnamese guides weren't very good, they were. The ship was very nice with a decent sized cabin and all the food was very fresh and tasty. We met some great people at meal times and in the bar who we hope to stay in contact with. All the excursions were very well organised and very interesting, the only one we didn't go on was the live food market. The entertainment in the evening isn't world class but then you aren't on a huge ship with thousands of passengers. The highlight for us was the talent competition and the disco on the sun deck. It felt very surreal being moored in the middle of the Mekong with the Birdy song blaring out. A massive thank you to the guides, all the crew and of course the captain and his second in command. I would recommend this cruise to anyone. Read Less
13 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2014
Before booking this kind of holiday please make sure it is for you. If it is what you want it is great, if not you could very well be disappointed. My husband and I cruised on La Marguerite 9-16 September 2014. Our first disappointment was ... Read More
Before booking this kind of holiday please make sure it is for you. If it is what you want it is great, if not you could very well be disappointed. My husband and I cruised on La Marguerite 9-16 September 2014. Our first disappointment was that we in our mid 50s were the youngest on board. On booking we had asked about ages and told it was mixed, but most were 70+. The ship is very nice, but not a lot of space to move about. Food was excellent but the lack of activity made it hard to enjoy it, as I never felt that hungry. All the staff were sweet and attentive - faultless in every way, and the boat was immaculately clean. The Vietnamese cruise director was incredible - Son - he could sell you anything - each day raising our hopes about the 'beautiful' things we were going to see, and though on each trip we were disappointed, we still believed him again next time. Without his lead there may well have been dissatisfied voices, but no-one wanted to upset him I think! the local guides who travelled with us had excellent English and tried hard, but they had little to show us. The real problem was the excursions. There really is nothing to see along the way, in Vietnam the river is wide and brown, the shore the same old farming land or village slums and rubbish, and most of the other boats you pass are large dredgers. In Cambodia it is slightly better, no dredgers. I didn't find anything beautiful to look out at. the sky is cloudy all the time, creating oppressive heat, then at some point each day there is a torrential down pour which can last hours. If you are on an excursion at the time, bad luck, put on a mac and get on with it. Mud everywhere! The daily excursions are to villages and to look at the homes of the people - so poor and full of rubbish - schools, markets (with some quite unpleasant sights) and temples, that are neither ancient or attractive. By the end of the week about half of the party had given up getting off the boat! If you want to see the real life of the local people, can face the dirt, smells and rubbish, and like sitting around chatting on the boat with free drinks and good food, and amateur evening entertainment - including poor copies of dvds - then this is for you. If you are expecting luxury, 5*, freedom to walk around on lovely excursions (during the briefing each night Son told us that the excursion would involve about 500 mtrs walking and 10 or so steps to climb - you get the idea - not meant for those with energy or no walking issues) then choose something else. As I said before - if this is what you are looking for you will love it. I felt we had been missold - or maybe I should have done more research before booking rather than relying on the travel agent and glossy brochure. Read Less
22 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2014
My Husband and I have just returned from a wonderful land tour of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia which included an overnight stay on a Junk in Halong Bay and a 7 night cruise down the Mekong on the ‘La Marguerite’ I am a compulsive note ... Read More
My Husband and I have just returned from a wonderful land tour of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia which included an overnight stay on a Junk in Halong Bay and a 7 night cruise down the Mekong on the ‘La Marguerite’ I am a compulsive note taker and write a diary for my own enjoyment but record practical information too for future reference. I have some mobility problems so was not able to access all the activities but I was so grateful to everyone that I met as they were all very helpful and supportive of the fact that I can’t walk very fast. I am posting extracts from my diary here which you may find useful. I am including my entries for our time in Siem Reap and Saigon (Ho Chi Min City) as i would guess that most people who sail the Mekong also visit these 2 cities. SIEM REAP AIRPORT. We arrived in Siem Reap on time and were greeted by musicians, dancers and a small gift box each with some local green tea......a very nice touch. The visa purchase (US$20pp) was completed quickly and fortunately all the luggage from our group arrived too which was a relief after Hoa's warning yesterday. The TravelMarvel local guide, Savon, met us at the arrivals exit and we were all on the bus and ready to go within 35 minutes of landing. The coach was positively luxurious with wide reclining seats and plenty of leg room......hopefully a sign of things to come. I was really surprised by Siem Reap as it appears to be much more 'westernised' in the way the shops etc are laid out than we saw in Vietnam or Laos. There looked to be a lot of very impressive hotels too. SOKHA ANGKOR HOTEL. This has the 'wow' factor from the moment we turned into the drive. The lobby area is huge and beautifully appointed with marble floors and sumptuous seating. We were greeted with ice cold towels and a cold drink while we waited to be given our room keys. Staff members were in the process of decorating the building for the Cambodian New Year celebrations tomorrow ROOM 221 It is a 'deluxe' city view twin room and is spacious and nicely decorated. I love the bathroom with the bath and separate shower. The beds are comfortable and the pillows are soft and fluffy -bliss! The other facilities are: TV with some English language channels Tea/coffee/kettle Mini bar Fridge Dressing table with mirror Several plug sockets with multi pin choices A bucket chair Telephone Alarm clock Toiletries Shaving mirror Dressing gowns Slippers hair drier Air conditioning Free wifi Safe Coffee table We had dinner in the hotel pub - a very nice Cambodian Red Curry and a 'so-so' burger and chips. After dinner we walked across to the supermarket and had a look round. It's amazing to see how familiar lots of the products were. Goods were priced in US$. We ended up buying 2 magnums and 2 cans of soft drinks. We ate the magnums sitting at the table by the supermarket entrance and watched the world go by. Back at the hotel we had our drinks and a game of scrabble before retiring to bed. SATURDAY 12TH APRIL – SIEM REAP. A.M. Very, very hot, high humidity and hazy sunshine. We were awake at 06.30. I had my coffee in bed while Jim got ready to go on is early morning bird hunt. While he was out I showered (bliss in the walk-in shower), shaved my legs, washed my hair and then did a bit of hand washing before going down for breakfast in the main restaurant . There was an extensive range of buffet food, both local and international, and pleasant servers. THE 'OLD' MARKET. We decided to get a US$2 tuk-tuk to the 'old' market. It is walkable but quite a long way and hard going in the heat. The market is under cover with a vast amount of stalls selling all kinds of food, clothing, textiles and souvenirs. We ended up buying quite a few things and bargained reasonably well. I could have bought a lot more but restrained myself! We walked across the river to the 'arts' market but felt they were asking a lot more for the same items so went back to the old market before getting the tuk-tuk back to the hotel. Jim went to the supermarket to get some biscuits and water to tide us over until dinner tonight while I sat in the shade by the pool and typed this up. We had some tea and biscuits in the room before meeting the group at 14.00 for the temple trip. ANGKOR THOM TEMPLE VISIT 14.00 to 16.30 We are now the 'orange group' to distinguish us from the new comers! The trip to the temple complex started with a 10 minute Drive through the suburbs to the 'check point' where we all had our photographs taken for our complex entry ticket ($40 for 3 days unlimited entry). Our guide provided us with a plastic wallet on a lanyard to put the personalised ticket in (if we forget the ticket or lose it we are responsible for purchasing a new one) and also gave us a receiver and head phones so we could hear Savon's commentary while moving around the temple. The temple complex is huge (800km sq) with over 800 temples dating from the 1st century AD. The Thom temple is just one of the many that are being constantly uncovered in the jungle that grew around them after they were abandoned in the 12th century. The most famous of the temples in the complex is Angkor Wat. The bus entered the complex area and passed an enormous lake where families were picnicking before we got to a car park where we had to change from our coach onto a mini bus. The bus then continued the journey past more picnicking groups and food and drink stalls before passing through a huge gateway where we could see the temple. The bridge over the moat by the gate was lined with statues of animal gods and reminded me of Ancient Egyptian temples. We left the mini bus and then Savon explained about the history of the temple before we went over to it. Our passes were examined by an official before we were able to access the temple itself. The ground is very uneven and there are steps up to the 3 different levels so I only did the first level and walked around that to our meeting point. The others went on exploring inside for a further 30 minutes while I found a spot to sit in the shade to wait for them. Once back on the mini bus, we were treated to a 30 minute drive around the countryside so we could get an idea of how people in the farming communities live. Most people seemed relatively prosperous and had sturdy, well kept houses and neat parcels of land. We transferred back to our coach for the 20 minute drive back to the hotel and we were in the room with a coffee at 16.40. LAUNDRY SERVICE. Jim took some dirty clothes to the laundry service recommended by one of our group - $2 per kilo. So we should get that back tomorrow. Our evening finished with a group meal in the restaurant followed by a display of traditional dancing. The buffet meal had a good mixture of Indochinese and international food and the dancing was beautiful. A game of scrabble completed the evening. SUNDAY 13TH APRIL. SIEM REAP. A.M. Boiling hot with clear sky and high humidity. P.M. Very, very, very hot and humid with sunny intervals. ANGKOR WAT. I find it difficult to believe that I am sitting writing this while watching the sunrise over the Angkor Wat Temple complex. Although it is quite crowded it is a magical scene and compares favourably with sunrises seen at the Taj Mahal, Mt Everest and over the River Nile. The adventure started when the alarm went off at 04.00. The group met in the lobby at 04.50 and we left the hotel at 05.00 for the short ride to the ticket station. The new members who had joined the group needed their photos taken for their ticket. We were given torches along with our commentary receiver sets and bottles of water as we left the coach. It was a long walk, for me, to the bridge over the lake and then across the bridge to the Wat wall gate before another longish walk to the cafe area for a drink and biscuits. It was getting lighter as we moved across the bridge and by the time we arrived for the refreshments the crowds were already taking up position for the best photograph as the sun emerged just to the left of the temple itself. As the sun rose higher the shafts of light created reflections of the temple building in the pool in front of the towers........ Just magnificent! DH 'parked' me on a seat overlooking the temple while he went into the complex. NB. There are the usual souvenir stalls at the edge of the main temple area. There are toilets and a cafe. The toilets are signposted behind the cafe and are very basic. There is a charge of 1000Rials. The one western toilet was dirty so I used a squat plate one. There is a concrete trough of water and a saucepan for flushing but no provision for toilet paper. There are a lot of souvenir sellers, some of whom were quite persistent and a lot were children. Inside the temple there are 3 levels to climb. The first 2 are fairly easy I believe but the 3rd one is quite strenuous. You must have shoulders and knees covered to climb the last stage. We walked slowly back to the meeting point back across the bridge, passing a bridal couple having their wedding photographs taken by the complex walls. We were all there at 08.15 and walked back to the bus, getting to the hotel just before 09.00. After breakfast Jim left for his 'quad bike' tour. QUAD BIKE EXCURSION. There were sixteen of us doing the quad bike excursion. We were picked up from the hotel by the quad bike companies own tuk-tuks and arrived at their headquarters after a ride of twelve minutes. We were first given a safety talk, issued with face masks, helmets and then had to complete a circuit to determine if we were competent at driving the bikes. Three of the ladies failed and they had to have a guide each to assist them with their driving. The route took us out into the flat country side which allowed us to see how the farming community worked and lived. The early tarmac roads soon disappeared and we then found ourselves on dirt tracks with undulating surfaces and this at times created quite a dust storm. After about forty minutes we stopped for a ten minute rest break. We then continued for a further 30 minutes before returning back to the starting point. I thought that the experience was good. TA PROHM TEMPLE. We left the hotel at 14.15 for the drive to Ta Prohm. Along the way Savon told us a little of her early life during the Khmer Rouge regime when her family were forcibly relocated from their village near Siem Reap to the forested area 150km north. The family had to carry their allowed belongings on a shared bullock cart. Savon was still a baby so her mother was allowed to ride with her but her father, sisters and brother had to walk. It took 3 nights and 4 days. Once they arrived, her father and older siblings were separated from Savon and her mother for 6 years. Savon's mother was made to work clearing the forest to make paddy fields and while mum worked Savon was kept in a deep hole so she couldn't crawl off. She says they were always hungry! Savon explained that her immediate family felt very fortunate as they all survived and were reunited but they lost many members of their extended family. Savon is grateful for the chance she had to get an education and recognises the value of the tourist trade to modern Cambodia. At the temple there were the usual souvenir sellers outside the walls but they are not allowed into the complex. It was a fairly long walk along a tree lined avenue and over uneven ground. The temple buildings were much more how I'd pictured them with the trees growing through the stonework. This was the temple, along with Angkor Wat, that featured in the 'Tomb Raiders' film and it felt very atmospheric. Our overall time here was 1 hour and we were able to spend about 30 minutes exploring the temple itself. APT SPONSORED ORPHANAGE. This was followed by a 50 minute visit to the APT sponsored orphanage where the children put on a performance and gave a guided tour of the facility. Most people gave donations of either money or school supplies. We were back in the hotel at 17.15 and decided to take a tuk-tuk into the old town. As it was the start of the Cambodian New Year celebrations everywhere was really busy. The roads into the central area had been cordoned off and the barriers were manned by police so the area was traffic free. It was wonderful to see such a vibrant and busy area with the music, market stalls, bars, restaurants and street performers making the most of the warm evening. I bought a couple of tops for $15 and then we had a nice meal at 'The Indian'........chicken samosas, chicken pakoras, light chicken curry, a spicier chicken curry, rice, garlic naan, 2 local beers, 2 fresh lemon drinks and a tip came to £16 and was very tasty. We got a tuk-tuk back to the hotel where I did some packing and we played scrabble before bed. MONDAY 14TH APRIL. SIEM REAP TO THE MEKONG RIVER AND LA MARGUERITE. A.M. Very hot, humid and sunny. MEKONG RIVER TRIP ITINERARY CHANGE. We had been informed before departure that some of the itinerary for the Mekong cruise had been changed as the river level was low and that, together with the bridge works, meant that we would not be able to embark at and sail across Tonle Lake. This was quite disappointing as the excursions there seemed really interesting. We are, however, doing an 'over night' stay in Phnom Penh instead. I was up at 05.00 for a shower and to finish the packing so we could put the cases out for 06.30. After breakfast we checked the room, checked out and got our luggage organised for the coach. DRIVE TO THE MEKONG. We finally left the hotel at 08.15 for the 200km drive to the Mekong to rendezvous with the boat. The total journey was 5 hours but the coach was very comfortable so I caught up on a lot of sleep. The roadway was a mixture of paved highway and rough country road so it was quite bumpy in places. There were 2 stops. The first was at an old stone bridge where the bus left us and we rejoined it by walking over the bridge. There was a western style toilet facility by the bridge which a young lady kept clean. She charged 500rials for use but accepted $1 for 2 people. The second stop was at the half way point and was a form of 'motorway service station' with western style toilets, a shop and a cafe area. It looked a bit daunting on first sight but was actually quite nice inside and several people bought souvenirs there at moderate prices. It was a bit of a shock arriving at the ship as we had to walk over some very rough ground and then up a steep gangway into the 'bowels' of the ship before finally getting into the passenger area. This was forced on us because there are some repairs going on at a bridge near the usual jetty and the ship can't get through to the dock area. Hopefully our other docking points will be less hazardous! LA MARGUERITE RIVER CRUISE SHIP. The ambiance is 'country house' with dark wood and rich fabrics. There are 4 cabin floors and 46 staterooms (2 suites, 6 junior suites, 30 balcony cabins and 8 porthole cabins) with a capacity of 92 guests. The whole ship is given over to 'Travelmarvel' clients for this trip. There is: restaurant 2 Lounges A small library with 2 computers and wifi connections The sun deck with a small plunge pool and bar. CABIN 101. This is located on the Tonle deck near to the restaurant. First impression was that it is smaller than I expected but we have had very large hotel rooms so I'm sure it will be fine. The cabin has: 3 wardrobes with mirrors Safe Hair drier 3 cupboards A large dressing table with e shallow drawer Pad and pen Mirror Angle poise lamp Telephone TV DVD player tissues 2 audio receivers with ear pieces and charger Plug sockets Alarm clock Air conditioning Twin beds with duvets 2 bedside tables Fridge with 4 complimentary bottles of water 2 packets of potato crisps Window seat with bench cushion and 2 small cushions Small balcony with 2 tiny seats (it will be a challenge to sit there!) Room under the bed for suitcases Bedside lamp Waste bin The Bathroom has: Walk in shower Toiletries Toilet Wash basin Cupboard with mirror 2 glasses Soap dish Waste bin We were greeted with fresh mango juice and ice cold hand towels. The ship's manager did a short talk on the safety aspects of the ship and some essential information on dining arrangements before we all went for lunch. Our cabins were available after lunch and our luggage was already there along with: A welcome gift of a 'TravelMarvel' laptop case A lanyard with see-through plastic pocket for tour tickets. A welcome letter. A copy of 'The Daily Cruiser' with information about today's activities and some general information about the ship. DINING All meals are open seating and there are a range of table sizes from 2s to 8s. Breakfast: The breakfast is a buffet. There were a range of international and local dishes plus an egg station, fruit, cereal, pastries etc. Lunch: Buffet appetisers - salads, breads, pasta station, soups. Buffet desserts: fresh fruits, hot pudding (bread and butter the first day), cake, mousse The main course has to be ordered from the server and and there are 3 choices - meat, fish and a vegetarian option. Dinner: You order your meal from a menu with 2 or 3 choices for each course, mostly western style. There is always an 'amuse bouche' on the table as you sit down. There is a choice from: 2 salads 2 soups 3 main dishes 3 desserts Tea/coffee. Drinks. Tea/coffee is available 24 hours in the main lounge. Soft drinks, fruit juices, local beers and spirits are complementary throughout the day. There is a choice of house red and white wine at lunch and dinner. Name brand drinks and cocktails are charged to your on board account. Entertainment There is a pianist who plays popular, for our age group, light music in the main lounge at various times. Films are sometimes shown in the evening. Local artists come aboard to perform on some evenings. We finished our evening having a chat and drinks with Phil and Lynn from King's Lynn in the lounge so finally got to bed around 23.00. TUESDAY 15TH APRIL. MEKONG RIVER - A.M. WAT HANCHEY. P.M. KAMPONG CHAM. A.M. Hot, humid and overcast with some heavy showers. P.M. Sunshine and clear blue skies. Marginally cooler. TOUR PROCEDURE. Pre-tour. In our cabin we had: 2 audio receivers and head phones. 2 water bottle carriers 2 lanyards with plastic pouches attached. Also provided: Rain ponchos and umbrellas Before departure: We went to the main lounge to collect Tour groups badge (orange, green, blue) Cabin number card ( as a check for who is off the ship) We were up early, as usual, so Jim could see if there were any birds around and then he tried fishing from the balcony but the bread fell off. Hoa (our Tour manager) managed to get Jim some prawns to use as bait for later. Wat Hanchey. We had breakfast and then Jim got ready for the walk to the Wat Hanchey which left at 08.30 and returned at 10.45 ready for the ship to sail back down river to Kampong Cham. It was amazing to see the crew members create a walkway and steps up the steep river bank. We are learning that these remote areas along the Mekong are not geared up for tourism yet so few places have jetties. It will be interesting to come back in 10 years to see the changes. I decided not to go this morning as Hoa informed us that there are 500 steps to the top of the temple plus the climb up and down the river bank so I knew there was no chance of me doing it. There were a few others who, for various reasons, chose to remain on the ship. I sat on the top deck and caught up with this epistle, had a chat with a couple of ladies and watched the tour party scramble down the river bank back to the ship. At 11.15 there was a lecture in the lounge given by all 3 guides. The first part was mainly about the geography of Cambodia then Buntha talked about marriage and wedding traditions and the third guide explained some of the 80 uses of the traditional scarf that is carried by almost everyone in country areas. That was particularly fascinating as it is used as: Head covering Shawl Modesty cover when going to the toilet outside (less than 40% of Cambodians have plumbing in their homes) A sling for a baby -on mother's body or slung between the handlebars of a bicycle A child's hammock A vessel for the steaming of rice A sieve A basket A shirt..........the list was endless! The ship then sailed back down river to Kampong Chan where we moored at the same river bank. WAT NOKOR. We set off for the afternoon excursion at 15.00 to yet another Buddhist Temple - Wat Nokor. It was about a 15 minute ride through the city streets to the temple. The thing that has made these last few visits memorable has been the fact that the New Year parties are ongoing for 3 days and most people gather at the temple sites. It is such a noisy, colourful and happy atmosphere that it draws you into the happiness of the locals. Not only are the temples magnificent in their own way but the sight of people dancing, eating, chatting and playing games with their families softens the somber feeling that can sometimes overtake you, especially in Cambodia when our guide, Buntha, is telling us about some of his childhood experiences. He was removed from his family at the age of 8 to be taken to a camp where he and the other children were brainwashed and then taught to be soldiers for the Pol Pot regime. He was orphaned during the Khmer Rouge dictatorship and when Cambodia was liberated the only family he had left was a cousin. He didn't even remember his given name as he was renamed at the camp and he still has no idea when his birthday is so he just chose 07/07/1970 as his day because the number 7 is an auspicious number. The bullet holes in the temple walls were a constant reminder too as we walked round. HOLLY (their spelling) TEMPLE. The second part of the trip was another short drive up to the hill top Holly (their spelling) Temple which was just as busy with party revellers but was a much more modern and complete structure. Some of the group walked down the 300 steps to the 'Buddha Garden' while the rest went in the bus. The garden was full of statues of Buddha in all shapes and sizes and included a huge reclining Buddha too. The 'Bamboo bridge’. The last stop was at the 'bamboo bridge'. This was an amazing structure constructed entirely from bamboo..... Over 1,000,000 bamboo poles were used in the creating of it and it stretches right across the Mekong River. It is used by pedestrians, motor cycles, Tuk-tuks and small cars and it was really busy when we saw it. The group were back aboard for 17.15 so Jim went to the gym while I had a cup of tea on deck and carried on writing this. Hoa gave a briefing about the next 2 days in the lounge before dinner. WEDNESDAY 16TH APRIL. MEKONG RIVER - ANGKOR BAN AND KOH OUKNHA TEY (THE SILK ISLAND). A.M. Hot, sunny, humid with a pleasant breeze. P.M. Very hot, sharp heavy shower, very humid and sunny intervals. The ship started to sail down river at 05.00 so when we woke up at 06.00 we could watch the ever changing activities on the river bank. There were people fishing, swimming, loading goods onto boats, washing etc. At 07.30 we arrived at the temple at Angkor Ban and the crew started the mooring procedure. I've come to the realisation that, at the moment, there are no permanent jetties at most of the places along the river. I'm hoping that it will be a proper jetty in Phnom Penh because climbing up these steep banks, even with help from the crew members isn't easy for me. ANGKOR BAN Fortunately, the temple here is right next to the river so there are no busses with high steps for me to negotiate! The purpose of our temple visit this morning is to receive a blessing from the Buddhist Monks. We left the ship at 08.30 and it was quite a struggle to get up the bank but Jim was a great help. Once at the village we all went straight to the temple where we had to remove shoes and hats. Inside, the building was beautifully decorated with paintings of events from the life of Buddha and an altar with several statues. Mats were arranged on the floor for those who could sit cross legged and chairs were provided for us less supple people. The priest and 3 young novices came and sat in front of us and the guide explained the proceedings. We all put our hands together as the priest chanted the blessing and wafted a bunch of herbs around before scattering lotus petals over us. Once the blessing was finished, people were invited to make a cash donation and receive a blessed 'friendship band’. The next part of the tour was a walk through the village which is one of the few that escaped destruction in the Pol Pot years so it is authentic in the way it is set out and organised. The people were very friendly and welcomed us into the open air ground level of their homes. We saw cooking on open fires, animals wandering at will though the village, people dozing in hammocks and children trying out their English on us. It was a wonderful experience to get so close to the ordinary people of Cambodia. We were back on the boat at 10.30 for the 4 hour sail down the river to the silk island. While we sailed, Jim and I continued our scrabble competition, chatted to people on deck and had lunch. THE SILK ISLAND The boat moored at 14.30 and there was a short climb, this time, up the river bank to the line of tuk-tuks that were going to take us to the silk factory. Group members had been given face masks as the roads were very dusty so we looked a bit like gangsters! We set off in convoy through the countryside and some small villages where people were still celebrating the New Year with parties and dancing. The tuk-tuk ride lasted about 45 minutes. On arrival at the factory, I was surprised to see that it was set in lovely gardens. There were western style toilets and picnic tables. Our guide showed us the various stages of manufacture although there were only 2 weavers working as it was a public holiday day. There was a shop selling the factory products......a scarf was $10. We were lucky enough to witness a group of young people dancing round a shrine constructed on a tree trunk. This was part of a party celebration so there was a DJ and sound system. It has been such a privilege to be part of the New Year events. The return ride was much shorter and we were greeted by a group of souvenir sellers before getting back on board at 16.30 for the short sail into PHNOM PENH city itself. The entertainment for the evening was from a Cambodian dance school. The pupils ranged from 13 to 20 and they performed a series of classical, folk and social dances for us. There control and discipline was remarkable and it was beautiful to watch. Our evening finished with dinner and a chat with others in the lounge. PHNOM PENH The ship docked at a proper jetty and many people went off the ship to walk along the promenade, have dinner out and get a tuk-tuk into the city centre. THURSDAY 17TH APRIL. MEKONG RIVER - PHNOM PENH A.M. Hot and sunny with high humidity P.M. Hot, humid with sunny intervals During breakfast this morning, the ship reversed away from the dock to allow AmaLotus to dock in our place. La Marguerite then pulled in along side so we did a 'walk-through' to get ashore. There were 73 steps from the jetty up to the promenade where tuk-tuks were available for hire. The king’s palace was in walking distance from the ship along the promenade. THE KING'S PALACE. We set off at 08.30 for the palace which was a 10 minute drive along the promenade. We had a short photo stop at the front entrance before driving round to the main visitor entrance. The gardens and the royal buildings are breathtakingly beautiful and it wasn't too crowded when we got there. The 'Silver Pagoda', which gets its name from the solid silver floor (covered with carpets when tourists are inside), was magnificent too. There are western style toilets and shops too. There was the option to visit the national museum which was a 10 minute walk from the Palace and cost $5pp entrance fee. THE CENTRAL MARKET. Most people went for the 1 hour stop at the central market which is a large building with isles radiating from a central rotunda. The stalls on each isle specialised in a particular type of goods - household, shoes, jewellery, electronics, adult clothes, children's clothes etc. - although there were some exceptions. We were quite lucky because, although over half the stalls were still closed for the New Year celebrations, there were enough stalls open to look at and the market area wasn't particularly crowded. The stalls take US$ and bargaining is expected. The tour finished back at the ship at 12ish so there was time for lunch and a bit of a rest before we started again at 14.15. THE KILLING FIELDS. The 40 minute bus ride through Phnom Penh gave us chance to see some of the city and it has a definite 'French colonial' feel although it could do with some sprucing up. The first stop was at one of the 'killing field' sites. The area has become a memorial to those killed during the rule of the Khmer Rouge and it has a magnificent stupa devoted to the 'unknowns'. There are pathways around the sites of the mass graves and the whole area has a very sombre feel to it. Our guide, who had been taken as a child by the Khmer Rouge, made the scene come to life with his reminiscences of that time and the horrors that were committed on this site. There were toilet facilities and a shop selling appropriate goods (is there anything appropriate for the acts that were committed here?) TUOL SLENG GENOCIDE MUSEUM. The second part of the tour was a visit to S21 Detention Centre which is now called the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and it was a 30 minute bus ride back through the city. This is a very stark series of buildings where the people who had been identified as 'enemies of the state' were detained and tortured until they confessed to their so-called crimes after which they were 'disposed of' at the killing fields. The galleries of photographs of some of the men, women and children who were victims of this dreadful place made it more real as you could see the terror in their faces. The full horror of these ordeals was made more personal by the fact that our guide had been at this centre for a short while before being sent to a youth 'training camp'. We had the opportunity to listen to one of the few survivors from this centre and to buy copies of his book and his paintings. It was a very quiet bus load of people on the return trip to the ship! The evening started with a briefing on the 'river day' tomorrow and some information about optional tours in Saigon and flights home before we had dinner, sat in the lounge and then bed. FRIDAY 18TH APRIL – MEKONG RIVER CRUISING -PHNOM PENH TO TAN CHAU (VIETNAM) A.M. Hot, humid and overcast. P.M. Hot, humid with hazy sunshine Wow.........we got a lie-in this morning as it is a river cruising day so we got up at 07.30ish, had breakfast and then watched the 09.00 sail away. We had a very lazy day, dozing, playing scrabble, reading, chatting and watching the activities along the river. The countryside along the river is quite flat and used mainly as agricultural land. There are small villages along the river bank where you can spot the elaborate Buddhist temples and some water villages too. All the way along we could see people hard at work in the fields, fishing or looking after their animals. The river is very wide in places and for long periods we sailed down the middle so it was difficult to make out what was happening on the banks without the aid of binoculars. The ship stopped for 2 hours at the border between Cambodia and Vietnam while immigration officers came on board to inspect our passports and we then sailed for another hour to Tan Chua where we anchored mid-stream ready for the trip ashore tomorrow. At the briefing, Hoa explained that people will be ferried across to the town in small boats that only hold 23 passengers. He told us that the local authorities will not sanction the use of larger tenders, but that might change as more tourists boats visit the area. Hoa also explained about the rickshaws being used to transport the passengers around the island and, because these are small and shallow with no back rest, I decided not to go ashore. After dinner the crew members put on a 'La Marguerite's got talent' show which was a bit of fun and then they put on dance music so it turned into quite a party. SATURDAY 19TH APRIL. MEKONG RIVER - TAN CHAU A.M. Hot, humid and hazy sunshine P.M. Very, very hot, humid and sunny clear sky. Well, back to the early morning alarm today! We went up on the top deck to have coffee before breakfast and to enjoy the relatively cool morning air. The orange group left at 08.30 and I waved them goodbye. I'm quite sad to miss the trip but know my limitations so I'll have to wait for Jim to write up about the experiences. TAN CHAU We took a short tender ride to the shore and boarded individual rickshaws. These were old and your knees were under your chin but a stool was provided to help people mount and dismount. After a short ride we stopped at a silk works before moving onto a rattan producing site. Both of these were interesting and time was allowed for shopping. We then said goodbye to the rickshaws walked through a small fishing village and boarded our tender. After a ride across the lagoon we entered a tributary with fishing houses on the sides. We walked around the fishing village with our guide who explained the day to day life of the families who live there. We were followed by a large group of children in the village and this made me feel a little uncomfortable. We also went to a small temple which was inside a bar/cafe and walked to a small toll bridge. We boarded our tender which then took us back down the tributary, across the lagoon and back to our boat. I spent a quiet morning trying to download some photos of the boys which I managed to do eventually but the internet connection was very slow. The tour returned at midday and after lunch we played scrabble and then relaxed as we watched the passing river traffic as we headed further downstream to our next stop. SUNDAY 20TH APRIL. MEKONG RIVER - SA DEC A.M. Hot, humid and sunny. P.M. Very, very hot, humid and sunny. Yet another early morning but it was beautiful on deck, drinking an early morning coffee and watching the local fishing boats. SA DEC. The tour this morning left at 08.15 when we were tendered by local motor boat across the river to Sa Dec. The boat ride was about 15 minutes each way and we travelled up a tributary of the Mekong with communities on both sides. It was interesting to see the difference between the fishing community on one side with their house boats and wooden stilt homes and the more affluent people on the other side of the river whose homes are quite French in style although a bit run-down by our standards. We were given a guided tour of the market which I thought was fabulous........so much colour, so many sounds, so many smells - some delicious and others a bit off putting, smiling people and a feeling of vibrancy. Our second stop was the original home of the lover of the French writer, Marguerite Duras and is a good example of the excessive love of highly decorated and gilded architecture of the early 1920s. Most of us were back on the ship at 10.00 for the 3 hour sail down to Cai Be. A few intrepid explorers went off to the jungle to see the area used as the Vietnam Cong headquarters during the Vietnam War. XEO QUYT - VIETNAM KONG STRONGHOLD It took roughly one hour to arrive at our destination. It had a water park on the outside which contained lakes with different water lilies, eating areas and music centres. We crossed a bridge into the jungle area. The path was raised above the many small water courses and we had to cross several small and narrow footbridges. There were command posts, hidden gun emplacements and tunnels. There were signposts in English and Vietnamese to explain the individual use of the sights that we saw. We spent about two hours on the site before making the one and a quarter hour drive back to the boat which had travelled down the river to meet us. CAI BE - FLOATING MARKET, COMMUNITY MANUFACTURING AREA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. The afternoon excursion began at 15.00 with another 15 minute tender boat ride along another tributary to the village of Cai Be. To be honest the 'floating market' was a bit of a letdown as there were only a few market boats and nobody buying as most trading is done in the morning. It was interesting to see that the market boats were quite big and their owners live on board unlike the sellers on the boats in Bangkok. After passing the market we pulled in at a community manufacturing area where the workers produce sweets made from local ingredients like coconut and popped rice. By our standards it was very unhygienic but the people were working with pride and enthusiasm. They also had other local items for sale so we had a bit of 'shopping time'! There followed a walk through the village to the Catholic Church where people had gathered for their Easter Sunday Celebrations. It was lovely to see so many youngsters dressed in their Sunday best waiting to go inside for the service. In fact it was quite poignant being there on such a special Christian festival after seeing all the other religious festivities during our tour. We left the church and crossed the road to get the tender back to the ship and were on board for 17.00. The evening began with a packing session. I couldn't believe how much we have acquired but, hopefully, if we can get the washing done in Saigon, I can get a bit more in the cases. After dinner there was a cultural show with musicians and dancers from the local area. It was very different from the ones in Cambodia.......much more folk story telling than the stylised hand movements of the Cambodian dancers. We did the majority of the packing before retiring to bed. MONDAY 21ST APRIL. MEKONG RIVER - MY THO TO SAIGON ( HO CHI MIN CITY) A.M. Very hot, humid and sunny. P.M. Very, very hot, humid and sunny. Yet another early morning with the alarm going at 06.00 again! The cases had to be out at 06.45, the room vacated at 07.30 and we left the ship at 08.00. The drive to HCMC ( I will call it Saigon from now on as that is how most of the residents refer to it) took just over an hour and it was interesting to see the countryside and how it differs agriculturally from Northern Vietnam.......more fruit orchards and vegetables than rice cultivation. SAIGON. It was obvious early on that Saigon is a huge city and it owes a lot architecturally to its time as a bastion of French colonialism. There are some wide boulevards, pretty park areas, narrow streets and a mixture of grand Art Deco buildings mixed in with modern sky scrapers and slum areas. The volume of traffic - motorbikes, scooters, cars, lorries, pedestrians - was daunting especially when trying to cross the road. It seems that you wait for a space to step onto the road and then proceed at a slow but steady pace as vehicles whiz past you in all directions at an alarming rate. So far, so good! We had emphatic warnings about personal safety and protection of property from pick-pockets and bag snatchers. Unfortunately this type of crime is quite prevalent so it is important to only take out what you can afford to lose and not to flaunt expensive jewellery etc. The group arrived at the hotel at 09.30 and we were asked to stow all our carry-ons behind the reception area for safe keeping while we were taken on an orientation walk by our local guide. Hoa hoped that our rooms would be ready by the time everyone returned. I decided not to go and was so pleased that Hoa was able to get access to our room soon after the others left.......he is a sweetheart. The walkers were back in time for the optional excursions (shopping or a pillion ride on a motor bike round the city) at 11.00. THE GRAND HOTEL. The hotel is in a good position - the river, opera house, central market, up-market shopping malls and cafés and restaurants are all within walking distance or, in my case, a $2 taxi ride. The building dated from the 1930s but has recently been refurbished and has an imposing entrance, spa, swimming pool, restaurants and a coffee shop, a rooftop bar with panoramic views over the city. ROOM 503. The room is an unusual shape with an entrance hall with 2 arm chairs and the wardrobe and then a left turn into the bedroom area. Room features: Air conditioning 2 large single beds Soft pillows Telephone Pad and pen Dressing table with drawers Mirror Hair drier Tea/coffee making Fridge with mini bar 2 small bottles of water Fresh fruit basket Safe Slippers Bath robes En-suite with: Bath Over bath shower Toilet Wash basin Toiletries ORIENTATION WALK BY OUR LOCAL GUIDE. The group arrived at the hotel at 09.30 and we were asked to stow all our carry-ons behind the reception area for safe keeping while we were taken on an orientation walk by our local guide. Hoa hoped that our rooms would be ready by the time everyone returned. I decided not to go and was so pleased that Hoa was able to get access to our room soon after the others left.......he is a sweetheart. The walkers were back in time for the optional excursions (shopping or a pillion ride on a motor bike round the city) at 11.00. We sorted our remaining finances and then got a taxi to the market area. THE CENTRAL MARKET. I thought the market was great. There was very little pressure to buy and a huge number of stalls. The market is generally divided into sections.......... clothes, hardware, food, shoes, souvenirs etc. At most stalls it is expected that you will bargain but there are a few 'fixed price' stalls where prices are marked on the goods. There are signs above these stalls announcing that the prices are fixed. We bought a t-shirt for Jim, aeroplanes and football strips (Vietnam) for the boys and tops plus a hat and a silk sleeping bag for me. We got a taxi back to the hotel and then walked to a coffee shop for lunch - 2 Americanos and 2 club sandwiches. We were given complementary iced water and iced green tea. Total cost was around £8. After lunch we braved crossing the street to walk for a while by the riverside and then we took a different route back to the hotel, stopping to buy a camera cap for Jim, some 3D birthday cards from a street vendor and some drinks for the room from the little grocery shop by the hotel. We played scrabble, Jim went to the gym and I tried to do a bit of re-packing but I'm not sure how we are going to get everything in the cases! We ended our evening with a walk to the 'Bier Garten' pub/restaurant for dinner. We has 2 kinds of spring rolls, a beef satay, a hot-rock beef tenderloin, 1 beer and 1 lemon soda. Personally, I thought it was expensive at £26. The last thing was to get 2 Brazil strips for the boys for 250,000dongs = £7.50 TUESDAY 22ND APRIL. SAIGON A.M. very, very hot, very, very humid and sunny P.M. Ditto Yet another 06.00 alarm so I shot out of bed for a shower etc before breakfast. The restaurant is huge and the food stations are spaced out at intervals across the room so it was quite difficult to find the items but the variety, quality and quantity was good. CU CHI TUNNEL TOUR. We left the hotel at 08.00 for the 90 minute drive to the tunnels site. The drive was interesting as it gave us a perspective of Saigon in rush hour and it is organised chaos in its own way. There seem to be no rules for road use but people drive with understanding of their environment.....amazing! It was also interesting to see the suburbs of Saigon and to see that there are many very nice houses and also how clean the people keep the area in front of their property. When we got to the tunnels site there is a large car park and very clean and plentiful western style toilets. Once everyone had used the 'happy room' the tour began with a walk through the souvenir shop to the entrance which is through a high ceilinged tunnel with quite a long steep upward walk. Once inside the compound we were guided through the forest on uneven pathways to various sites where we were shown the ways the Vietnam Cong soldiers lived and fought in this area. We saw the entrance to tunnels, the booby traps set for US troops, the camouflaged tunnel ventilation systems, the ammunition stores and much more. Some of the group went down into one of the tunnels for a 100 yard walk through and said it was very narrow and claustrophobic inside. The tour took approximately 90 minutes. There were bench seats by most of the exhibits. We were back at the hotel around 12.30. We decided to have lunch at the same chain coffee shop but the one at the other side of the hotel and when we got back we had a game of scrabble by the pool before Jim went to the gym and I tried to organise the second case! Thank goodness we have 30kgs each. 'FAREWELL DINNER’. It was the 'Farewell Dinner' so we left the hotel at 06.30 for the short walk to ‘Maxim’s’. The venue is a supper club with music and dancing performance. We were seated at long tables. It was pleasantly decorated in side and reminded me a bit of the club in the Indiana Jones film in Shanghai in the 1930s. The food tasted ok but the portions were minute except for the soup: Starter 1 spring roll, a small portion of a beef salad, Main course sticky rice, garlic broccoli and cauliflower, ginger chicken (1 tiny piece each), catfish and tomato soup. Dessert Crème Caramel We paid for our own drinks. The entertainment consisted of a small group of musicians who played a selection of 1930s tunes and 4 girl dancers who were ok. I have to say that it was probably the most disappointing activity of the whole tour.......what a shame! Jim and I called at the grocery store for a bag of 'Pomsticks' each as we were both hungry. WEDNESDAY 23RD APRIL. SAIGON TO SINGAPORE A.M. very hot, humid and sunny P.M. very hot, humid and sunny. We had a lie-in until 07.00 this morning. It's just a shame the beds are so hard! We had breakfast and finished the majority of the packing before getting a taxi to the market again where we got a couple of the vegetable peelers, a t-shirt for Freddie and a shirt for Jim. Having crammed these into the suitcases, we vacated the room at 12.00 For the next couple of hours we chatted with our tour companions, Jim used the free computer in the hotel business area to look at his e-mails and I chatted to two charming gentlemen from Myanmar who were on business in Saigon attending the international food convention. I also got chance to say goodbye and to thank Hoa before he left at 14.00. JASPER'S RESTAURANT. We had lunch at Jasper's - the restaurant across the road from the hotel's side entrance. It has a very eclectic menu and the portions are good. I had the cheese and ham melt with chips and a tonic water while Jim had a chicken tikka baguette with chips and a diet coke. The total bill was 456,500 dong=£13 approx. We returned to the hotel and played scrabble. By the time we finished it was time to leave. The ride to the airport took about 35 minutes. Minh, our guide from yesterday, was with us to escort us into the terminal. I had the wheelchair assistance which arrived promptly and we were whisked through passport control and security very quickly. It was a two hour wait so we played scrabble again........I know, it gets boring but we enjoy it! SAIGON AIRPORT It is close to the city - 35 minutes drive. It has 1 terminal Check in was quite fast Our luggage was checked through to LHR. I waited a few minutes for the wheelchair after check in Security was relatively lax as Barbara carried a full bottle of water through without being challenged. Airside has the usual supply of shops and food outlets. I could probably have walked from security to the gate as the distance wasn't great. There are plenty of seats at each gate. There are disabled toilet facilities.   Read Less
7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2013
Having traveled independently all over the world, in a Rick Steves kind of a way, I'm nearing 60, and traveling solo now and thought this would be a good way to see Vietnam and Cambodia. It was PERFECT for me. There were a.m. and p.m. ... Read More
Having traveled independently all over the world, in a Rick Steves kind of a way, I'm nearing 60, and traveling solo now and thought this would be a good way to see Vietnam and Cambodia. It was PERFECT for me. There were a.m. and p.m. tours, breaks for meals and air conditioning, first class accommodations throughout, and staff willing to bend over backwards to attend to your wishes. Taking the whole 14 day tour I landed in Hanoi and stayed at the gorgeous Hotel Metropole. Loved this hotel, loved Hanoi, felt very safe walking around alone. Our excursions here included a walking tour, cyclo ride and water puppet show, which I though would be lame but was really very entertaining. Shopping was good here, and wish I had spent some more time doing so, prices better than in HCMC for sure. The third day upon checkout, we carried an overnight bag and left our big suitcases with the bus driver. We were bussed north to Halong Bay (road construction made this my least favorite part of the whole 2 weeks) for the overnight junk trip on Paradise Cruises, very deluxe! The food on the junk was buffet style and delicious. The first day we went by small rowboat to see the floating village and how people live, some never setting foot on land. The next morning coffee and Tai Chi on the upper deck was other worldly in the mist. Day 2 we stopped at a beach for a while, some of us hiked up a stairway for a fantastic view of the bay for photographs. The trip down was not so exciting. On disembarkation we were driven, with a lunch break where we saw our big bags again to repack, then off to Hanoi Airport for a quick flight to Siem Reap, arriving at sunset to the charming little airport. We got our Visa on Arrival by standing in that line with our forms filled out on the plane, not much of a delay, and headed to the hotel. The Sofitel Angkor was beautiful! There were musicians playing on our arrival, cold, icy drinks and cold towels waiting, room keys given out, people waiting to direct us. Mine and several others were in the wing across the ponds, over wooden walkways through lilypads, in a gorgeous wing looking out on those ponds. You could hear the frogs at night if you left the window open, but for good A/C and bug control, you just didn't. On arrival there were gifts in the room, small cinnamon packets, fresh shortbread cookies, and a basket of hairy fruits, which have become my favorite fruit now Rambutan! After a delicious buffet dinner and beautiful Aspara dancing in the hotel restaurant, I slept like a baby for the first night since arrival in Asia. After buffet breakfast we headed by bus to Angkor Wat. Now THIS was the reason I had chosen this trip, and this was supposed to be the highlight for me. The buildup was immense for,, I had made it out to be so much more in my mind than it was, I was clearly disappointed by the reality. Our guide, Savon, covered what books and guides don't tell you, that these monuments to Indian gods and goddesses were built with slave labor during roughly the same decades as Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The Khmer King Suryavarman II built this, the largest religious monument in the world. Today it is Buddhist, but was originally built in honor of the Hindu gods, and they are present on every wall, spire, carving, entrance, exit. Their stories are everywhere. Angkor Wat is amazing, and it is beautiful, but very overrun with tourists, literally crumbling from the elements, and sadly now being defaced by tourists getting too close or souvenir takers. In subsequent days we visited more interesting temples that the throngs bypass, and whose stories were more interesting to me. I'm glad I saw it, but was far more impressed by other parts of Cambodia. We went into the Siem Reap Night Market. What a trip!!!! We were on our own for dinner, so headed in by Pedi-Cab, 5 of us ladies in two, to do a little shopping. The pedi-cab drivers are hard workers. For $2 the maybe 1/2 mile drive from the hotel on deserted streets, in delightful, balmy night weather is very memorable. Pub Street has about 50 little bars and restaurants with everything from British to Thai to Chinese to Hamburgers. You could hear rooftop American country karaoke blaring, people were dancing in the streets, we didn't stay late, but we were told it was just getting started when we were headed home about 10:00pm.These were the best prices of the whole trip. You can negotiate with the vendors, and I'm guessing the overhead is lower than in Saigon or Phnom Penh. US Dollars are the traded currency here, because their currency changes value so easily. We found many lovely things here. If it hadn't been the beginning of the trip, I'm sure I would have spent much more to take home gifts for family and friends. I would come back here for maybe a week and just relax by the pool and visit the market area at night, spending more time at each temple area during the days. We did get scammed here by the "milk scam." Young women with baby on her hip as you to buy milk for the baby. I'm sure the people at the mini-mart are in on the scam. The milk they want is a $26 can of formula, and she can talk you into buying it for her, with this adorable baby. We had no idea it was a scam until another girl tried the same thing just minutes later. We felt very foolish, so don't let them try it on you! On day 2 we went to Angkor Thom, much smaller in stature, but each tower has smiling faces of Buddha. The adornments and grounds were fascinating to me, and the people riding elephants around the grounds made this an other-worldly place. After seeing elephants in the wild in Africa, I would never opt for a ride, but those who were riding seemed to be enjoying themselves, though the elephants eyes looked very distant. Day 3 in Siem Reap we went out to Baphoun Temple, still being excavated by archaeologists. We stopped at the Terrace of the Elephants and that of the Leper king, which were once used as stages for lavish performances and religious ceremonies. This afternoon we had a long drive into a rural area where our guide Savon was from. She told us her life story, being born at the beginning of Pol Pot's regime, when everyone was forced to work in the rice fields, and those that were educated were put to death. She told us of the way she had to live and nearly died during the regime, it was really a sad story, told firsthand even worse. She said they were told not to look back, only look forward, and thank God for what they had now, their freedom. When we arrived at Batay Srei, the Lady Temple, I was taken aback by it's sheer beauty. It is intricately carved out of pink sandstone, and the statures standing guard around the structures are beautiful. This is a very special place, and we were almost the only people there. I felt this was much more spiritual than other temples we visited, and felt this the most moving of all the places we visited. On the way back from there we stopped at the ODA English Language School in the village of Ta Toum, which is sponsored by AMA Waterways. We had brought school supplies and gave them to Mr. Leng, the head of the school. He is an artist that, through art is teaching these children (32 at the moment) to make their way in the world. They did a dance performance for us, then a tour of the facility including the "gym" a bicycle operated pump from the well to a cistern for fresh water. Then we were able to purchase art the children had made, $10-$15 per item, and many of us did, to take home, and to help pay for the costs of the school, which helps orphans and children from disadvantaged homes. They children enjoy practicing their English and showing their work. It was a great visit, and a highlight of the trip! Some from the group went back to Angkor Wat for sunrise the next morning, I opted to sleep in. Having wanted to do the sunrise hot air balloon ride over Angkor park, it was shut down for refurbishment while we were there, so no go. I took the opportunity to relax and to read a little bit. We left the hotel about 11:45am and headed for Kampong Chhnang. Along the way we passed small fishing villages, seeming much poorer than those we had seen in Vietnam. Dotted throughout were some very prominent painted stone houses, that seemed out of place among the stick and board homes most people lived in. We boarded small launches that took us out into the lake to our waiting ship, La Marguerite. Our bags were waiting in our nicely air conditioned, and beautifully decorated staterooms. The beds are very comfortable, lots of fluffy pillows. The bed was made into a queen, and there was just enough room to walk around. Individual reading lights on each side were nice. My cabin didn't have an alarm clock, though some others did. Sliding glass door windows led out to a small deck, with a tiny bench over the air conditioning until. It was usually too hot to sit outside unless the ship was moving. The window seat inside was great to curl up and read a book as the Mekong went by. There is a TV with no reception, but videos at the Pursers Office, which I caught up on several great films during the trip. On this entire trip each and every hotel and the ship had outlets for US pronged electronics, but not for high voltage units. I brought my cell phone and used it for an alarm clock, white noise machine, flashlight, camera, voice recorder (to keep daily notes) and to read e-mail in the Library, when we had WiFi service, which was spotty on the river, fine in Phnom Penh. I never made a phone call. After freshening up we headed to the dining room for a delightful buffet lunch. Beer and wine was included with meals. I didn't think it was too bad, I'm not much of a drinker, but some complained about the quality, and they ordered better wines and paid for the upgrade, or ordered cocktails from the bar. The afternoon was free to explore the ship, visit with new friends, sit atop on deck chairs. It was hot, so most of the time, if we weren't in the cool pool, we were inside enjoying air conditioning while on board. There is a very large cold plunge pool on the top deck, it was great to cool off after reading in the sun returning from a long, hot shore excursion. During the cocktail hour each day there was a "signature cocktail" for no charge in the lounge, available for those who came to the daily briefing. Mr. Son gave us an overview of what to expect the following day. From there we all headed to dinner which was ordered off a menu. The wait staff was wonderful and always got the orders right. Only once in a while was the food not up to par, and they were quick to bring another option if you we unhappy with the food. There was a vegetarian option on each menu. The soups were amazing every lunch and dinner. Salads were plentiful and you needn't worry about eating anything or ice cubes on the ship. Desserts were so-so, but the abundant fresh fruits at every meal made up for a lack of really special desserts. They do make a special deal of anniversaries and birthdays, and there seemed to be a celebration every night in the dining room. After dinner on several nights local entertainers came aboard to perform. While in Phnom Penh a group of children Aspara dancers in beautiful costumes came on board. It was wonderful! Another night was karaoke, another a pianist. No one seemed bored on the ship. I was mostly tired from long days of two a day excursions. We were docked at Phnom Penh for two nights, which was great. We were able to go out to dinner at a restaurant in town, and there are so many great choices. Our excursions here were to a wonderful Buddhist Temple, where we could speak with Monks about their lives, and received a special blessing, and the other day trips were related to the Capital & Presidential Palace, the Killing Field memorial, and a prison that scores of people were held and died in during Pol Pot's regime. Most of the other excursions along the trip were to small villages and towns that must rely on this tourist trade to survive. We toured open air markets, a silk factory, a silver factory town, a candy factory. We traveled by boat, pedi cab, cyclo, oxcart, launch, rowboat and foot. Our guides found, in nearly every town, locals who told their stories of struggles and wars, that brought the peoples closer. This trip is NOT for the weak or infirm, there is a lot of climbing in and out of these various forms of transportation. We saw things that would gross out some people, delicacies such as balut, a fertilized duck egg, some of the group tried, and all sorts of live animals in the markets, sold that way because people don't have refrigeration, and to keep it fresh... But I fell in love with green papaya salad, ate it at every lunch, as well as pho, available at breakfast, lunch and dinner on board with different noodles and toppings. You have to be looking for an adventure to enjoy this trip, and look at the boat (not ship) for what it is, a deluxe river boat. Compared to other boats on the river it is majestic. There were other cruise lines anchored nearby, and looking at the ship layout, I would not have wanted to stay in a cabin that was reached from an outside promenade. We did walk through the AmaLotus while docked in Phnom Penh, and it was much newer and seemed a step above the Marguerite. The dress was very casual and comfortable for the really hot and humid climate, resort casual for dinner. There was one dressy night, no one wore more than a little black dress and most gents in nice Tommy Bahama type shirts and slacks. The culture is more modest than many Americans wear, so no really short shorts or plunging necklines on the shore excursions. I wore Travex capris and washed them out almost every night. I brought many tee shirts and changed between excursions, they get pretty damp. In Temples one should cover your shoulders and knees. We ended the trip in Saigon, and the sights there were memorable, but after the calm of the river, I couldn't wait to get out of the bustling and polluted city. The Sheraton Saigon was lovely, we had Tower rooms, gorgeous! A group of friends we had made went out to a nice restaurant for our last night together and had a fabulous meal, several courses, bottles of wine, $12 per person. For photos of the ship, the launches, the cabin and more details on the excursions see the whole adventure at www.travelblog.org/MONichols Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2013
It may be worth noting that the author of these comments travels mainly to see other cultures up close, secondly to meet new people and lastly to see 'things and places'. After experiencing and seeing that the main tourist ... Read More
It may be worth noting that the author of these comments travels mainly to see other cultures up close, secondly to meet new people and lastly to see 'things and places'. After experiencing and seeing that the main tourist tracks in China used by big tour operators are almost totally westernized we decided to make our 'last ever' cruise down the Mekong in hopes that some of the old Asian culture still remains. We weren't disappointed. Since I'm a tall gangly guy we always buy three coach seats together for a little extra comfort. The Asian carriers are sometimes stumped by this and want to see the passport of Mr. Extra Seat. I was very surprised to see the big cost difference for different carriers for three round trip seats as opposed to going Eastbound. Check it out. We arrived in Hanoi a day early to recover from the flight over. The flight from Inchon was smooth and on time; about 10:30 PM Local. The VOA was no problem at all. Hand over your dollars at one window, get a receipt and go to another window to get passport stamped. All done in about 5 minutes. There's a honcho at the taxi stand who asks where we wanted to go and assigned us a van to the Sofitel. $18US for the four of us. The extra day at the Sofitel ($300+) was pre-paid via the internet … very nice hotel with a generous breakfast. I'll skip the days in Hanoi; they're covered elsewhere in this site and in the itinerary. The bus ride to Ha Long Bay seemed rather long, slow and kinda boring to me. I think they're in the first stage of construction to make it into a real highway which should be ready by who-knows-when. Along the way the guide kept his eye out for locals harvesting and thrashing rice and spied some right next to the 'highway'. We pulled over, piled out and gathered around the workers with cameras and iPhones snapping away. They went about their business stone-faced as if we were invisible. We were probably the 10th tourist group to gawk at them that day. Halong Bay and the junk was OK but I wasn't blown away like most. The 4 hour bus ride to Hanoi Airport the following day also seemed long and boring with a stop halfway for a bowl of soup at an unbelievably beautiful golf course. The incongruity of the beauty of that course amidst the backdrop of all that poverty was bizarre. I tried my sign language art 'talking' to the caddies while everyone else ate and then off again to the airport. The hotel at Siem Reap is a gem in every way…period. Every encounter I had with Cambodians was welcoming and friendly wether he/she was selling something or not. Angkor Wat has an average daily attendance of 30,000 souls at an average of $40US each. Do the math. That's well over $1,000,000 a/day and climbing. Where does it go? Certainly not into Angkor Wat. The intricate carving are in pitiful shape and mostly black with mildew and some of the walkways are just helter-skelter flat boulders. But … I fully expected to see scooter accidents aplenty in Hanoi and saw none. I expected to see tourists trip and fall at Angkor Wat and saw none. They say they can't remove the mildew because it would harm the sandstone. Baloney! I've seen 2000 yr. old sandstone Hindu temples in humid, back-country India that the gov't keeps almost pristine. One restroom for 30,000 people …. what the heck? Angkor Wat, The Great Pyramid and The Colosseum are in the shape they're in because 1) there's no incentive to improve the site as long as the tourist count keeps going up. Why change anything? and 2) I guess tourists want to see things as they've seen them for years in pictures. About 10 days before we left home we received a notice from AMA that the Marguerite would be boarded at Kampong Cham because of high water. I was livid. A 5 hour bus ride! Turns out I liked it. The bus was called a "VIP bus" and they weren't kidding. Silky smooth ride over a bumpy road and 3 across very comfy seats. I enjoyed seeing some of rural Cambodia that I wouldn't have seen otherwise. One stop on the way. The boat isn't a glamour queen but totally adequate in every way. We were on deck 2 with a useless, tiny "balcony" and we felt a little cramped, but no big deal. The meals were OK but I'll eat anything. I'm not a foodie. I always had the feeling that the kids working on the boat were doing the very best they could do whatever they were doing. Speaking of kids, if you take this trip try see how many locals you see that may be over 65. There ain't none. South Florida has been my home base for over 40 years so naturally I thought there was no level of heat or humidity that I couldn't deal with. Wrong. My age (73) probably has some bearing but the heat and humidity at every location had me soaked in 15 mins. and combined with the blazing sun had me dragging up the rear everywhere. I don't recall even a zephyr of a breeze the entire trip. It's obviously my problem because everyone else just soldiered on without a complaint even tho they too were totally soaked. My wife refuses to sweat. The hotel in Saigon is beyond first-rate and the food is great. One final note: My gut has always had a mind of it's own so I'm always a little anxious about long bus rides. One lomotil pill and half a Pepto tablet every morning and I'm in control. Makes traveling much, much easier.   Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2012
I was not sure about this trip....once we got into our embarkation point - we were told that Mekong river was too low and we had to take a bus to another point on the river...3 hrs later our bus gets a mechanical....it is hot, we are tired ... Read More
I was not sure about this trip....once we got into our embarkation point - we were told that Mekong river was too low and we had to take a bus to another point on the river...3 hrs later our bus gets a mechanical....it is hot, we are tired and no place to go....but after using a hammer in the most effective way, the bus driver got on its way. Necessity is the mother of invention! La Margarite is a lovely boat, we had a super spacious two room, two bathroom suite with all the amenities possible. Cambodia and Vietnam were just beautiful - the tours touched in some rural areas where the children were not allow to beg. The river is just so very interesting along with the locals that make of the river their home - either to fish, to wash clothes or to wash their hair. The locals are just beautiful. I like the service of the staff, always friendly and with a willingness to assist. The choice and quality of food was very good and I loved that fact that everyday there was an "asian" choice - in the buffet or the menu.   Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2012
2Fltravelers (see above) have written extensively about this cruise. They should be praised for their level of detail. If you are expecting Crystal Cruises or Oceania or the Queen Mary 2, please book a different cruise. The Marguerite ... Read More
2Fltravelers (see above) have written extensively about this cruise. They should be praised for their level of detail. If you are expecting Crystal Cruises or Oceania or the Queen Mary 2, please book a different cruise. The Marguerite has everything that you could hope for in a small, river-going vessel. What--no big-named comedian or a stage show re-creation of "Phantom"? You'll be too exhausted at night to do anything but collapse into the pool (which is bigger than you'd expect for a ship of this size). Sure--the food is made so that it doesn't upset anyone, so use the "action station" to try something new at lunch and don't be afraid of the little red chilis. For the most part, we stuck to fish, chicken and lots of vegetables and fruits--if you do, you'll be happy. Ama Waterways does go to some places that other ships do not. These small towns are well worth visiting--much more so than Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City (although these metropolises have interesting sites, even if not so charming). For convenience sake, you'll be grouped into cohorts and assigned a color. You may or may not like everyone in your cohort (with whom you'll spend time on buses and tours), but--hey--it's not the end of the world. And you're bound to find others on the cruise who may be more to your liking. Don't sweat the small stuff--the guides and cruise director and bus drivers and cabin attendants and servers are all knocking themselves out for you--even if they don't completely understand your need for gluten-free, lo-cal shade-grown coffee picked by Bhutanese virgins during the new moon cycle. Short of carrying you in a sedan chair with Nubian slaves waving palm leaves at you, everyone working on or around the ship is trying to make your cruise a pleasant one. Where else could you dress up in traditional costumes and dance to "YMCA" in the middle of the Mekong River? Smile. Be kind. You'll sweat a lot--so what? Enjoy the local wines and spirits. Eat a tarantula leg or a baby octopus. They won't kill you and you'll have great stories to tell later. Oh--and if Asiana Airlines offers you the "tourist hotel" for your 8-hour layover in Seoul, skip it. By the time we figured out how the shower worked, the water jets shot my wife up over the DMZ where she was tracked by North Korean radar. Stay at the airport and enjoy the Business or First Class lounges; or try the free showers on the 4th level. And, yes, you can buy anything you would ever need in Vietnam within 2 blocks of your hotel. It's cheaper to buy underwear and shirts and them hand them out to locals at the end of the cruise than it is to launder what you brought with you. And please think twice about taking pictures of the "adorable orphans" at the schools that Ama Waterways supports--these children are not in a zoo. Let them sing for you, buy a postcard or two and promise to make a donation when you get home (and then keep your promise). Have a great time! Most of all, have fun. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2011
We recently completed the September 13, 2011, 15-day AMA Waterways La Marguerite land and cruise package from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. I had clients on this cruise, and they had asked if we would like to accompany them. ... Read More
We recently completed the September 13, 2011, 15-day AMA Waterways La Marguerite land and cruise package from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. I had clients on this cruise, and they had asked if we would like to accompany them. Of course the answer was a resounding "Yes!" Day 1 - We flew from LAX, arriving in Hanoi at 9:30 a.m. (after 17 hours in the air). I had previously obtained "Visa On Arrival" documents, and we breezed through the airport with our multiple-entry visas. A nice air conditioned van was awaiting us, and it whisked us away to the first of our 5-star hotels - the Sofitel Metropole. Service, amenities, and room decor were impeccable. We had previously arranged a private afternoon tour with Hanoi Kids - a group of college students who volunteer their services to show tourists around their city. They absolutely refuse compensation for their services, asking only that the tourist pay for any transportation charges or meals/snacks during the tour. Our guide was a grad student, and she offered us several choices that weren't included on AMA's tour the following day. We opted for the Viet Nam ethnological museum, which I highly recommend. It highlights the 50+ ethnic groups who live in Vietnam, with outdoor re-creations of their dwellings, and indoor displays of their many lifestyle needs. This was followed by coffee in a typical Hanoi coffee house (think Starbucks on a much more primitive scale). The entire cost for the day was less than $15 (300,000 Vietnamese Dong). Speaking of currency, ATM's are everywhere. We initially bought 2 million dong (about $100), which lasted us for the entire trip. Most establishments take Visa and MasterCard. That evening we ate in a large, bustling Vietnamese restaurant - great food and beer for around $20 for two of us. Day 2 - AMA's morning tour took us to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, one-pillar pagoda, and the Temple of Literature. Our guide was exceptionally fluent in English. There were around 30 people on the tour. The afternoon tour saw us riding in rickshaws through the intricate maze of the old quarter - an experience not to be forgotten. This was followed by a unique water puppet show in an indoor theater. Fascinating and most enjoyable! After this tour, our friend and I went on our own to the infamous "Hanoi Hilton", now a museum that displays the many years that this prison was used for both the French and then the American prisoners of war. Of course the propaganda emphasized how wonderfully our downed flight crew members were treated. On display were many of Senator John McCain's personal effects, including the flight suit he was wearing when he was shot down. Dinner was on our own, and we again found a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant at rock-bottom prices. Day 3 - After breakfast in the hotel and hotel check-out, we boarded a bus for a 2-hour ride to Ha Long Bay. We boarded a beautiful junk (Asian sailing vessel), which was our home for the next 1 1/2 days. Sailing Ha Long Bay provided one of the most exotically beautiful experiences of our lives! It is truly an "8th wonder of the world". We explored a large cave in the afternoon - similar to what one would see in Carlsbad Caverns. Day 4 - After more Ha Long Bay sailing, we disembarked the junk, rode a bus to the Hanoi airport, and boarded our 2-hour flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. I'll interject here by saying that our cruise director, Vuong (aka "Rex") stayed with us from our arrival in Hanoi until our departure in Saigon. Vuong was, quite simply, one of the best and most organized cruise directors we've ever encountered! Upon arrival in Siem Reap we were transported to the Sofitel Angkor hotel - 5+ stars in every respect. A lavish buffet dinner was awaiting us, and it was followed by a performance of Cambodian dancers and musicians. Day 5 - We spent the day visiting the major temples of the Angkor complex - Angkor Wat, Angkor Tom, Banyan, and several others. Plan on LOTS of walking and even more photos! EVERYWHERE is a photo op!! These ancient temples from the 11th and 12th centuries feature engineering feats that seem incomprehensible, considering the lack of technological factors that seem so commonplace today. Day 6 - After breakfast we visited another gorgeous temple. We then visited an orphanage that is sponsored by AMA Waterways. We're talking primitive here - no electricity, phones, indoor plumbing, etc. AMA has, however, installed solar panels which power the ceiling fans in the classroom. My wife and several others had carried large packages of school supplies from the States, and we gave these to the teachers for distribution. In the afternoon we visited the famous temple that was featured in the movie "Tomb Raiders", with huge tree roots that entwine the ruins. Dinner was on our own, so we rode one of the infamous "Tuk Tuk's" to a recommended restaurant and dined on some great Cambodian cuisine. Cost for a 10-minute ride - USD $2.00! By the way, the major currency used in Cambodia is the US Dollar - it's used everywhere, rather than the Cambodian riel. Siem Reap has a wonderful, bustling, hectic central market, where bargaining is a true art form. If the price starts at $15, offer $5, and go from there! Day 7 - Three of us took a tuk-tuk into the old town and participated in a one-on-one cooking class. This 2 1/2 hour class was in the same restaurant where we had dined the evening before. We prepared numerous Cambodian dishes from scratch and then dined on our creations. Cost? $20 per person, which included the lessons, lunch, and cooking school t-shirt! We departed Siem Reap by bus at noon and drove 45 minutes to our beautiful La Marguerite, docked at the southern end of Tonle Sap lake (the largest lake in Asia). NOTE: Those who only took the 7-day river portion of this trip joined us at this point. These were about 50% of the passengers. The ship is beautiful and the rooms large and very well appointed. NOTE: -- internet on the ship is VERY spotty and is only reliable when tied up near a major city on the Mekong (such as Phnom Penh). Food on board was varied and deliciously prepared - except for desserts, which left a lot to be desired. Vietnamese red and white wines, spirits, and beer are complementary throughout the day; call brands are charged accordingly. Amazing, from a wine snob such as me, that after a couple of days I learned to actually enjoy the Vietnamese wine! And Vietnamese gin and tonic was quite good as well. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style with both western and Asian choices, many cooked to order. Dinner was from a set menu and was also delicious. Service was wonderful. We sailed south to join the Mekong, and we moored overnight at Kampong Chhnang (no, that's not a typo). Days 8 - 10. We sailed the Mekong River and visited several villages along the way to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. These visits included fish farms, floating markets, small villages, temples, and monasteries. The Cambodian people are EXTREMELY friendly, and everywhere we went, the children would wave, smile, and shout, "hello"! Day 10 - 11. We visited many of Phnom Penh's highlights - the presidential palace, silver pagoda, and many others. But the most chilling and memorable visits of our entire trip were to the infamous killing fields, followed by S21 - one of the most brutal torture prisons in history. Suffice it to say that between 1975 and 1979, the brutal dictator Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge troops managed to kill 2 million of Cambodia's 7 million population. Who did they kill? Anyone with any type of education at all, including their families. This left Cambodia devoid of any sort of infrastructure, and as our guide (who lost his family in the killings) told us, Cambodia literally started at square zero in 1979! This experience will be burned forever in my memory. Other horrors of Cambodia center around the millions of land mines that were distributed by the Khmer Rouge. Everywhere one looks, one can see men, women and children of all ages with missing limbs, resulting from these instruments of maiming. That evening several of us elected to dine on our own, so we boarded tuk-tuks and ate in a famous "hot pot" restaurant. On Day 11 we departed Phnom Penh and crossed the Mekong "border" into Vietnam (with a 3-hour delay while Vietnamese border officials made sure our passports, visas, and documents were in order). That evening we moored in Tan Chau. Day 12 - 13. Cruising down the Mekong Delta, we visited several villages, exploring fish farms, handicraft shops (mats, candy, etc), temples, and floating markets. One of the most interesting visits was to Xeo Quyt, a thriving Viet Cong base during the war. All of the bunkers, meeting rooms, headquarters huts, and trails have been maintained, and one can easily envision the horrendous conditions that American troops were faced with when attempting to ferret out the "enemy". Day 14. Our wonderful seven days on the La Marguerite came to an end. We disembarked about 60 miles from Saigon, boarded a bus, and were treated to a tour of an ancient Chinese temple, followed by a lacquer ware factory (great place for purchasing final quality souvenirs). We toured the Presidential Palace (aka Reunification Palace), Notre Dame Cathedral, and the French architectural gem post office. We were then taken to a fabulous Vietnamese restaurant (Indochine) for lunch, followed by check-in at the Sofitel hotel. Although quite nice, I would rate this hotel more in the 4-star category (compared with the Sofitels in Hanoi and Siem Reap). Unless you have recently won the lottery, I wouldn't suggest eating dinner in the hotel's buffet dining room, since it costs $44 per person. Compared with all of our other dining experiences in southeast Asia, this seemed exorbitant! We opted instead to walk two blocks to a great pho restaurant (Pho 24), where Carol and I enjoyed fresh spring rolls, large bowls of pho and a beer apiece - total cost $11 including tip! Day 15. Breakfast was included at the hotel, but the day's exploring was on our own. AMA offers a tour to the Cu Chi tunnels, used by the Viet Cong, but we passed. We instead visited the War Museum, which I HIGHLY recommend. We spent at least 3 hours there, and it was incredibly interesting. The many rooms focus on both the French occupation and the American war. The most chilling of all was the room dedicated to the effects of Agent Orange - on both the Vietnamese and our own American forces. Ugly!! We also visited the central market, where we purchased many last-minute souvenirs. NOTE: Many items in Siem Reap's central market, such as silver jewelry, are NOT sold in Saigon's market. Prices on other items are comparable between the two markets. So I would recommend buying what you like in Siem Reap, without thinking that maybe it will be cheaper in Saigon. Day 16. Depart for home. In summary, this trip rates among the highlights of all trips we have ever taken. Passengers were about 60% American, 25% Canadian, 10% Australian, and 5% British and Russian. We didn't hear one "whine" during the entire adventure! Weather in southeast Asia is hot and hotter, with very high humidity. There are no laundry facilities aboard the ship, but laundry service is available. Smoking is strictly limited to the sun deck, so those who enjoy a smoke-free environment will be pleased. AMA just launched its brand new, slightly larger AMA Lotus, which will sail the identical itinerary. AMA is to be commended for having everything so well organized, and for providing a gorgeous boat, first class land accommodations, and experienced, friendly English-speaking tour guides. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: February 2011
HANOIWe arrived in Hanoi from Tokyo on Sunday evening having planned on a full day of independent touring before the start of the AMA organized part of the trip with the rest of the group. We booked the extra night at the Sofitel Legend ... Read More
HANOIWe arrived in Hanoi from Tokyo on Sunday evening having planned on a full day of independent touring before the start of the AMA organized part of the trip with the rest of the group. We booked the extra night at the Sofitel Legend Metropole directly through AMA since we wanted to be certain that we did not have to change rooms for the other two nights covered by the tour. We arranged directly with the hotel for a private car transfer since we didn't want to deal with a taxi at 10:30PM after traveling for so long. We were met immediately outside customs and were in our car in 10 minutes. The ride to the hotel was about 40 minutes (normally up to an hour during the day with traffic). There was not alot to see other than what was visible along the side of the road. It was about 5-times the price of a taxi but the hotel staff was waiting for us when we arrived and we were in our room in the Opera Wing (newer wing) in less than 15 minutes on the 2nd floor (actually the 3rd since the ground floor is considered the 1st floor). The room was lovely and we faced the pool area so there was no concern about noise. There was bottled water, chocolates and plenty of space. The next morning we went to the restaurant for our included buffet breakfast which was as expansive as it was delicious. The restaurant overlooked the courtyard and pool area. A basket of croissants and pastries was brought to our table as well as the French press coffee and tea we requested. There was a made to order omelet station, yogurts, fresh fruits, cereals, breads, juices, eggs, dim sum, Vietnamese dishes, bacon, sausage, potatoes, grilled tomatoes and other dishes too numerous to mention. After breakfast we walked to the main lobby (it's a weird configuration to get from the Opera Wing to the original historic part of the hotel but not really a problem). We were met in the lobby by our Hanoikids guide, Phanh, a 21 year old finance major in university. For anyone that doesn't know about Hanoikids, I found out about them on Cruise Critic. They are university students paired with tourists who speak English strictly for the opportunity to practice their English. The only thing you pay for is their entrance fees, taxis to sights and lunch. There is no other charge. We decided to bring some English language novels and a box of See's chocolates from home which she was surprised and delighted to receive. Since we wanted to hear about Phanh's Vietnam and we had compared our AMA itinerary for the next day with the suggested itinerary on the Hanoikids website, we worked out a tour that would not overlap too much and provide us with the greatest exposure to Hanoi. Since the rubber sole on DH's shoe had come apart while we were in Japan for 3 days, our first stop was for shoe repair on Shoe Street in the Old Quarter, just 3 blocks from the hotel. We walked to Shoe Street, evidenced by blocks of stores selling shoes. Phanh helped us navigate the streets and deal with the amazing sea of motorbikes whizzing by constantly. The key is to step into the street when there is a small break in traffic and slowly but methodically WITHOUT STOPPING walk across. The drivers can gauge your stride and behavior and maneuver around you as long as you don't stop or make any sudden movements. Harrowingly, it works every time. It also helps to have a local lead the charge. After the shoe repair, we visited a communal (tube) house on Ma May Street in the Old Quarter known as Huong Tuong Communal House. Make sure you have Dong but, in a pinch, they will accept dollars. If you do use dollars, be prepared to actually pay more since they don't always know how to convert and they have little understanding of how to provide change, if any, in Dong. Not yet having been to the ATM, we paid with a $1 bill and actually overpaid because in Dong it would have been less than $.75 for the 3 of us. It may seem inconsequential and it is easier but you can run out of dollars very quickly if you don't have local currency. (On that subject, we brought 50-ones, 30-fives, 20-tens and 5-twenties. We found that we needed at least 100-ones and 50-fives and luckily the ship was able to change a couple of 20's into fives and someone on the trip brought so many ones that they were able to change them for us.) Next was a trip to an ATM on the street in the Old Quarter. In Vietnam, there are buttons for English but the currency dispensed is Dong. The conversion when we were there was approximately 21,500 Dong to $1 USD (it had just been devalued a few days before). For ease, we just rounded it to 20,000 Dong. We had no difficulty using the ATM's in Vietnam or Cambodia (more about that in the Cambodia section) but make sure that you have a 4-digit PIN. We told Phanh that we wanted to walk around Hoan Kiem Lake, first stopping for coffee and a bathroom break at Highland's Coffee on the 6th floor of a building opposite the NE corner of the lake on Shark Square (Dinh Tien Hoang St.) with a great view of the lake (good photo op). We walked over the red bridge (Bridge of the Rising Sun) into the Ngoc Son pagoda where Phanh said students go to pray before their university entrance exams (this was also a stop on the AMA tour the next day but we appreciated seeing it earlier after the walk around the lake). After a complete walk around the lake and the pagoda visit we were ready for lunch. We told Phanh that we wanted to eat lunch at Cha Ca La Vong which was a great experience (Cha Ca means Fish in Vietnamese and it is on Cha Ca Street in the Old Quarter but make sure you go to the right one as there are copycats on the same street using the exact same name so check the address carefully. If you are walking from the lake it is on the left side in a run-down looking building with 2 floors). There is only one thing on the menu-seasoned fish filet pieces fried in oil on a burner on the table with herbs, rice noodles and sauces. It is delicious and about 115,000 Dong per person (less than $6). We left and took a taxi to Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton). This was very interesting and I recommend going. It is not on the AMA tour but they recommend it during the lunch break on the tour day. Whether you have extra time in Hanoi or just the day scheduled with AMA, definitely see it. It will take about 45 minutes to tour the whole site. From there we took a taxi to the Cathedral area where Phanh introduced us to cold lemon tea and the art of sitting on tiny plastic stools with hundreds of others, mostly university students-she even ran into some girlfriends. We then walked to Silk Street to do some shopping. I ended up at Khai Silk (again there are copycats so you need to make certain you are at the right shop). The products are beautiful-very highly styled and reasonably priced by western standards but high end for Vietnam. They sell scarves, shawls, purses, dresses, blouses but I wound up with a lovely scarf (one of many of varying quality that I bought throughout the trip). It was now nearing 5 PM and we walked back to the hotel and said goodbye to Phanh, having spent a lovely day with a very nice and intelligent young lady. It was her first tour without a companion and she did a great job. I highly recommend Hanoikids. We were ready to recharge our batteries so we sat down in the outdoor bar for a drink. It was chilly-Hanoi experiencing its coldest winter in 30 years, but there were outdoor heaters and my hot chocolate and Grand Marnier drink hit the spot. Our friends, who took the pre-trip week starting in Saigon, arrived at the hotel at 7PM and we went to dinner at an Italian restaurant recommended by the Italian concierge-Luna d'Autuno. Much is said about taxis in Vietnam & Cambodia. The way to get where you want to go and not get ripped off is to have the hotel call a taxi for you, have your destination written on the hotel business card, have the doorman tell the taxi driver where you are going and show him the card, then give it back to you, ask the driver how much it will cost and to turn on the meter-don't leave until it is turned on. Same for the return. We had every restaurant and even stores get us a taxi and go through the same procedure. We never had any problem with any taxi. Taxis are cheap and you can get caught up in paying in dollars, overpay and still wind up paying only $2. After awhile you start feeling a little guilty because it is so cheap. This is one of the reasons for all of those dollar bills.The next morning we had our orientation from 8:30-9:15AM. I cannot say enough about Thinh, our tour manager. He started with the pre-tour group for the week from Saigon and was with us until he took the group to the airport the final day in Saigon. He knew everyone, facilitated everything and always had a smile on his face. He was concerned about the health and well-being of every tour participant and handled everything with grace. His tip at the end was worth every penny and more. He was a gem! We were organized by color, each color representing a bus-green, orange and blue. Each bus had a separate tour guide-one in Hanoi & Ha Long Bay, one in Siem Reap, one in the rest of Cambodia and one in the Vietnam Mekong and Saigon. All of the guides were stellar. The buses were first class, always with cold water, wipes, a/c, a mike for the guide. You could leave valuables on the bus as the driver kept it locked and stayed with it. If that wasn't the case in certain situations the guide would tell you to take your things. Tours were paced allowing time for independent lunches and time for rest before the afternoon tour would begin. Everything was very well communicated and everyone was always on time which was amazing. The buses were not filled to capacity. There was usually enough space for everyone to have their own seat with a few exceptions. We had a radio transmitter and earphones so we could listen to the guides on most excursions.Our guide for Hanoi and Ha Long Bay was Mango. Our tour of Hanoi included Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum but we did not go inside (I still don't know why), his residence, the Temple of Literature, One-Pillar Pagoda, a break for lunch (we went to the Club de L'Oriental 2 blocks from the hotel recommended by Mango- a lovely old building and a delicious upscale Vietnamese lunch with enough time to take a taxi 10 minutes away to an antique gallery and back to the hotel for the afternoon tour). We went to Ngoc Son pagoda (a repeat for us), followed by a cyclo (pedicab) tour of the Old Quarter for 30 minutes and then the Water Puppet Show. We were back at the hotel by 6PM and then we had an independent dinner at Green Tangerine (Vietnamese French).HA LONG BAY The next morning our bags were outside our rooms by 7AM and we had breakfast. We met in the lobby by 8AM for departure to Ha Long Bay. Our bags were checked by us to be certain they were there and put on our bus. We were told to pack an overnight bag just for the overnight on the junk and that we would have an opportunity the following day before we went to the airport to repack our bags. The trip to Ha Long Bay took about 3.5 hours with a stop for restrooms and to shop at a very large store selling embroidered silk & cotton thread pictures (made on-site), souvenirs, gifts, jewelry, etc. The prices were not cheap but you could negotiate. I purchased a hand embroidered silk picture-others purchased lacquerware, gifts, clothing. We arrived at Ha Long Bay around noon and boarded our junk. There were 3 junks for our group since each one could only accommodate about 22 people. The cabins were randomly assigned once onboard and we had a buffet lunch in the dining room which also doubled as the bar and lounge area. Unfortunately it was overcast and cold so we did not have the opportunity to sit on the sun deck. The junk was well-appointed with a public bathroom on the second deck, the same deck as the dining room/bar/lounge. There were cabins on the first and second decks and the sun deck was on deck 3. The buffet lunch was good. Our cabin,on deck 2, was on the small side but was very well-appointed- nice size bathroom, individual a/c and heat, a safe, nightstands, lamps and 2 picture windows (all cabins are the same-only the deck location is different). After lunch we were taken by a smaller boat to see a floating fishing village which was an eye-opener. This was one of the many such villages we would see throughout our trip. This particular one had about 700 people who lived here year round. After this excursion (we stayed on the boat the entire time as there is no place to disembark and walk around), we went back to our junk for some down-time. Before dinner there was a fruit and vegetable carving demonstration. We ate dinner around 7 PM which was buffet but with some wait staff service, socialized a bit and then turned in after a very full day. The next morning was Tai Chi on the sun deck at 7AM. The weather was cold and misty but a few of us braved the elements for 30 minutes of Tai Chi which was most enjoyable. There was coffee and some pastries from 7-9AM and there was an optional 1-hour tour to the caves until 9AM. My DH went but I opted to stay behind with some others and enjoy my morning coffee and read. When they returned from the tour a full brunch (it was 10AM) was served. We had already checked out of our cabin before breakfast and left the junk at 11:30AM to board the bus. We stopped on the way to the airport at a golf resort for lunch at which time we took our luggage off the bus to repack if we wanted to. We were told that we would not see our checked luggage again until we went to our hotel room in Siem Reap as we were being checked-in for our flight and our luggage put on the plane by Thinh and his assistants. Lunch at the golf club was uneventful-a buffet with some unusually matched appetizers including French fries (apparently for western tastes) and a choice of sandwiches or Pho (pronounced Pha-a) which we chose while on the bus the day before. It was served to us at communal tables with plenty of beer, soft drinks and bottled water included with the lunch. After about an hour we were back on the bus to the Hanoi airport. There were some duty free shops, some with decent prices, but not so for any western goods such as perfumes. We were given our boarding passes with our passports (passports were given to Thinh the day before). A word now about the Cambodian visas: I opted to obtain mine through the Cambodian evisa website before I left home for $25. I wanted to save the hassle of waiting on line in the Siem Reap airport for it to be issued for $20. I heard that it was no big deal but I like to be prepared so I did it all in advance and printed out 2 copies of the evisa and stapled one in each of our passports and kept one each in our passport case for the exit from Cambodia (but it was never collected). At our initial orientation in Hanoi, Thinh told us that he would handle the Cambodian visa for anyone who didn't have one-give him one passport photo, $20USD and your passport when he asked for it and he would take care of the whole thing. So had I known this I obviously would have done it differently BUT there is no way to know that the tour manager on your tour will also handle it this way. I know that on a tour in November 2010 the individual passengers had to get their own visas upon arrival. We said goodbye to Mango at the airport in Hanoi. The flight from Hanoi to Siem Reap was approximately 1.5 hours and a full meal was served in flight (didn't touch it but some did). SIEM REAP-ANGKOR TEMPLESWe arrived in Siem Reap after sunset to a full moon (very revered as it was the first full moon of the new year) as we walked down from the plane, across the tarmac and into the luggage area. Thinh had expedited our arrival in Siem Reap with the customs agents. Once we retrieved our bags from the luggage belt we were able to walk right through to the bus where they were taken from us to be put in our rooms at the hotel. There was some confusion since we thought we did not have to touch our bags at all and would have them in our rooms after dinner but there must have been some communication error. We arrived at our hotel, Le Meridien, and went straight to dinner in the main dining room. Our room keys were given to us at dinner, again the rooms were randomly assigned. Dinner was very good and served buffet style with many stations and a large selection. All of the food was fresh and delicious and we were told that we could drink the water and ice. After dinner we went up to our room which was large and comfortable. DH's bag was not there but was recovered from another room in 20 minutes. We decided to check our emails and use our Skype account (the hotel charges $8 per 24 hours for internet access). That's when we found out that our office was frantically trying to reach us to find out about the junk that sunk on Ha Long Bay the same night we were there. After emails assuring them that it wasn't us, we went to sleep. Luckily, our junk trip was not cancelled. Had it been scheduled for the following night we would not have been able to do it as the Vietnamese government cancelled all junk trips for a few days to inspect all of the junks. The next morning we had the included lavish buffet breakfast in the hotel and boarded the green bus with our Cambodian guide, Chantha, at 8:30 AM. Our first stop was to get our 3-day pass for the temple sites for which we had to have our pictures taken and wear it around our necks at all of the sights. The first stop was Angkor Thom where we visited the South Gate, Bayon, Terrace of the Elephants and the Leper King. The complex is incredible as you approach and just beautifully carved with intricate designs that are more than 800 years old. The bus had cold water bottles all the time and it was important to wear sunscreen and drink alot during the days as the humidity was high, the sun hot and there was little, if any, shade. There is alot of walking involved and some steep climbing. For those that did not want to climb, one of the other guides stayed with that group and walked around the base area with them and we met up later. We had to leave our bus and take a smaller shuttle bus to and from the entrance so on the return it was very hot-drink lots of water! It is also advised to wear a hat and bring an umbrella for shade which many people did. We went back to the hotel at 11:30 for a lunch break for 3 hours. We opted to take the green bus into town with some others so our guide could take us to a laundry to drop-off our clothes. The charge is $2USD per kilo (2.2 pounds) and it is weighed right in the bag. It would be ready the next day at 5PM (there are no dryers because electricity is so expensive so you need to wait a day for them to dry). Chantha also showed us a great place nearby to eat lunch, The Ankgor Palm restaurant. The meal was delicious, organic and cheap. We had a dish called Amok which is a local fish steamed in a banana leaf with coconut milk, ginger and spices with rice. It was wonderful washed down with Tiger beer. Our friend decided to get a local haircut around the block and was back 30 minutes later and $3 lighter. We took a "tuk-tuk" back to the hotel. They are known by a variety of names-rickshaw, cyclo, pedicab, etc. Some are powered by bicycle from the back (Hanoi & Saigon) and others by motobikes in the front (Siem Reap, Phnom Penh). The average price is $1 but can go as high as $5 depending on the number of people (some can take as many as 4 people) and the distance. You must negotiate the price before you get in. We met in the lobby for the afternoon tour of Angkor Wat. The place is mammoth and the approach is awe-inspiring. It was sunny, hot and humid (sunscreen, hat, umbrella & WATER!!). After the tour, we had the option of going back to the hotel or up Phonm Bakheng hill with our guide to watch the sunset. I chose to return to the hotel but DH opted for the sunset. Unfortunately, there was little sunset as a big, black cloud blocked most of the sun. That evening we were on our own for dinner so the four of us went into town to eat at the Red Piano, recommended by our guide on Pub Street. It was made famous by the cast of Tomb Raider (Angelina Jolie) while filming in the area. Compared to our lunch at The Angkor Palm it was very overrated. Pub Street has the proverbial restaurants, bars and shops and is an interesting place to walk around. There are the fish foot massage shops that have large tanks of skin eating fish that love to nibble away the dead skin from tourists' feet for $3 for 15 minutes. We saw alot of that but did not partake. We finished off with ice cream from The Blue Pumpkin and some window (stall) shopping but did not buy anything. It had been a very long day so by 10PM we were back in a tuk-tuk for the trip back to the hotel.The following morning started with breakfast at 7AM and then back on the bus at 8 AM for the trip to Bantey Srei. This is the temple complex featured in the movie "Indiana Jones Temple of Doom". The trees and roots literally grow out of, on top of, and around the temple. There were some wonderful photo opportunities. We bought a lovely watercolor of the ruins painted by a young artist from a group of orphans and disabled people. He signed it and rolled it into a small wicker tube. I was sorry that I didn't get a picture of him with the painting to keep together. I also should have bought another one-good cause and very unique. Our next stop was Ta Phrom, my favorite of all the temples. Made of sandstone, Ta Phrom is also the oldest (9th C.AD) and I think the most beautifully and intricately carved of all we saw. It also seemed to be the least visited. It is amazing that at all of the temples we visited you can climb on the rocks, touch everything and access is virtually unrestricted. This will most certainly change in the future. Several passengers had purchased woven straw water bottle holders for $1 (everything seemd to cost $1) at some of the sights the prior day so I was happy to find them here, purchased one and brought it home. It's a good souvenir and very practical. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a roadside village and watched palm sugar being made. It was quite interesting. I actually bought some (3 wicker rolls for $2). I also bought a locally made batik fabric for my daughter who is into that kind of stuff. They are worn by the local women as skirts wrapped around their waists to just above their ankles. This afternoon was to be our last time with our guide, Chantha. On behalf of his local tour company, we were given a small gift - a wicker gift box with a silver trinket box inside. All of us had different shaped silver items. Ours were a squash and an elephant. These boxes are locally made of Cambodian silver and are sold throughout Cambodia of differing quality but a lovely and unexpected gift and remembrance of our time in Cambodia. We returned to the hotel in time for lunch (on our own). We sat in the lounge enjoying a cool drink and opted to eat at the hotel for lunch. My DH stayed in the room for a nap while I decided to go for a swim. Our guide offered to take those that were interested to the local market (Old Market) for a couple of hours but I decided not to go. I just couldn't face another market and the heat. Instead, I went into the hotel gift shop where I purchased for gifts 3 pair of locally made silver earrings, 5 raw silk scarves and small wicker baskets filled with bags of locally grown saffron and chili peppers. That night the group had a lovely dinner at the hotel which included a BBQ of prawns, satays, vegetables, squid and other seafood in addition to an expansive dinner buffet. We were treated to a beautifully performed traditional Apsara Dance show while we ate.RIVER TRIP ON LA MARGUERITEOur bags were outside our rooms at 7AM and it was registration for La Marguerite in the lobby from 7-7:45AM after which we had breakfast. We were given tags for our luggage and made sure the tags were placed on our bags and that the bags were counted and placed on our bus. We left the hotel at 8AM with our new guide, Vantheany (we called her Teeny), for the 5-hour ride to our embarkation point. Due to low water levels at this time of the dry season, we could not embark on Tonle Sap Lake as cruises do during the rainy season. Our embarkation point was to be Prek Kdam. On the way we would have a bathroom break and visit a small marketplace. The road was almost only 1 lane and dirt most of the trip. The landscape was flat, dusty and somewhat brown due to the dry season. Occasionally there was a hill in the distance, workers in a field, a small hamlet with oxen, houses, children. We stopped at Kampong Thom for a bathroom break and to check out the local market. There were fried tarantulas, fried crickets, snakes, sticky rice and a large variety of local fruit-mangos, pineapple, papaya, dragon fruit, bananas, peanuts (locally grown), tamarind, etc. On the bus, Teeny treated us to sticky rice cooked with black beans in bamboo which is then peeled back and eaten by hand. It was quite good. Some in the group purchased bananas and pineapple, all of which were very tasty. Teeny also purchased some locally grown peanuts which had been boiled for us to sample. Again, quite good. We finally arrived at our embarkation point, Prek Kdam, at 1:30PM. There were some local villagers watching us as we exited our buses and walked down the river bank over dried mud steps to reach the small wood and rope gangplank onto La Marguerite. There were several crew members assisting us with our carry-on bags and steadying us as we made our way onboard. We were directed to our cabins to drop-off our things and then to the dining room on the Main Deck (aft) for a buffet lunch. There are also cabins on this deck. We were on the Saigon Deck-deck 2- where the Saigon Lounge was aft, the Library was forward, the office was mid-ship as was the small gift shop. Deck 3 had cabins, the Sun Deck (aft), the fitness room, showers and massage rooms in between. The cabins were very well-appointed with an efficient use of space and a large bathroom. The linens were soft and the towels thiick and plentiful. There were slippers and bathrobes in the closet, a hairblower and a safe. There was a cushioned banquette next to a large picture window (under which was a full-length deep drawer,a desk (on top of which was the TV, DVD player, a large, working old-fashioned fan and an old-fashioned telephone that worked for room-to-room calls only), a desk chair, 2 night stands with 2-drawers each, bedside lamps and overhead lights and a french balcony with a door that opened but room enough for 1 person to stand only. There was always coffee and tea available on the Sun Deck together with a full bar, a small, raised pool and lounge chairs, tables and chairs, some of which were covered from the sun and elements by canvas. All three decks are accessed by a semi-spiral 3-story wooden staircase with wrought iron railings. While all cabins, the dining room, Saigon Lounge, Library, gift shop, massage & exercise rooms and office are air-conditioned, the central part of the ship was usually warm due to exterior doors being kept open or cabin hallway doors not being closed. At first it was uncomfortable, but after a day or so, it was fine and people started closing the doors more often. The gift shop was left open and unattended most of the time but the office was across the way so it wasn't a problem if you wanted to buy something. There was always a bartender on the Sun Deck and the Saigon Lounge and in the evening there was a classical piano player in the Lounge. That is where most people congregated throughout the cruise since it was air conditioned, had internet access when it was available, beverages, etc. The Library also had a good assortment of paperbacks, board games and DVD's (the flat screen TV in the cabins only played DVD's-no television). We brought some DVD's from home but they would not play as they were incompatible with the local technology so save luggage space and don't bother. There were also 2 PC's in the Library that usually worked OK when there was internet service available. Occasionally, there was a problem but someone from the office was usually available to fix it. Many passengers had laptops, iPad's, etc. so there wasn't much of a problem that I saw with access to the computers. The Saigon Lounge and the Library were the only 2 places with internet access. We had a life-vest safety briefing on the first and second days due to the junk sinking on Ha Long Bay. AMA was very concerned about safety and all of our boat trips during the cruise required that everyone have and WEAR their life vest before the boat would leave. Breakfast and lunch were buffet each day and there was always a station for omelets and Pho in the morning and at least one special hot food station at lunch. Breakfast consisted of cereals, fruits, juices, eggs, potatoes, breads, yogurts, cheeses, smoked fish, etc. Lunch was several hot entrees, a selection of several cold salads, cheeses, breads, crackers, desserts. There was always free coffee and teas(cappuccinos, espressos, specialty coffees were charged), water, soft drinks, local wines, beers & spirits available at no charge. International liquors, beers, wines were charged. There was a mini-bar in the cabin that had snacks and drinks for a charge but the water was always free and replenished daily and whenever you wanted. Water was also provided in a canvas shoulder strap bag when departing on every excursion (a hand wipe was also in the bag) and upon every return there was a cold cloth and glasses of iced fruit juice waiting. Breakfast was usually served between 7-9AM (you could arrive at any time); lunch was usually from 12:30-1:30PM (you could arrive at any time) and dinner was seated and served (no buffet) at 7 or 7:30PM (depending on what was going on before or after that) and ended around 9-9:30. There were no reserved tables and people ate where and with whom they wanted. After awhile, people seemed to gravitate towards certain groups and tables and the staff seemed to know who they were and their preferences.Most morning excursions left the ship by color between 8-8:30AM and returned by 11-11:30AM with some exceptions. The afternoon excursions usually left between 2-3PM and returned by 5-5:30PM, again with a few exceptions. Before dinner each evening we would meet in the Saigon Lounge for 30 minutes to discuss the next day's itinerary and for Thinh to make announcements and answer questions. The crew would serve drinks and there would be a daily drink (alcoholic) served by request for no charge. We would also be served a small appetizer such as a fried spring roll (never gave us a napkin though to wipe off our fingers). Dinner was selected from a menu on the dining table (the menu and times were also posted outside the dining room each day). There would be 1-2 set appetizers, a choice of soups, salads and a choice of one of 2 main courses and one of 3 desserts. There was always grilled chicken breast, steak and hamburger with French fries available as well as ice cream (the coconut was wonderful), cheese and crackers for dessert. On a couple of evenings I was not impressed with the entrees offered so I chose steak and chicken breast. They were quite accommodating about substituting certain potatoes and vegetables although the staff sometimes had language issues. Still, they were young and so willing to please that it was enjoyable to be around them. And they are still training and work very hard to understand what it is that you want. We found that they were hard-working and very polite. Our cabin steward, Luong, was phenomenal. In addition to being a great singer, he was always working. He was constantly straightening up our cabin, replacing towels and cleaning our shoes. After many excursions of walking on dirt roads, etc., we would come back to the ship where damp towels would be placed on the floor to wipe your feet. Still, I hesitated bringing the shoes into the cabin and on 2 occasions rinsed them in the shower. I would leave them outside our cabin with the intent of cleaning them later. For a few days I couldn't understand how they were winding up in our cabin looking very clean and placed on plastic until I found out from another passenger that Luong was cleaning the shoes. Incredible! He earned a separate tip at the end of the cruise.This is a good place to discuss tipping. Like many cruise ships, a suggested tip is $10 per day per person and can be added to your ship account at the end of the cruise and charged by credit card (as long as the total amount is more than $25USD) or you can settle your shipboard account in cash (USD or Dong are accepted although all charges are in USD). We added $140 to our account for the tips, tipped Luong an additional $20 and handed Thinh an envelope the final night of $140 ($10 per day times the 14 days we were with him). As for other tips: We were fortunate enough to be in a group that was traveling together as a large group so they would work out a tip for the guide and bus driver based upon how many days we were with them. So for example, if we were with the guide for 2 full days, it would usually be $8-10 per person total for the guide and $4 per person for the driver. We would pass along an envelope for each and the leader of their group would present it on behalf of all of us at the end of our time with them along with a little speech. This relieved us of figuring out how much to tip, made sure they got a tip from everyone and got it all at once. We did it in USD and it worked out well since once the envelope was being passed you could make change and get more dollar bills! If we had a driver just for the afternoon, we would tip him $2 for both of us. Entertainment on the ship was well done. One night we watched the movie "The Killing Fields" which was an excellent introduction to Phnom Penh and the history of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Another evening in Phnom Penh a troupe of orphaned teenagers were onboard playing traditional instruments and dancing traditional dances. They were excellent. Another night we had 2 Vietnamese singers and 3 musicians playing traditional instruments. All entertainment was in traditional costume, including the night that the crew and guides entertained us. One of the nights we were in Phnom Penh we took a tuk-tuk after dinner onboard to Raffles Hotel for Singapore Slings in the Elephant Bar. That was fun! On the way to Sa Dec, Vietnam, the crew left on our beds the DVD of the movie, "The Lover", Marguerite Dumas' story of her affair with Mr. Le (Marguerite is the namesake of the ship, La Marguerite). Unfortunately, our copy must have been a bootleg since it stopped every 30 seconds so we never watched it after the first 20 minutes. Otherwise, people had drinks & conversed, or played cards & board games, searched the web, sent emails or went back to their cabins. There was Mr. Hai, the piano player, who was an accomplished classical pianist but instead played mostly western songs which seemed to fall flat. By the end of each day we were happy to retire to our cabin to read but usually fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. On 2 of the days we had lectures on Cambodia & Vietnam in the late afternoon after our excursions. On our one sea day, there was a cooking class and an ice cream party. On that day I had a wonderful 2-hr. body scrub and hot stone massage-a real treat- that I booked the first day onboard. Our daytime excursions in Cambodia, excluding Phnom Penh, were to small floating villages and towns with local markets selling local fruits, vegetables, fish, herbs, spices, etc. and to pagodas and schools. For most excursions, we were met by a local boat that pulled up alongside the Marguerite. We were always helped aboard and there were individual seats, life vests and a canopy. One afternoon we were met at the river bank in Kampong Tralach by 45 ox carts from several villages who took us on a 20-minute ride to our buses which would take us to the largest Buddhist pagoda in Cambodia-the Buddhism Center in Oudong. As the ox carts traveled along the dirt road, children would run or bike alongside. I brought a big box of pencils from home to give out to the children. They would respond by placing their hands together as if praying-the Cambodian way of saying hello and thank you. It was wonderful to see their faces and watch them call over their friends for their pencils. Children were everywhere-40% of the population of Cambodia is under the age of 15 and while education is compulsory, it is not enforced. Much of the population is too poor to buy the required uniform and books so many don't attend school which is a terrible shame. LA MARGUERITE-PHNOM PENHWe arrived in Phnom Penh on the third day and were docked there for 3 nights. The dock is along the waterfront street of Sisowath Quay Road, lined with shops, restaurants, hotels, tourist shops, ATMs, etc. FYI-ATMs in Cambodia dispense USD. When using the ATM you will be given a choice of withdrawing money from checking, savings or universal. Press the universal button. Also, if for some reason the ATM starts beeping (similar to a home burglar alarm), withdraw your card immediately and either start again or find another ATM. While this didn't happen to us, we were warned by others that it may mean the machine is about to "eat" your card. From the Marguerite to the street you must walk up 75 shallow metal steps or up a metal incline attached on the side of the steps. The port at street level is actually a parking lot for cars, tour buses and tuk-tuks. The port closes officially at 11PM but you can get back in by paying $1 (we were never asked and just walked in as we pleased). We were able to leave the ship the first night if we wanted but chose to stay onboard and watch "The Killing Fields" which didn't end until almost 11PM. The next morning we went by bus to the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the National Museum returning to the ship for lunch. We were also given the option to have the bus and guide take us to the Central Market (Phsar Thom Thmei) to shop for an hour or so after our excursion. They waited for us or we could take a tuk-tuk back to the ship. The market is indoors as well as having stalls along the outside and at all 4 entrances, all selling gold, silver, jewelry, clothing, souvenirs, flowers, food, fabrics, scarves, shoes, etc. There is also a Russian market that sells similar goods and is supposed to be cheaper with more bargaining. I don't know if any one actually went to the Russian market to shop. We decided to find a laundry and found one a block from the pier. Once again, it was $2 per kilo and it would be ready by 5 the next afternoon. That afternoon there was an optional excursion to the "Killing Fields" (Choeung Ek Memorial) and Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, the Kmer Rouge's detention center in Phnom Penh.. The other option was to stay onboard or spend the time on your own. We chose the former and were so glad we did. It is quite disturbing, especially since the killing fields site we visited is only one of many such sites where the Khmer Rouge did their dirty deeds. Nevertheless, the sobering sites should not be missed as they put in context the painful recent history of the Cambodian people. This evening we went to Raffles by tuk-tuk.On our final full day in Phnom Penh, the ship had traveled downriver to a local silk-weaving village at Chong Koh. Most of the green bus opted instead to visit a local elementary school right near where we were docked to give out pens, pencils and toiletries we had collected at our hotels and on the ship. We visited grades K-6, met the teachers, principal and had a translator. The children were adorable, appreciative and eager to meet the group of strangers. Expect to be greeted by local women and children selling scarves. The children latched on to me immediately and followed me everywhere. When I agreed to buy scarves from them I was surrounded by all of them and the adult women. I negotiated with them and handed off each scarf to my DH who also paid. I would still be there had it not been for the ship's horn and Thinh patiently waiting for us to get onboard. I have wonderful pictures of these children and great memories (and lots of scarves, too). This was a highlight of our trip as were all encounters with the children. The afternoon was free with an optional walking tour led by Teeny to Wat Phnom, a park with a hill in the middle of Phnom Penh with several pagodas on top, one honoring Madam Penh, the founder of the city. So after lunch and before the walking tour, DH and I decided we wanted to buy silver serving utensils as a gift to ourselves and went back to the Central Market by tuk-tuk. The short story is that a shopkeeper directed us to her cousin's shop along Sisowath Quay in the hotel district (across the street from Hotel Cambodiana) where we bought a set of 4 beautifully carved, handmade serving pieces and were taken by their English speaking young friend by tuk-tuk back and forth to the store, an ATM and the pier. We decided to take the optional walking tour during that afternoon during which Teeny introduced us to ripe lotus seeds, hanging fruit bats and a group of monkeys, one of whom stole her lotus seeds. That night after dinner we enjoyed the traditional dance performed by the Cambodian children, said goodbye to Teeny and met our Vietnamese guide, Dauo, who would be with us for the remainder of the trip.LA MARGUERITE-VIETNAMThe next day was our only "sea" day so we slept in (until 8:30) to make breakfast which ended at 9AM. La Marguerite left the pier and we watched Phnom Penh recede in the distance as we merged with the mighty Mekong River, a sight that you can actually observe since the Mekong is blue-green. Today we would cross the border into Vietnam. There was a fruit carving demonstration, an ice cream "party" and a day of down time, much relished after 10 days of nearly constant activity. Late that afternoon we moored in Tan Chau, the first Vietnamese town on the Mekong. This evening was a briefing by Thinh of tomorrow's activities, dinner and an enjoyable show by the crew and guides.In the morning we took a local boat to Tan Chau town where were met onshore by a sea of rickshaws (Xe Loi). Along our route through town we were greeted by locals, always waving and smiling. We visited a slipper making factory and a rattan mat factory and walked through a small enclave of locals to our motorboat which would take us down narrow channels to an evergreen island. We met and mingled with the villagers, their oxen, the local fisherman, and seamstress. We met the children, handed out more pencils and pens, saw their crops (bananas, corn, chili peppers, rice) and watched them build a pond to catch fish from the canal when the river rises during rainy season. We returned to the ship for lunch and cruised further down the river to Sa Dec while enjoying a free afternoon onboard. After a briefing by Thinh, we enjoyed dinner and a Vietnamese traditional folklore performance.The next day was our final touring day on the river. After breakfast, a local boat transferred us to Sa Dec for a walking tour. We strolled the incredible local food market- fresh (very) fowl, fish and vegetables and had a sampling of some exotic fruits. Next was the family home of Mr. Le, Marguerite Dumas' lover. The next stop was a 1-hour bus ride to Xeo Quyt, the former Viet Cong base (described in the materials as "a base to lead the province's people to contribute their strength to that of the whole country to carry out victoriously the anti-French and US war of resistance for the salvation of the fatherland"). It was interesting and involved walking along dirt paths and over footbridges. This was the only place that we applied bug spray (40% DEET) although there appeared to be no bugs (some passengers had taken anti-malarial drugs but Thinh said they were not necessary where we would be and apparently he was correct as we never saw any bugs and never were bitten). Those passengers that did not want to travel to Xeo Quyt returned to the ship and it sailed to Cai Be to meet the others returning from Xeo Quyt. After lunch, there was a mid-afternoon excursion by local boat. We passed the Cai Be Floating Market and took a short tour of a 1930's family home that is now also a guest house. We docked and took a short walk to visit a candy making factory which also made rice paper and snake wine. We returned to the ship for our final evening. Tonight was a farewell dinner, time to settle accounts and pack. HO CHI MINH CITY (SAIGON)We docked in My Tho during the night. Bags were outside our cabin by 7AM and breakfast ended at 8AM. Our bus to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon or HCM) left the dock at 8:30AM and after a little more than 1 hour we arrived in HCM. Our first stop in HCM was the Emperor Jade Pagoda, an intricately carved figurine pagoda in Cholon (Chinatown). Afterwards, we were taken to the Reunification Palace where Dauo took us on a tour of the interior rooms. Following was a visit to a lacquerware factory (Minh Phuong) where we saw how the various types of lacquerware are made and had an opportunity (very short) to purchase. The number and types of products for sale were so overwhelming that we decided to return the next day with our private guide. Our next stop was Indochine restaurant for an included lunch with the entire group during which we received our room keys for the hotel, again randomly assigned. After lunch we were taken to our hotel, Sofitel Plaza Saigon, to check-in. We had a very large and lovely corner room with a great view. DH had not been feeling well the past 2 days so he remained at the hotel for a nap while we went with our guide and bus to Ben Thanh Market. We had about an hour to traverse this cramped, bustling market teeming with people and goods. I found nothing that I wanted to buy and was just too overwhelmed although some of the ladies purchased several pair of very cheap sandals. We returned to the hotel and decided to spend our friends' final night at Mandarin, a beautiful and elegant Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant with wonderful food and service. Each dish was a work of art and was a fitting finale to a great trip. We would be staying in HCM for 2 more days but they were leaving in the morning so we said our goodbyes that evening.The next morning we met our guide, Zoom, at 8AM in the lobby. We had planned a very full day with him before departing from home. Since we had expected him at 9, he sat with us as we ate our buffet breakfast (included). We had a private car and driver in addition to Zoom. Our first stop was Giac Lam Pagoda, the oldest pagoda in Saigon. From there we went to Binh Tay Market in Chinatown, even more crowded than Ben Thanh if that were possible. Zoom navigated us all around as we watched the inventive ways goods are delivered to the market. Again, we found nothing we were interested in buying. Next it was lunch at Pho 2000 where we enjoyed great pho and excellent spring rolls, then on to a different lacquer workshop than the one we visited the previous day. Here we purchased a lacquer lotus plate, wine bottle stands and covered lacquer boxes inlaid with mother of pearl-all for reasonable prices. They were packed in bubble wrap for the trip home. We stopped outside the Reunification Palace where we had an interesting discussion with Zoom about the war, politics, life in HCM and Vietnam. Our next stop was the War Remnants Museum, an over-the-top propaganda museum but worth the visit. We drove past the Opera House, City Hall, went inside Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office, and then enjoyed a wonderful Vietnamese iced coffee drink at the rooftop Garden Bar of the Rex Hotel with a wonderful view of the skyline, Opera House and City Hall. It was at the Rooftop Garden that the U.S. daily briefing took place during the Vietnam War and was also allegedly CIA Headquarters during the war. After a very full and most enjoyable day with Zoom, we returned to the hotel and said goodbye to Zoom (the next day he dropped off a CD of all the pictures he took with us the day of the tour). We looked through our guidebook for a restaurant for dinner and decided that we needed some Western food. We opted for Skewers, a Mediterranean inspired restaurant a short taxi ride away. The food was good, not great, but it was what we were looking for that evening. After dinner, the restaurant called a taxi and we went to the Caravelle Hotel, across from the Opera House, and went up to the 5th floor Saigon, Saigon Bar. We sat out on the terrace and enjoyed the beautiful view of the gorgeously lit City Hall and other buildings while listening to a Cuban Latin band. We decided to have a nightcap at the Rooftop Garden Bar at the Rex so we crossed the street, took some great pictures of City Hall and capped the evening off at the Rex. Our final day in Saigon was a full one as we did not need to be at the airport until 9:30PM. We arranged to pay for a half day at the hotel so we didn't need to check out until 7PM. After our included buffet breakfast with a couple from the ship (several people only took the cruise portion of the trip), we decided we were oriented enough to walk to the area near City Hall where DH was told by Zoom he could buy the watch he wanted. Surprisingly, we realized that we were only 6-7 blocks from this area and the walk was easy. We passed the US Consulate, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Post Office and several shopping malls and department stores. Our watch hunting was ultimately not successful but that was OK. We decided to walk down Don Khoi Street, the major shopping street, towards the Saigon River. We were told by Zoom that it was not very safe to walk along the river (pickpockets) but we wanted to go into the oldest hotel in Saigon, the 1920's French-era Hotel Majestic, at the foot of Don Khoi Street and the river. We went up to the Sky Bar for a drink and enjoyed a great view of the river. After enduring the heat and humidity, we left and walked back up Don Khoi street to Mojo for lunch at the Sheraton Hotel. Mojo is a funky place with a menu of sandwiches, salads, international as well as Vietnamese dishes. Following lunch, we walked along Le Loi Street to the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum. The museum, which costs the equivalent of $.50 per person, is a 3-story French villa with an original 1920's era elevator and a wonderful display of historic and contemporary sculpture, paintings and lacquerware. The museum is not air-conditioned so it might be a better stop in the morning. We walked back the way we came on Le Loi Street, stopping in the Park Hyatt for a cold drink and a glass of wine while cooling down and resting our feet. The hotel is very modern and the art work is beautiful. It seemed that we had probably been in every high-end hotel in the city save one or two. We walked back to the Sofitel exhausted and a little disappointed that we did not make it to the City Museum for the Water Puppet show that could only be seen between 5 and 6 that day. After doing some final packing and taking showers, we checked out of our room and left our bags with the bellman. We asked the concierge for a restaurant recommendation. He suggested an Italian restaurant a short taxi ride away and he made a reservation for us. When we arrived at L'Hostaria, we were greeted by the manager from Turin who luckily had a table for us since there was a very large party of Germans occupying most of the tables. And it was lucky since the food was wonderful, the wine very good and the prices very reasonable. It was a delicious dinner capping a fantastic trip. We returned to the hotel, picked up our bags and took a taxi to the airport 25 minutes away. We flew to Tokyo, had a 5 hour layover and were back home 26 hours later but on the same day we left HCM.It was a memorable and very special trip. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2011
My husband and I just returned from Cambodia and Vietnam -cruise portion was from Jan 23. Unfortunately I had fallen several days previous and was in pain so had to forgo some of the shore excursions. Have to note that people with some ... Read More
My husband and I just returned from Cambodia and Vietnam -cruise portion was from Jan 23. Unfortunately I had fallen several days previous and was in pain so had to forgo some of the shore excursions. Have to note that people with some mobility problems will have difficulty making some excursions. Often there is no dock, the ship just pulls up to river bank and you clamber up the dirt bank. But the excursions we both or my husband went on were all worth the effort and are all included in the one price for the cruise. Bring some balloons to charm the children. By some school supplies while you are there as you will visit at least one school which was so pleased by our gifts. Cabin was comfortable and public areas quite adequate. There was free Internet when reception allowed. Meals were excellent with a mix of Western and regional food. Breakfast and lunch were bountiful buffets with stations for making omelets, noodles soup, etc. Soft drinks were included but wine and beer extra. We had 76 on the cruise and were divided into 3 groups each with a tour guide. They all spoke good enough English and were delightful. This isn't a trip for entertainment so evening programs were low key. Crew put on a show - they love to sing. It was wonderful to just sit and watch river life happening. You think about the history of the Vietnam war and are amazed that now we are friendly tourists enjoying these lovely countries. If you are going to Cambodia and Vietnam, would recommend doing a land tour from Saigon up to Hanoi, fly to Siem Reip and then take the cruise back down to Saigon. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2010
We found it difficult to locate any reviews of La Marguerite cruises prior to our cruise, so hope this will help future travellers. This was our first river cruise and was mid-November from Siem Reap to Saigon. Although you can book ... Read More
We found it difficult to locate any reviews of La Marguerite cruises prior to our cruise, so hope this will help future travellers. This was our first river cruise and was mid-November from Siem Reap to Saigon. Although you can book travel to/from embarkation/disembarkation and can also book add-on packages, we chose to make our own travel arrangements. We flew to Siem Reap from Bangkok, easily obtained visas at the entry airport and stayed 3 nights in Siem Reap visiting many temples and seeing the local sights - this is not to be missed. Most cruisers had already done associated tours of varying lengths and stayed at Le Meridien in Siem Reap but we stayed at a really good small hotel called Pavillon d'Orient where the local staff were really friendly and helpful. There was some confusion for us about exactly where we would embark and neither AMA Waterways nor Fred Olsen Travel (the UK Agents) distinguished themselves in this regard. Apparently, just after the rainy season and for a couple of months thereafter, embarkation takes place on the Tonle Sap Lake about 20 mins drive from Le Meridien. At other times there is not enough water in the lake and you have to be bussed to a more distant embarkation point downstream which can be up to 5 hours away. We received several letters from AMA/FOT advising us of a change of departure point and time but never one with the actual ones. It was left to us to discover this in Siem Reap! We were located on Tonle deck and there seems little difference between this and the one above (Saigon) apart from price. Both were identically sized and have a large picture window and a smallish balcony which houses the next cabin's a/c so is not very suitable for standing on - not enough room to sit! Our cabin was surprisingly spacious, particularly the bathroom (larger than Princess for example) although storage space was a little limited. It was a little on the dark side due to the wood inlay but was tastefully decorated. The rooms were quiet with little noise from the corridor - the doors were quite thick. Beds were comfortable if a little on the firm side. Double or twin could be requested prior to the cruise although our request was not fulfilled. However, it was soon altered once on board. Towels were changed rather unnecessarily frequently even if you hung them up. Our fellow passengers were mainly from N America, Australia, Switzerland, France and the UK. The ship can take ca. 90 passengers but on this occasion there were about 80. There are about 25 sunbeds and 20 assorted chairs on the sundeck which surprisingly seemed to be adequate. The service on board was excellent. The restaurant staff were very attentive and helpful. The dining room did tend to be somewhat noisy, depending on where you were seated (free seating arrangement) and the a/c could be quite a cool breeze. The food was first class with plenty of choice (International and local cuisine). There was a good supply of free beer and soft drinks, although spirits were limited to local rum and brandy. Other brands could be purchased. House wine was provided at meal times although the quality seemed to be a bit variable (one night the red was almost undrinkable). Wine could also be purchased by the glass or bottle (20USD upwards). Bottled water in a handy carrier was provided on all excursions. A nice feature was the provision of an International newspaper several times during the week. Wi-Fi was free in the library and there were 2 PCs for general use, although one or two individuals did tend to over-use them. There was no booking system. Connection speed was variable depending on the position of the ship but remember you are in the middle of the country most of the time. There was a very small exercise room which seemed little used on this cruise. The Cruise Director made a presentation about the next day's programme each evening and often sang (badly) to round things off. He was a much better (Vietnamese) guide than a cruise director. The guides were very knowledgeable and made all the shore excursions very interesting. All excursions were voluntary. However, the Itinerary was a good mix of visiting small towns, floating villages, markets, craft workshops, local industry and temples. There were also a couple of interesting talks about the history of Cambodia and Vietnam. Whilst we realised the extreme significance of the Killing Fields and associated history, it was a bit laboured at times. You do need visas for both Cambodia and Vietnam - an important point not communicated to us by AMA till it was almost too late. As mentioned previously you can easily obtain one for Cambodia at the airport - much cheaper than using an agent prior to the cruise. Vietnamese visas need to be obtained at the relevant embassy prior to leaving home. Be careful to check that the arrival date on the visa is correct. We didn't and ours had the departure date instead and we had to pay 30USD each to have this amended on board at the border. Apparently this is not an uncommon experience! The disembarkation was smooth in spite of the fact that people had flights or onward travel at different times. Disembarkation takes place at My Tho port from where it is about a 1 hour 45 mins coach trip to the centre of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon is the name of the city centre). All in all this cruise was well organised and the itinerary should provide something for everyone. Despite some of the frustrations experienced we would thoroughly recommend it. Read Less
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