My husband and I decided to start our trip with the 3 night Siem Reap hotel package and then the 7 night cruise with a 2 night Saigon stay. Here's what I learned from taking this trip:
You do need to get visas for Vietnam ahead of ... Read More
My husband and I decided to start our trip with the 3 night Siem Reap hotel package and then the 7 night cruise with a 2 night Saigon stay. Here's what I learned from taking this trip:
You do need to get visas for Vietnam ahead of time. You can do this through an agency or directly with the consulate. If you start in Hanoi, you need a multiple entry visa. If you start in Siem Reap like we did, a single entry visa is needed. You also need a visa for Cambodia but that can be bought at the airport. We did e-visas via the Internet. I had them within 24 hours. AMA also has an account with a visa agency and you can use that service if you wish.
Cambodia is very polluted. So if you have respiratory issues, make sure you have all of your medications. I have asthma so I had a breathing treatment before I went. The pollution still bothered me.
US dollars are accepted everywhere. Visa credit cards are preferred. If you use an ATM machine, do not put your card in mor than twice. Meaning if it doesn't take it the first 2 tries, don't do a third. It will be eaten.
You will overpack. It is hot and humid. With most of the temples, for men shorts must reach the knee and For women also or capris. Shoulders must be covered. The cruise is very casual. Most women had on simple blouses and capris even at night. I wore a great deal of golf clothes because they are moisture wicking. There is indeed a 7 hour bus ride. But it is in a very comfortable bus and ours had wi-fi.
We were in a suite, #301, and these accommodations have wi-fi extenders. Wi-fi was pretty good. The cabin was spacious but really lacked storage. Lighting is also poor. We used our balcony frequently.
The food on the cruise is just OK. Dinners were the worst. I had only two evening meals I really liked. Breakfast and lunches are better.
Their shore excursion programs or run very well. You are colored coded as to which group you're with. But you can move from group to group if you wish as long as there is room in the group. Every tour was on time. The guides were excellent. In Saigon we opted for a personal guide and driver rather than the tours from the ship. It worked very well for us. We got in to the major attractions before all of the crowds. Entertainment is limited to a crew show and karaoke. Doing a river cruise really helps you see more of this area of the world as opposed to a land package. Read Less
We did only the river cruise part of a broader package that AmaWaterways provides. We heard generally good things about the land portions of the package. Overall, the cruise was enjoyable, but it got off to a rocky start with an unexpected ... Read More
We did only the river cruise part of a broader package that AmaWaterways provides. We heard generally good things about the land portions of the package. Overall, the cruise was enjoyable, but it got off to a rocky start with an unexpected 7-hour bus ride over bumpy roads with only a tiny sandwich and an apple for lunch. Many passengers seemed in a bad mood by the time we got to the boat, but this was soon lifted by the welcoming high tea immediately after boarding.
The food on the boat was quite good and provided in large quantity and variety. The complimentary wines with lunch and dinner were mediocre at best. The 24-hour free beer was icy cold and much appreciated.
The number, length, and variety of shore excursions was extremely well done; enough to keep us entertained without overtaxing us. There was no charge for these excursions, though small tips for drivers and guides were encouraged. The local guides were very good as far as we could tell. Our own guide in Cambodia, Adam, was excellent. He was charming, full of information, and always happy to answer questions or banter with passengers. We learned a lot about the people who live on the river and the recent history of Cambodia and Vietnam.
The entertainment on board was OK but not great. The best event was a funny crew talent contest. There were 2 or 3 masseuses who seemed quite busy. The massage was very good and cheap as well. A high point for me was just sitting on our balcony or the upper deck and watching the riverbank roll by, with all the floating villages, fishing boats, and barge traffic. Very peaceful. A major negative was the wi-fi connection, which was available only in one lounge and was so slow as to be essentially useless.
The biggest negative for us is the deceptive description of the cruise itinerary on the AmaWaterways website. For us, a highlight of the cruise itinerary was sailing down Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in southeast Asia. According to the website, departure from the Siem Reap hotel would be at 11:00 am. There was a note on the website that in "low water season" departure would be at 7:30 am via a 5-hour bus ride to the other end of Tonle Sap lake, because the boat cannot sail on Tonle Sap in low water. We made sure that we did NOT book our cruise during low water season, which is February through June. We called AmaWaterways a couple days ahead to confirm the 11:00 am departure and were surprised to hear that departure had been changed to 9:00 am. More importantly, instead of boarding at Siem Reap and crusing on Tonle Sap, we had to take the long bus ride mentioned above (7 hours not 5) and missed Tonle Sap altogether. We checked a website run by the government of Cambodia, which reported that water levels in Tonle Sap were not low and were in fact average. We asked some of the local tour guides and they told us that the boat almost NEVER sails on Tonle Sap lake and that passengers almost always have to take the 7-hour bus ride. In fact, we were told that in all of 2014 only one cruise actually departed from Siem Reap. This is in sharp contrast with the wording on the AmaWaterways website. Read Less
We took the land package also. Hanoi-Ha Long Bay-Siem Reap and after cruise Saigon. The land package is not to be missed!
First-AMA is a delight to work with. We needed to add an extra day and had a few questions and had 5star service.
... Read More
We took the land package also. Hanoi-Ha Long Bay-Siem Reap and after cruise Saigon. The land package is not to be missed!
First-AMA is a delight to work with. We needed to add an extra day and had a few questions and had 5star service.
Second- pace was great. Saw a lot, didn't feel like rushed and could see in depth with a lot of variety but not so slow to be bored. There was a lot of uneven walking and getting on and off launches, so would be impossible if wheelchair bound or slow cane walker. Getting on and off the boats and up the hill sides were augmented by a gauntlet of the ship's crew with availability of lots of helping hands.
Third- lots of choices of things to do every day. AM and PM- often 2 or 3 choises for AM and then again in PM.
We had one land tour and cruise tour director Mr. Thai- start to end. He was awesome. Everything ran smoothly. He was everywhere at once and I swear he knew where all of us were by name at every moment. Lots of interactions multiple times a day- what did you like, guides, any problems etc.
Accommodations on Indochina Sails on Ha Long Bay were great. Beside the National Geographic views, Tai Chai in AM, a very entertaining "Gear Guys" movie in PM riding motorcycles the length of Vietnam, carving demonstrations and very good food. Beach and cave adventure. All in 24hrs.
Siem Reap one of the wonders of the world- go and see sunrise or later if want to sleep in. Guides top notch.
Cruise boat new. Luxurious with hard woods and kept spotless. Never felt cramped and lots of seating and areas to be. Lots of space for the "hermits" and lots of friendly people to socialize with. We had a midpriced room on he second deck and never felt cramped. Not TV but DVDs (I never turned it on). On the cruise ,Wifi variable and not very frequent depending on if near a town and when everyone on- not able to access. I did get my emails and wrote sends which went out eventually but not in "real" time.. Really you are out in nowhere. Nice to be unplugged. 5 star service otherwise.
Only disappointment to us was the food. Not much local cuisine at dinner. But some at breakfast and lunch with buffets. Breakfast a buffet- egg station and hot Asian Soup. Lunch 1/2 buffet with ordered soup and main course. Dinner totally ordered. The American food was what would expect on a 5 star cruise. We don't drink but lots of free alcohol, soft drinks, water and juices all day long. Wine is imported so only free at dinner- we did not try but people seemed to like it. The crew kept all the glasses full. Lots of MSG use by the cook, I was told by the head of food service- so was on my own to avoid but I am used to avoiding even in US-so no hot soups, sauces etc. I got no headaches as long as I kept with the Asian salads, cold fruit soups and nonsauced foods.
As between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I did not expect to see families. One family with well behaved older grade school kids, one just married mid 20 yr olds and the rest 50+ with no frail elderly.
I don't see how we could have seen what we saw if we hadn't taken this cruise. A very luxurious, safe adventure in a 3rd world country.
Note AMA uses going downstream and APT (mostly Australians) use going upstream. I am told the menu is different -more Asian food and more spicy food with the Australian APT. Marguerite is run by the same shipping company and is a narrower ship. About 2ft in each room. Tourmore uses this ship and often Australian tourists. I am not sure if uses the same catering or tour company.
I would definitely consider AMA again for a place I can't manage independently easily as Russia. Read Less
First and foremost, Son, our Tour Director was an amazing and diligent guide that met everyone’s needs. He ensured everyone understood the plan, how to eliminate overhead and bureaucracy and the most time was spent on the attractions and ... Read More
First and foremost, Son, our Tour Director was an amazing and diligent guide that met everyone’s needs. He ensured everyone understood the plan, how to eliminate overhead and bureaucracy and the most time was spent on the attractions and not waiting around. We loved how he handled all the passport, visas and customs processes. He made it so easy for everyone. Not a single complaint.
The land portion of the Hanoi tour excellent. Good balance and blend of sites. My only criticism is the tour did not include an option for the women’s museum which is a great museum to understand all the ethnicities in Vietnam, nor did it include a visit to the (Army) War Museum in Hanoi. We went to these on our own. Taxis only cost $2-3 each way, so it was no problem for us to do when we arrived a day early before the tour started.
The hotels were clearly 4-5 star choices. Could not have been better choices and the Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi was a clear delight. Definitely sign up as soon as you can for the free bomb shelter tour. You will learn a lot of history in 45 minutes that many never hear or see in Hanoi.
As everyone will tell you, bring LOTS of $1 bills for tips. You need at least 50 of them. Plan for it, you will need them for many things, like Tuk Tuks, taxis, drinks, etc. Don’t plan on exchanging money in Vietnam for the small bills…you can, but it is a pain in the butt and may not be possible when you need it. Just bring $100 in lots of small bills. You will be happy. The ATMs in Vietnam are plentiful and spit out local currency…most people don’t need more than $50 in local currency. In Cambodia, most people use US dollars and even the ATMs give out US dollars, no local currency needed. In restaurants, taxis and bars, tipping is not needed or expected.
From a weather standpoint, it was HOT and HUMID in August. You will sweat your butt off and be prepared to bring lots of clothes that you can wash in your room every day (like EXOffico, REI and Columbia). Most people can and do wear shorts, but for temples and pagodas, you do need long pants and full shirts that cover your shoulders to get into most of them. Outside of that, most places and most people are very casual. It can also rain/downpour at a moment’s notice, so small mobile umbrellas are handy. The tour group is very good with giving ponchos and umbrellas when people were not prepared.
Hanoi, Siem Riep, Phnom Penh, the villages are all safe. No threats whatsoever. Very friendly people and no concerns of theft, pickpockets, etc. A true delight that is not experienced in many countries anymore. Never felt or seen any behavior or activities to concern a tourist.
One thing that AMA did very nicely is there for approximately 65 people total in our group. They broke it down into 3 groups every day based on a color naming scheme. In general, most groups at 15-20 people max, and each group got their own bus. They never operated with massive group sizes or crowded busses. You actually felt like a smaller tour. This was well done and a definite plus for this tour company.
Cruising with AMAWaterways on the AMALOTUS for a week was a delight. The highlights:
The staff do have limited English, but it is adequate and they try very hard meet all passenger needs while being in a third world country. They are customer focused and it shows. But, be aware, they are limited and if you have questions that are more than basic things, they will not understand you or be able to help. It is important that people set different expectations on what is possible and what can be done in a third world country.
The rooms are very comfortable and clean. We were a little worried that our first room (303) had very poor air conditioning and was going to be hot, but they moved us to a new room (305) and we had a nice ice cold room the entire cruise.
One thing people should be aware of: if some of the better rooms are not occupied, they will not upgrade you to the nicer rooms. If you want a nicer room, they will offer the upgrades for a discount ($500 - $800 for the week), but it won’t happen just because you are a frequent guest of AMA Waterways.
The food was great every day. Good choices, many options and generous portions available to everyone. Local and western choices. Great flavors and unbelievable presentation every day. The seating times are somewhat fixed though: lunch is at 12:30 and dinner is at 7:30. There is a little flexibility, but not much. Everywhere you, you will be given lots of bottled water to drink and brush your teeth with. Not even locals drink tap water, so you better not try it yourself. Even if you run out, you can buy a bottle for 50 cents in local currency or even a bottle of beer for less than $1 US dollar. Most people felt the Cambodian Angkor beer was the best choice.
Drinks are always available: beer, cocktails, soft drinks, juices, water, etc. Wine is only available at lunch and dinner, but it is poured with ease and you can take a full glass when you leave the table. The house wines were not bad and unless you are a connoisseur, the wines will be just fine.
The exercise room has 1 bike, 1 treadmill and 1 elliptical with a few free weights and yoga mats. It is not much, but at least they had something on the small ship. I think it would have been nice to have a few more free weights in the heavier levels.
Vising the local villages and schools was a wonderful experience as a westerner. We were able to see, smell, and feel how many people in Vietnam and Cambodia live their daily lives. It is so limited and so different, it is hard to explain until you experience first-hand. You learn and understand so much more with tours like this that are not possible in the standard group tours. The people love to meet and see you and it is a delight to interact with them. When you visit these places, the children love the gifts. In Siem Riep, we purchased some small soccer balls to give to children in the villages. This is something they could never afford, but it gave them a toy that many could enjoy that might not be possible without outside visitors bringing these things to them. It was a great reward to play a game with all the kids without saying a word that neither side could understand.
If you have one of the mini-suites you get the great benefit of a bathtub (with jets) which is great when you have to do laundry to clean your daily sweaty clothes in the 100% humidity and 100 degree weather in these countries in the summer months.
You also get a dedicated Internet hotspot for your room and do not need to share with the entire passenger list which is VERY nice when you want to stay connected along the way.
This was my first cruise ever, and it was such a positive experience. Amawaterways has done a terrific job of combining different types of on shore experiences on this cruise. This was extremely important to me as I have resisted cruising ... Read More
This was my first cruise ever, and it was such a positive experience. Amawaterways has done a terrific job of combining different types of on shore experiences on this cruise. This was extremely important to me as I have resisted cruising up till now, not wanting to spend my entire time on a ship and needing excursions that are interesting to me.
When traveling, my wife and I like to visit historical sites, as well as absorbing the culture of the country through contact with the locals - seeing how they live and enjoying (hopefully!) the local food. This cruise did an exceptional job of that, aided by the knowledgeable guides such as Mao Ponloe in Cambodia, and Khanh in Vietnam.
Congratulations to Amawaterways. The staff onboard were very friendly and very efficient. The cruise manager did an exceptional job on this particular voyage. Che Thanh Thoai is a remarkable individual. His attention to detail is astonishing. He was EVERYWHERE we needed him to be, to the extent that we sometimes wondered if he had several identical brothers! He is energetic and friendly, and sympathetic to passengers needs. He goes out of his way to help and please, even when passengers are clearly in the wrong (e.g. missing departure times). He is also quite talented as a musician and vocalist! The entire staff was pleasant and provided great service, but Thoai stood out.
With this experience I am now a committed cruiser, and will thoroughly endorse Amawaterways to anyone that asks.
The Amalotus is a very well designed ship with minimal engine noise and vibration in the cabins. The only downside on this particular cruise through the Mekong - very spotty internet connections. The exercise area is a bit limited, but there were never any lineups for use. The A/C was not always turned on there, so it was easy to get up a sweat! Read Less
We went on the 12 day vietnam Cambodia tour including 7 nights river cruising. Started in Saigon at Sheraton, had a wonderful Luke Nguyen inspired degustation at Xu, absolutely faultless! Went to the Tunnels which was an eye opener, ... Read More
We went on the 12 day vietnam Cambodia tour including 7 nights river cruising. Started in Saigon at Sheraton, had a wonderful Luke Nguyen inspired degustation at Xu, absolutely faultless! Went to the Tunnels which was an eye opener, especially when one person at the tunnels told us he had lived in the tunnels for 12 years during the vietnam war...unbeleivable!!!!! Did an amazing cookery class in Saigon. Breakfast at Sheraton was brilliant, our guide in Saigon was great. After 2 days we got on the boat, which was in good condition, aparently only a couple of years old, I believe.
The staff on the cruise were very good and tried to learn our names and what we liked to have, they tried hard to please. The food was okay, and the steak was excellent although sometimes a little rare. The salads became a bit boring and the menu was a bit limiting. The wine was often off or undrinkable, however each time we complained of this, which was often, they would replace with a slightly better wine that was not off. This was a bit tiresome and would have preferred that APT supply at least bottled wine of a better quality so often we purchased bottles wine. My husband complained, but it still kept happening.
Vietnam and Cambodia was an eye opener, as to the amount of poverty, but the people seemed to be happy and clean. We were shocked by how the war had affected so many and cruising along you get to see the poverty which was very sad.
The tour guides and cruise director had great sense of humour and spoke pretty good english. Some of the tours were too drawn out and could have been done in half the time, which often made it boring.i.e. In Siem Reap, we got up at 4.00 am to meet at 4.45 to go to Angkor Wat to take photos, which was a few minutes drive away, after getting tickets and after a short walk in, although the day was cloudy I still managed to get some nice shots. We then stood around doing nothing, and some wandered over to have a coffee or champagne and at 7.00 oclock , I was too bored by the waiting and went back to the hotel on a tuk tuk and advised the tour organiser of this. Whilst I was having breakfast I noticed several other people also did the same as me.
The bus ride to Siem Reap was supposed to be 5 hrs, and we were told a few days before that they had been working on the bridge for the past couple of years and we could not go upstream any further and the trip could be perhaps 5.5 hrs. It was a very unconfortable 6.5 hrs, the road had been damaged by flooding some time previously and the road was extremely bumpy and dusty. We stopped twice for a toilet stop and were not given any lunch even though we started off at 8.00am but were told to purchase a snack at the WC stop, which consisted of chippies, biscuits etc. We got to the hotel and were told a club sandwhich with beer or softdrink had been organised but at our cost I thought this was not well handled by APT. A 6.5 hr bumpy dusty bus trip should have at least had a meal supplied by APT during the ride, especially when they had known the length of time it would take and what the road was like, as the floods had happened several months ago.
.After the long and dusty bus ride some of our luggage was completely covered in dust and when at the hotel we put a back pack on the bed, which left a filthy brown mark, as it did on my clothes. The Sofitel in Siem Reap was very very nice in a beautiful setting. I had a cookery class, except they cancelled, even though there were 8 people wanting to do it and was booked in for a massage as a 2nd choice. APT later arranged a cooking class, at our cost, and we had to cancel the massage as it was at the same time, and could not make another time. The cooking class was nice and we had a lovely meal there. We were unable to get a return flight from Siem Reap and had to stay an extra night so we chose not to take the APT included flights and got a $500 rebate and purchased business class, although we cld not get a connecting flight from Singapore to home and also had to stay extra time there. We had been met at the airport in Saigon by APT, but we were only 1 couple out of 3 couples that were not given a delivery to the airport by APT as were leaving, but fortunately Sofitel,( as we chose to stay in a suite), kindly offered to take us there in their hotel car.
Although we are avid small ship cruisers, and had not done any river cruising before, we have thought a lot about the trip since leaving and will probably try a river cruise in Europe at some stage, as we had met a lot of wonderful people on board Amalotus which made for an amazing time.
Any tour company can take you from one place to another but it takes a company that is at the top of its game to put together a crew that took us on our tour of Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong. Mr. Thoai, the Cruise Manager, ran a very ... Read More
Any tour company can take you from one place to another but it takes a company that is at the top of its game to put together a crew that took us on our tour of Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong. Mr. Thoai, the Cruise Manager, ran a very professional program but was sensitive to passenger needs and desires. He was very concerned that people had the best time possible. The same can be said for Mr. Thant, Mao, Virak and Minh. They knew the local history and events and wove their personal experiences and knowledge into their presentations to make them memorable. It was those people and their empathy and concern for passengers that put this cruise over the top for us.
The agenda was the same as most of the others operating in this area. We chose AMA because of their inclusion of Ha Long Bay and a night on a junk as part of the tour. It was a definite plus! Another bonus was the pool on the AMALotus. We didn't use it a lot but it was certainly nice to take a dip at the end of a hot, humid day, of which there were many.
We chose the lowest deck with a balcony for the river portion of the cruise. I didn't see any reason to pay for an upgrade to a higher deck. Our cabin was quiet and convenient to all parts of the ship. I would not, however, want a cabin on the lowest deck without a balcony. We didn't use the balcony but the extra light it allowed in was worth the price.
The two Sofitel hotels in Hanoi and Siem Reap were outstanding. The food, room quality and service were top notch. While the Sheraton in Saigon didn't quite measure up to the exclusivity of the Sofitel hotels, it was an excellent hotel as well. The food in the breakfast and dinner buffets was absolutely amazing. We had to think very hard to remember having anything as good.
Being Canadian, we had to order US dollars to spend in the markets, for tips and the like. We ordered $1s, $10s and $20 but the next time I would cut down on the $20s and get $5s. I'd probably go with $100 in $1s to start. We were told you could change money while on board but we didn't take advantage of it. For us, it was cheaper to get the money through a bank in Canada than to use an ATM while travelling.
We arranged our flights so we arrived a day early and left two days later. It was a wise decision. The day at the start allowed us to wind down and relax after the almost 30 hours traveling while the two days at the end gave us a chance to see some things in and around Saigon, e.g., the Cu Chi tunnels (recommended).
Overall a great trip! We will definitely go with AMAWaterways again. Read Less
We were on the AMA Vietnam/Cambodia tour early April 2014. We started in Hanoi and ended in Ho Chi Minh City. First of all we concur with a prior review which stated that the breath of touring from this trip could not be done on your own. ... Read More
We were on the AMA Vietnam/Cambodia tour early April 2014. We started in Hanoi and ended in Ho Chi Minh City. First of all we concur with a prior review which stated that the breath of touring from this trip could not be done on your own. Our group was in the 50-80 age range with many in their 60s and 70s, retirees, Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Australians overwhelmingly white crowd, a number of Jews and I would guess more Democrats than Republicans. There was one former US army officer who had served in Vietnam who found this to be an emotional experience, all in all an intelligent concerned group That said - this was not a vacation experience but rather a working cultural exchange.
Get the Cambodia E Visa - it is about $24 on line and will save you time in line in Siam Reap and you do not have to send in your passport. Otherwise get the Vietnam multiple entry visa, easy to obtain about $250 from any Vietnam embassy or consulate.
Inchon airport rescreens international transit passengers causing you as much as additional 30 minute delay in airport between changing flights. We ran the last .5 mile to get our Seoul/Hanoi flight.
Shots etc - the AMA tour leader was opposed to anti malarials stating that too many folks get serious reactions beyond the risk of malaria. We took the newest drug and had no reactions. Did have one 24 hour period of loose stool as did a number of folks on our trip. There is NO potable water in Vietnam and Cambodia and although AMA goes to great lengths to assure proper food preparation, there is some RISK of stomach upset so prepare accordingly. After my brush in Siam Reap at the Sofitel, I went on the 169 degree program until coming home. It is extreme and you won't get to eat the tasty salads but you are less likely to need imodium or more. Bring DEET - we were in plenty of villages in Vietnam and Cambodia with standing stagnant water - mosquito breeding grounds. That means the possibility of malaria, Japanese encephalitis and dengue fever (It only takes one bite) I regularly sprayed with DEET before going on rural tours and this was in the dry season. Also in the Mekong, the air can be plenty polluted - lots of smoke and haze. If you have respiratory issues - be forewarned you may have problems. It bothered some us on the trip. Also you will be going in and out of air conditioning into very hot and humid conditions. Don't be surprise to catch a cold or upper respiratory infection. Prepare accordingly. That said - noone on our trip got very ill and AMA is prepared to take you to area medical facilities if needed AND you should have adequate medical insurance and trip insurance to PAY - and you should have plenty of cash if needed. Remember - there is no CVS nearby so bring all the stuff that you may need in 16 days.
Cash: Bring at least $40 in $1 bills and maybe about $300 total cash. You will use them for tips - guides, staff etc. Dollars are accepted in Vietnam and Cambodia willingly. ATMs are in cities but credit cards are used only in cities and on board the ship at the end to settle bills.
Connectivity: Biggest complaint outside the hotels and the cities was internet connectivity. I brought an Ipad which is light, easy to use and can give access to Skype for cheap phoning -but AMA has chosen to have lousy connectivity on the ship. They use the local cell systems which are poor in rural areas. On the other hand the guides used cell as well but a different carrier and often had better connectivity than AMA so ask them to use their hot spots if they have them. AMA could use satellite for internet. There is NO TV on the ship and a very poor movie selection. Again AMA could use satellite for TV but does not. That said, you are pretty tired in evenings and need sleep for the next day's excursions. There is no problem, recharging devices in hotels or the ship. Bring 220 connectors. Most devices have 110/220 volt capability. Hair dryers are available in hotels and the ships.
Clothng: Everyone brings too much. I worse shorts everywhere, even to the temples and palaces. Just make sure shorts come BELOW the knees. Cargo styles work well. Some women wore dresses to dinner which is overkill but hey! Take advantage of laundry service in the hotels and ship to keep travel weight down.
All hotels used by AMA are first class, excellent, comfortable. The Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi has the nicest Hotel fitness center I have ever seen. The Sofitel Siam Reap is spectacular - see other comments and the Sheraton in Ho Chi Minh City is a decent first class hotel but could use some updating.
The Ship: The AMA Lotus is comfortable, rooms very nice. We had cabin 220 at the front, big king bed, plenty of storage, decent bath. However when the anchor goes up - only happened a couple of times, you will hear it. Public rooms are spacious and comfortable. The pool is a cross between a pool and jacuzzi - nice to use to relax. The small fitness facility has an elliptical and treadmill and gets quite a bit of use early in the AM. The Lotus has laundry service which you will probably need to use - as the weather is 95-100 and I found myself showering and changing as much as 3X a day.
Food: There is lots of it, do not understand a previous comment on amount. If you eat everything offered - you may gain weight. Food is western and asian with plenty of buffets - breakfast and lunch and multiple choice menus for dinner. The salads look great but if you have had your stomach upset issue - be careful. It only takes one lapse of sanitation to make you ill. Plenty of folks went to private restaurants in Hanoi,
Siam Reap and Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh city and did fine but ask for suggestions. We were surprise that the quality of ingredients was as good as it was. Bottled water is everywhere. Local Vietnamese and Cambodian beer was fine. AMA bulk wines were good and our tour liked them. At the Sofitel Siam Reap, try the home made chocolate ice cream - it is astoundingly good.
Tours: You go on this trip for the touring and the AMA program is spectacular. If you take it seriously you will learn much on Vietnamese, Cambodian culture, history as well as multiple forms of Buddhism. Our guides all had local involvement with the places we visited which made this a much better experience than just touring objects - you really get a sense of the people. That said rural Cambodia has stark poverty with rampant pedophilia sex tourism in the the bigger cities. Children are vulnerable to exploitation and families are VERY poor. Touring is a very intense experience with about 30 separate tours during the trip. Ankor complex was VERY crowded with dense crowds, hot/humid miserable conditions - but then you are seeing one of the great wonders of the world. Halong Bay was not much with pleasant scenery. The bay is very polluted and there are no sea birds - few fish in this dying area. There was a bad storm in the morning before we arrived and the guide made a comment on the possible cancellation. Be careful on the bay, it is not place to be in a bad storm. The "luxury" junk was nice but there was a deadly accident in 2011 where a junk sank in the night with some tourists dying. Hanoi is a busy capital, somewhat austere in comparison to bustling Ho Chi Minh City. Urban Phnom Penh has plenty of street crime so be careful wandering at night. Ho Chi Minh city is developing economically and you will see a big difference with the other venues. For us, the Killing Fields was the most amazing tour. It is quite raw, like visiting the death camps in 1946 with many unsettled issues. The Vietnamese have turned the Vietnam war into Disneyland with national parks with caves and tunnels for tourists and school age children. You will see many temples, excellent museums, palaces, city tours and small villages, crafts demonstrations and daily life. You will be thrilled and depressed with the poverty especially in Cambodia. Expect to get plenty of exercise walking and sweating. Going up from the Lotus on newly made steps up the river bank can be arduous for those with mobility issues. People forgo some tours as they tend to tire out later on this trip. End the trip with Ho Chi Minh City. It is a pleasant experience and there is plenty of shopping and good eating. The AMA staff is amazing, excellent hard working tour director and wonderful young ship staff who attend to your needs - they will spoil you.
Bottom Line: We found this trip to be a fantastic experience, well put together. The AMA staff, tour director worked hard to ensure we could enjoy this.
My wife and I just returned from our Feb/Mar AMA Lotus cruise, south to north, a few weeks ago. My wife and I were very happy with this cruise. The “Con” remarks below are meant as constructive and hopefully would not lead anyone to ... Read More
My wife and I just returned from our Feb/Mar AMA Lotus cruise, south to north, a few weeks ago. My wife and I were very happy with this cruise. The “Con” remarks below are meant as constructive and hopefully would not lead anyone to think that they should not take this trip.
This trip is a little different from AMA Waterways North to South tours. The main thing is that on the North to South version, you spend a night in Hanoi and the next day you are bused to Ha Long Bay for an overnight on a Junk. The next day, you are taken directly to the airport for a flight to Siem Reap. Your port of entry into Cambodia is via the Siem Reap Airport and you can do a Visa-On-Entry. On the South to North version, you cruise up the Mekong Delta and enter Cambodia via one of several river stops. You cannot do a Visa-On-Entry this way and must have a Visa Stamp in your Passport. I actually requested both of the required Visa’s directly from the Vietnam and Cambodia in Washington, D.C. You will save a hundred dollars or more this way and the applications can be found on their websites. It was very easy to do. Be sure to request a Multi-Entry for Vietnam.
I’ve reviewed many restaurants in both Saigon and Hanoi on TripAdvisor (Semi-OldTraveler). There are some great places to eat in both cities. After our tour with AMA Waterways, we stayed on for several days in Hanoi. There we toured with Hanoi Eco Tours. Another very good group. They also can be found on TripAdvisor. A small note, AMA Waterway only gives you about 1 day each in Saigon and Hanoi. This is normal with most companies. It is not enough time to see these cities. So I would recommend that you plan on arriving a few days early and also stay a few days after to really get the most out of this tour.
1. AMA Waterways provided very good transport between airport/hotel and vise verse if you are arriving outside normally scheduled transfer periods, if you book it through them. In both Saigon and Hanoi, the airports are about a 55 – 60 minute drive either way and taxis’ needs to be researched before you get to Vietnam if you are planning on going that route. AMA charged us $60 each way for special transfer which is about what taxis’ will charge, so I’ve been told. Worth the money.
2. Hotel section in Saigon, Siem Reap, and Hanoi are all 4 – 5 Star properties. Siem Reap is to die for and most of our group would have liked to spend the balance of the trip there.
3. AMA Waterways only gives you a couple of hours at each of the temples in Siem Reap. As it turned out, this is more than enough time.
4. Rooms and other facilities on the AMA Lotus were all pretty good (except for the two front cabins which are next to the anchor chain locker.) No major complaints there as they warned us before dropping/raising the anchor.
5. Food in the hotels was what you would expect from these types of properties, i.e. very good. Food on the AMA Lotus was pretty good and you get a good International menu with each meal.
6. The cruise director and all of our guides were very good. On day one, you are broke up into smaller groups to accommodate the smaller buses and you will normally stay with that group throughout the tour. We heard a complaint about only one guide outside of our group.
7. AMA Waterways tries hard to make it easy during the many transfers on/off the boat, hotel check-ins, and border crossings.
1. Being notified of a last minute change to the schedule (arrived with our final package/tickets days before departing) was not necessary as AMA knew about the changes for weeks prior. It could have presented a problem with Visa’s had we not been persistent in determining our Cambodia entry point. See #3. below.
2. The drink policy on-board the boat was not as AMA advertised including our Welcome Letter on the boat. Wine and beer are only free during lunch/dinner in the dining room (not in the lounge) and other liquor (whiskey, vodka, gin, and rum) are free only as long as you drink their local brand and don’t mix any other alcohol with it, i.e. no free martinis. When brought to the Hotel Manger’s attention on the boat he said that the letter was incorrect and would need to be changed. There website posted the same information.
3. There was too much confusion over the point of the Cambodian border crossing on the south to north bound trip prior to getting our Visa. The company that AMA recommended to process the paperwork for us assumed we were going into Cambodia via the Siem Reap Airport which was wrong. I and my TA got two different answers directly from AMA before getting the correct entry point. As a side point, it is very easy to apply for the Visa’s yourself (multi-entrance for Vietnam and single for Cambodia) and you will save a couple hundred in additional processing fees.
4. The Wi-Fi on the boat left much to be desired. There was absolutely nothing on the TV. They did have some old movie DVDs if you wanted them. It would have been nice if they would have maybe had some news feeds. We saw satellite and other TV antenna’s in most places we sailed so it should not have been a problem.
5. At the Wat Hanchey stop, many of us felt that we were scammed by the locals and AMA should have forewarned us. Ladies were selling packages of 10 children’s books in a clear wrapper for $5.00. If you buy them and distribute to the children standing around, the children take the books back to other women where they are rewrapped and sold again. Even the Buddhist priests were turning them back in for resale.
6. Final bill on the boat was provided in Vietnam Dong vice US currency. This resulted in another transaction/conversion fee by my credit card company. In all my years of traveling with US based cruise companies, the final bill has always been in US dollars. Two of the hotels, Saigon and Siem Reap quoted the final bill in both currencies and even the Junk in Ha Long Bay billed us in US dollars.
7. The tour director made a pretty big deal out of providing sandwiches for us at the Siem Reap Airport prior to our flight. They were horrible and we got a small meal on the airplane which would have been adequate.
8. On the flight between Siem Reap and Hanoi, some couples could not sit together (think rows different). There really didn’t appear to be any excuse for this as AMA knows far enough in advance of the flight to book your seats together.
9. This last one and I’m not sure it is AMA’s fault but ultimately, they are in charge. All one morning our guide had bad audio equipment to contend with. I belief that all of the land portions of the tour is subcontracted by AMA and the subcontractor provides the equipment. It was only the one morning and the guide was on the phone constantly trying to get better equipment (it was her transmitting unit). After 3 replacements, she finally was given a working unit after lunch.
This was our second river cruise, the first being on the Nile (MS Darakum - recommend). Our cruise was part of a 17 night tour of Vietnam and Cambodia, starting in Saigon and ending in Hanoi, via Siem Reep (Angkor Wat). The organisation ... Read More
This was our second river cruise, the first being on the Nile (MS Darakum - recommend). Our cruise was part of a 17 night tour of Vietnam and Cambodia, starting in Saigon and ending in Hanoi, via Siem Reep (Angkor Wat). The organisation was brilliant from start to finish. Our Tour Manager was extremely efficient as he needed to be as there were 88 people in our group - ranging in age from 50 to 86. As quite new 'cruisers' there was the odd sharp intake of breath at the degree of herding required to ensure that everyone followed what they were supposed to be doing - quite a lot of repetition of very basic stuff, but very necessary for many of the travellers - who still persistently failed to understand. We are accustomed to travelling independently but were attracted by the AmaLotus, so decided on the whole tour, but the infantilisation of the whole group did get a bit trying. However, the schedule was very tight, with lots packed in, which suited us very well as we saw so much. Early starts for morning tours occasioned some grumbling but the Tour Manager set the tone early on by insisting on prompt departures. With only 2 exceptions (people forgetting their entrance tickets despite being reminded only 12 times!!) we left promptly, so weren't inconvenienced.
The ship; We had The Owner's Suite, which was absolutely fabulous. Sitting room with small balcony and shower room, huge bedroom and full bathroom with jacuzzi bath with view over our own larger balcony with two sun beds. We had no problem with hot water and didn't have to wait at all. The room was beautifully serviced and the staff in general were very friendly and eager to please. Swimming pool very cold - couldn't go in. Food; Not bad. Not enough Vietnamese/Cambodian food - too many Americans, so 'International' cuisine. More local food in Cambodia. Very good breakfast pho though. Terrible coffee. Necessary to pay extra (not much, $1.50) for delicious cappuccino. House brands included in the trip price. Wine not great - only Chardonnay at mealtimes, no option of Sauvignon. Red wine adequate. Otherwise, wine very expensive for very average stuff - we paid $45 for a Villa Maria sauvignon.
For land tours we were divided into 'families' - Blue, Orange, Green, etc. While possible to switch groups, not many people did. We did after our visit to Angkor Wat as we didn't like our guide. His English wasn't great and he seemed to lack knowledge about the art and architecture. We were also hampered in our group by lack of mobility of many of the travellers, which meant that at Angkor Wat - the highlight of our trip and why we booked in the first place - we lost lots of time by poor group management by the guide. I would recommend that for the true highlights, it is wise to book your own guide to ensure you get maximum value from the site. At Ta Prohm, instead of talking to us about the history/architecture of the temple, our guide instead talked a lot about Tomb Raider and Angelina Jolie - and took everyone's photos - instead of telling us anything useful. I regret not hiring our own guide for the 2 days in Angkor and would advise that if you are serious about the art/architecture of the temples, get your own guide. Make sure they have good English. My advice to AmaWaterways would be to divide groups into mobility so that the faster groups can see more and not spend too much time being herded through in a slow group, therefore missing lots. We split off and made our own way to the meeting point, which meant we saw all the brilliant not-to-be-missed bas reliefs at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.
The tour has lots of trips which require good mobility and good general fitness - which AmaWaterways state clearly in the itinerary. Despite this, quite a few passengers were really too frail to undertake the trips and several even stayed on the bus on the tour to Angkor Wat! If stuck in a group with the frail, very elderly and very unfit, it can spoil the enjoyment of the tour as the guide has to stay at the pace of the slowest. Can be annoying.
Apart from the Crew Talent Show (!) and a nice dance display by Cambodian children, there was very little evening entertainment and the boat was pretty deserted by 9.30pm - not a problem really, as most trips were very early - breakfast at 7am and on the bus by 7.30/7.45am. Quite a small selection of DVD's of any interest and nothing current. Your own DVD's won't work as they won't be configured for the Far East. No reception at all on the 2 beautiful, large plasma screens in our room - so they are decorative only!
On the whole, the tour guides were very good at their jobs and very keen to give as much insight as possible into the lives of the people in both Vietnam and Cambodia. I would recommend the tour and the cruise - but patience is required as everything is done in a group and if you are not a natural group animal a few deep breaths will be necessary now and again. If you are an experienced cruise person, you'll be accustomed to that by now! Overall, this was a very good experience and I would recommend AmaWaterways. Read Less
For anyone considering this trip, my recommendation is to do it! I think this was a great way to see a complex area, and some of the independent travelers I met on the way were jealous of the things I was able to see by travelling on the ... Read More
For anyone considering this trip, my recommendation is to do it! I think this was a great way to see a complex area, and some of the independent travelers I met on the way were jealous of the things I was able to see by travelling on the River.
First off, I would like to give the bad parts... This was my 2nd River Cruise, the first being a Uniworld Cruise in Russia, which was a fabulous trip and my only comparison.
- I was disappointed in the lack of Internet. I feel petty in saying this, but I was part of a Medical Conference, and considering that I had satellite Internet in the middle of no where Russia...having the ability on this trip to handle no more than 5 Ipads while sitting in a city of 2 million seems pathetic.
- Same could be said for TV- though I never use it, it seems silly to have one in each state room and have no channels..
A note on people with disabilities...I think that as long as you do not need a wheelchair, this trip is doable. I was concerned about the lack of an elevator on the boat- that is how difficult it is for me to get around- yet with a lot of help, I was able to do almost all of the excursions. The idea of walking up the dirt steps of a river bank were intimidating, but with a line of crew helping me, it was easy as cake. The buses also had nice short steps in and out. The temple climbing of Siem Reap, excursions on Halong Bay, and the "gentle slope" up to Wat Hanchey were the most difficult, but the guides were great at letting me know what they thought I would be able to do.
- I thought the food was great. My favorite being the lunch salad buffet- I could eat just that every day, and forget a main course. I enjoyed the free local beer, and the white wine not so bad, just try not to be picky! The evening desserts were the only disappointment, but with the delicious fruits the rest of the day more than made up for that- I did fine with less sweets!
- The staff were amazing- especially in the dining room. By Day 2 they already knew my preferences.
- Amazing guides, Amazing Cruise Director Thoai who saw a giant group of us through 2 weeks of transfers, flight, changes, etc
- for our land portion, we had simply Amazing Stays at Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi, and the Sofitel Siem Reap- awesome hotels that deserve 1 week stay themselves. Sheraton in Ho Chi Minh City also a pleasant surprise- in a great location, amazing food and views!
- My favorite parts of the tour were: Hanoi, Siem Reap, Kampong Cham area of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. Working our way south, I felt that the trip became more repetitive, and the Mekong Delta was disappointing- I am not sure if this was just that the other areas were so good, or that this area was lacking for tours
- I agree with others that the tour groups should be divided by speed/ abilities- so the slow did not have to worry about being slow, and the fast could see more and be happy
- I was solo, stayed on the lower deck. I loved my room, even though I did not have a balcony like the others- I was only in the room to sleep, so this was fine. My only complaint about this level was the noise- as the crew also live/ function off of this level, so I heard a lot of traffic go by. Also, the first room I checked out (005) smelled like diesel so I could not stand that.. The shower was always hot, the bed very comfortable, the AC very strong, the room was very adequate in size for 1 person!
If you are going all this way - definitely do a Land tour.
I could have done without HaLong Bay, but Siem Reap, Hanoi, and more time in Ho Chi Minh were great ideas.
I liked going North to South, it was a culture shock to start in Hanoi and end in the modern Saigon, but I liked it that way. It also helped me build up to the humidity Read Less
In early January, 2013, my wife and I and another couple our age [all recently retired] boarded the AmaWaterways river boat, the AmaLotus, for a 7-night cruise of the Ton Le River south of Siem Reap onto the Mekong River at Phnom Penh and ... Read More
In early January, 2013, my wife and I and another couple our age [all recently retired] boarded the AmaWaterways river boat, the AmaLotus, for a 7-night cruise of the Ton Le River south of Siem Reap onto the Mekong River at Phnom Penh and down the Mekong to Saigon. In a word, this river cruise was "Outstanding." To us, it definitely deserved a Trip Advisor rating of 5 Stars. Factors we took into account in this rating included: itinerary, excursions, guides, on-board presentations, stateroom, shipboard life, logistics, food, and service.
The itinerary is just about all that we could ask. Our trip started from Siem Reap in the Angkor Kingdom. Unfortunately, we were there in the dry season, so we needed to board the AmaLotus further downstream than we had hoped--but that was not a surprise, as we were fully informed of this possibility in all the pre-trip literature. Besides, the bus trip from Siem Reap was down National Route 6, a truly fascinating trip in its own right, and that's not taking into account the historical significance of National Route 6 as a major thoroughfare of the Khmer Rouge as they charged down from the north in 1975, and as they retreated back to the north in 1979 with the Vietnamese invasion [knowledge of Cambodia's history the last 70 years provides greater insight from one's experiences on this cruise]. After boarding at the Prek Kdam Bridge, we then went back north on the river a bit.
I sat in my stateroom with the sliding door open, watching the river and river life go by. It was awesome. We had not been on the boat two hours and I was already thrilled with the voyage. On the shore were homes built on stilts, cattle coming to the water to drink or be bathed, people bathing in the river, villages, cities, and an abundance of life. On the river were countless long, narrow, wooden fishing boats with fisherman setting and hauling in their nets, ferries scooting from one side of the river to the other with crowded decks, and the occasional barge. Watching life on the river and its shores was the very reason that we booked a cruise on the Mekong in the first place. And each day for the rest of the cruise down the Ton Le River into the Mekong River [at Phnom Penh] and all the way to Saigon on the Mekong brought new and different sights. If I'd never left the boat for an excursion, I would have been pleased with the views from the deck. But we did leave the boat for excursions, and they were excellent.
We visited villages, floating villages, several markets on shore [all incredibly exotic], several floating markets, fish farms, silk weavers in a small village [well they had silk products and looms, but I suspect the looms had not operated in years], a small plant that produced sleeping mats [it really was interesting], temples [too many temples], and a small plant that made Vietnamese sweets. Perhaps best of all, Phnom Penh. Not only was the city beautiful in many parts--especially the walkway on the river front--but from there we visited Choeung Ek [a killing field] and what is now called the Genocide Museum, but was the Tuel Sleng prison, often called S21, run by Comrade Duch [pronounced doik]. There was endless variety in the excursions, we were not rushed through the sites we were visiting, and the guides for each local area were well informed and thorough in their coverage.
In addition to the many excursions, there were three or four excellent presentations by local guides on cultural and historical aspects of Cambodia and Vietnam, as well as an excellent video presentation about Pol Pot. This Mekong River Cruise made every attempt to help its guests be informed about the nations we were visiting.
There were numerous guides on the cruise and excursions, and though it became a bit difficult to remember their names, they were all terrific. Our guides were well informed, spoke excellent English, and tried very much to make our excursions entertaining and meaningful.
Our stateroom, a basic stateroom and not an upgrade, was wonderful. The king bed was comfortable, the small balcony was inviting, but it was usually too hot to use. The external wall of our stateroom was fully windowed, and the view it provided of the river and shore made just hanging in the room and watching the river go by very inviting. The bathroom was large and nicely done. The stateroom was air conditioned, which was much appreciated--this is, after all, Cambodia and southern Vietnam. This was an excellent stateroom and we were most pleased with it.
My wife and I also enjoyed the size of the group on a river cruise. We have taken several ocean cruises on large vessels [e.g., Princess, Celebrity], and though we much enjoyed all of them, there is something very comfortable and easy about a river cruise with only 98 passengers, plus it was easy to become friendly with many. The table for four that we and our travel companions used the first two days expanded to a table of six the third day and a table of eight the remainder of the trip--and stayed at eight only because that was the largest table size.
Breakfast and lunch were buffets, except the main course was served for lunch. Dinner was served in its entirety, and selections were made from a menu. All food was excellent, and the selections were more than satisfactory. I am a big eater, but not very picky; but also at our table was a light eater, who was very picky. He and I were both extremely pleased with our options and with the food. Further, the wine flowed freely at lunch and dinner, and the house wines were very good. The food options were eclectic, from grilled steak to Pho to lasagna. I never heard anyone complain about the food or the wine; in fact, any comments heard were complimentary! And the service; phenomenal, just phenomenal.
The logistics of the AmaWaterways Mekong River Cruise were excellent. Disembarking for excursions, boarding busses or other means of transportation--an ox cart one time, a bicycle rickshaw another time--and re-boarding the ship were done with aplomb and without a hitch. There were no surprises in the logistics, attesting to the good planning by AmaWaterways and the excellent follow-through by the tour leaders, guides, and ship personnel.
Without hesitation my wife and I would take another AmaWaterways river cruise. We were delighted with our cruise, enchanted by the itinerary, and mightily impressed by the accommodations, food and service.
If you re interested in a combination land cruise in Vietnam and Cambodia along with Halong Bay Junk cruise and 7 day river cruise on MeKong,this was a great option.
Hanoi is starting point and all hotels were 5 star here and in Seim Reip ... Read More
If you re interested in a combination land cruise in Vietnam and Cambodia along with Halong Bay Junk cruise and 7 day river cruise on MeKong,this was a great option.
Hanoi is starting point and all hotels were 5 star here and in Seim Reip and HoChiMinh city.Bus used in each town very nice with great tour guides,drivers,etc.
Halong Bay junk was only mediocre with small cabin,poor lighting,and so so food
The cool,cloudy weather didnt help,but still glad we went and area was beautiful.
Flight to Seim Reip short and Cambodia visa could be taken care of before hand with cruise manager($20 ea.plus passport photo).We did get our own Vietnam visa ahead of time.
Tours to Anghor Wat and other temples can be a challange to those not in good physical condition,,very hot,lots of climbing,uneven ground and loads of tourists.Wonderful to see and explore but was tired after am tours and took pm tours off to rest by pool.Do take tuk tuk to town and explore.We ate in 2 good restaurants recommended by our guides(do ask).
Loved visiting the small towns along river banks and seeing the friendly kids and kind adults who tolerated us wandering thru their villages.Do bring some small gifts for kids(not money).
We took small boats to floating villages,toured market areas,visited pagodas,monastery.Most days had both am and pm tours,so you are kept very busy.
Amalotus is a great ship,fantastic crew,nice rooms,good food.We parked next to the Pandaw(Viking ship) and ours was much newer with outside balconies.I wish they had screens on balcony door to keep open at nite(but unable to now due to bugs coming in).
The ship had 4 major groups onboard and they tended to stick together for both tours and dinner.This can be a little difficult if your group isn t cohesive.It was difficult to mingle since others spoke different languages(with different guides and sometimes different meeting places for lectures,etc).This was very different from other river cruises I ve been on.For me,a little to structured.
HoChiMInh city and Pnem Penh were both great to visit and very crowded too.Hard to wander around due to traffic,especially the motorbikes.We took taxis or tuk tuks.
I would recommend AMA for Vietnam and Cambodia,but do a lot of online research,look at videos,read reviews,etc.This would not be my choice for first cruise,appeals more to the well traveled cruiser not overwhelmed with visitng a 3rd world country. Read Less
I had to book on Amalotus at the last minute, due to Pandaw cancelling the cruise I was booked on. After reading the reviews posted on Cruise Critic, I boarded the ship with very poor expectations. I was however very pleasantly surprised ... Read More
I had to book on Amalotus at the last minute, due to Pandaw cancelling the cruise I was booked on. After reading the reviews posted on Cruise Critic, I boarded the ship with very poor expectations. I was however very pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the cruise immensely.
The ship was wel maintained,, clean, with attractive furnishings and above all, excellent crew and good food.
I found it very difficult to understand some of the comments in other reviews. The standard of English spoken by the crew was very good as was their understanding of the pax English . Nothing was ever too much trouble for them and the assistance rendered on shore excursions was excellent.
The cruise manager and the hotel manager were very much on the ball and did an excellent job.
The food choice was always wide and varied and of excellent quality. The "Action Station" where Asian food was cooked as you watched was a great hit with the Pax. The display, as you entered the restaurant, of the main course dishes for that meal made choosing much easier and is a great innovation.
The shore excursions were very well organised and of great interest and the guides well experienced and well informed. The Cambodian guides, in particular, were excellent.
Most pax on my cruise were AMA pax. I would have some reservations about cruising on this ship when there are large groups of APT pax as the standards on board are set by APT.
Overall the Amalotus is to be highly recommended. Read Less
We are home now and I just wanted to drop you a short note to say AMA Waterways is fantastic. What an amazing vacation. We did 2 nights pre in Hanoi one night on a junk in Ha Long Bay and then 3 nights in Siem Reap (Angkor Wat). The ... Read More
We are home now and I just wanted to drop you a short note to say AMA Waterways is fantastic. What an amazing vacation. We did 2 nights pre in Hanoi one night on a junk in Ha Long Bay and then 3 nights in Siem Reap (Angkor Wat). The tour guides in each of the cities were very professional and knowledgable. They each had a personal story of their own that added the the nature of their history and culture of that area...specifically the Vietnam War and the Killing fields of Cambodia. We also spent 3 days post in Ho Chi Minh City. We got to see first hand the remnants of the war along with the Chu Chi tunnels. It was truly an amazing to experience the culture of these kind and caring people. I am in awe of their tenacity to move forward after such horrific past events.
As for the river cruise.. Luxurious accommodations.....our french balcony cabin was beautiful. The AmaLotus is a new ship decked out in beautiful dark woods and modern furnishings. It has a European feel to it. The service was excellent and the food was a combination of Western and Asian cuisine. They served breakfast and lunch buffets along with a set menu as well....and dinner had a number of entrees to choose from. Truly gourmet dining...delicious. All of the shore excursions were great. Well organized and unique to their culture. Would you believe we had a parade of rickshaws through the vibrant night market of Hanoi...what an experience!!
The Deluxe hotels were conveniently located and offered full service amenities along with spa facilities. The rooms were beautifully appointed.
I can't say enough about this trip. Our guide, Mr Tingh, was incredible. He was with us throughout the entire 16 Days. He took care of everything. He went above and beyond what a tour guide should do. He secured all visas at the Cambodian border, was able to put excess and overweight luggage on the VietNam Airways flight (which has restrictions), filled out all the immigration form for our group between the two countries. He was extremely professional and detailed. Everybody on the tour was in awe of his expertise.
I could go on..there are so may wonderful memories we brought back home.
But I wanted to let you know that Ama Waterways is a wonderful company and you can feel confident that your friends will thank you upon their return. I have talked to other members on the tour and they told me they have travelled with AMA in Europe and have been extremely satisfied with all the arrangements. Read Less
. This ship is one year old. It has been having some growing pains in both the food and the experiences, but it is certainly an amazing experience now. The changes in the staff and food are 6 Star all the way. The rooms are very spacious ... Read More
. This ship is one year old. It has been having some growing pains in both the food and the experiences, but it is certainly an amazing experience now. The changes in the staff and food are 6 Star all the way. The rooms are very spacious for a river cruise. There are three floors NO elevators. There is a large flat screen tv in the room but there is NO reception at all. So there are no television shows of any kind. The is a DVD library with supposedly over 100 titles (multiple languages), but if your clients need noise, or like to watch something before they go to sleep, they may want to bring their own DVDs. Also, there is a clock in the room, it is not digital, so if your clients like to know the time in the middle of the night they should big their own clock. The beds are queen-king size, and. Very comfortable. There are different pillow types. The first night in the hotel manager explained how to get hot water, let the sink and showe run for 3-4 minutes, and then it was hot. It worked and no problems. The air condiitoning works very well, no problems there. There are two chairs and a desk --ample closet space. When you speak to reservations they tell you there Is no Internet service in the ship. That is not true. They have three computers and in the lounge there is Internet access but the reception is so sporadic and if more than ten people are on everything shuts down. When you are going dowthe river there are long stretches with no Internet service. Forewarn your clients.
The food was excellent. As of one month ago they have brought on a new hotel manager , new dining room manager and most importantly a new head chef. The 2nd chef is Asian and does all of the local cuisine. The changes and improvements he has made have been amazing. He was very open to suggestions, and was immediate on implementing changes throughout the week. Every morning was buffet, champagne always. there is an egg station, and if you want poached eggs, or something that is not out. Just ask very willing to accommodate. Every morning they had a traditional Eastern options, the best being soup, there was a broth, different noodles and different proteins, and vegetables. By the end if the week, the line to get soup was longer than the line to get eggs.:) The spices and peppers were all in little dishes so you could spice it as you wish. Always fish fruit, salmon and and homemade breads and pastries. Lunch was a combinations of buffet/action station and menu ordering. , you told the waiter your entree and soup. The soup was always one cold and one hot (sometimes creamed and sometimes broth) There was always a display table when you came in, and it showed the entrees that were available. You could modify any of the entrees as you wish. The buffet at lunch was different salads some regional, some traditional. Always something different to taste. Dinner was strictly ala carte. There was always an option at lunch for pasta, hamburger or chicken breast, at dinner a steak, salmon, or chicken breast. There was a vegetarian option always.
The excursions. Before you left, the tour director always made sure to remind everyone to take the umbrellas and raincoats and bottles of water always provided. On a European river cruise the choice of options is a title more varied and there are different styles - active, moderate, or slow movers. Not so in Asia . The excursions here are all the same, and you are divided into 4 groups. No difference they are all dng the same thing, it is just more manageable groups. All of the excursions are physically demanding. Mostly tendering to small boats, other than Phom Pen, there are no docks, so when we arrived at a village, to walk, we exited the small boat to a dirt path, or through the weeds and grass along shore. There were also very nice buses taking us for tour off the river to different monasteries. We were there right at the beginning of the rainy season and purpose of this cruise is seeing life along the river. It is very poor, very basic, we saw the markets, the homes, the "factories". A lot of walking on uneven terrain. We also saw floating villages, floating markets, again, you had to be able to tender. The was one guest inboard, who had injured her foot the 2nd day- even before boarding the ship. She was not able to do any weight-bearing on her ankle, and I cannot believe how unbelievable the ship was, She had both crutches and a wheelchair, and whenever she had to go from one level to the next. There were 2 sailors assigned to her that basket carried here up and down, she never missed an excursion, there was a guide and sailor who went with, helped her on and off, pushed the wheel chair all through Cambodia and Vietnam. They and the ship were incredible accommodating to her needs, that being said I would seriously not recommend this to anyone who has physical limitations.
The tour guides changed from Cambodia to Vietnam and they were all wonderful. They all spoke English , but you needed concentration to follow the stories and history. They tried so hard to help you understand their culture and history, so after a week, your listening got pretty good.
On a Europe river cruise, where you are in a different city, there is regional entertainment every night. This is not possible in Asia , the only time we had local entertainment was in Phonm penn. there was a children's dance troupe doing traditional cambodian dances.
In summary, this was an amazing experience and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in seeing Vietnam and Cambodia and soft adventure. The pre and post trips offered are a wonderful way to see the interior of the country. River cruising is wonderful, so glad I had the opportunity to go!
The Amalotus was new so no excuses in most areas of comment. The ships hold approx 126 people however for the second time this season there was only 26. What an absolute blessing, when it is full the restaurants and lounge areas would have ... Read More
The Amalotus was new so no excuses in most areas of comment. The ships hold approx 126 people however for the second time this season there was only 26. What an absolute blessing, when it is full the restaurants and lounge areas would have been extremely uncomfortable.
You would think with so few people on board that there might have been a friendly atmosphere for travelling however stubborn, older people of any nationality always makes for a challenge.
The company APT has many strict rules about how to board the ship and disembark for excursions etc, however the old people we travelled with arrogantly and dangerously refused to wear their life jackets because "I have a boat at home and never wear one "etc etc what they failed to realise with all their wisdom and life experience that they then place others at risk and would in an emergency expect other to come to their safety in a risk situation. Not acceptable the rules are their for everyone know and accept this before you go or don't go!
APT also sells these cruises to any one over the age of 40, this is a myth, if you are under 55 you will feel like you have made a huge mistake and also you will not be made to feel welcome, old people are bullies and treat other adults as children to get their own way -- it's a sad fact that left us wondering at what age do old people become so nasty and manipulative
The ship looks new as it still should, the first lunch on arrival was a buffet and a la carte, salads, fruit feature as the best options, the desserts as mentioned in some other reviews are not worth looking forward to, small selection, unimaginative there was obviously no pastry chef on board, fresh fruit and poor quality pastries are the best you can hope for kind of like cheap supermarket fare.
Knowing this we took chocolate and our own goodies for deserts
The lobby shop is a waste of time, loads of rubbish that you can pick up anywhere at markets, nothing to provide a memory of your trip and nothing of any value
APT has failed on the sundeck, it is furnished with old crabby cane furniture, it is already mouldy, there is no music no atmosphere and bad decor and the bar area is not what they presented in their brochure photographs -- misleading but that's the way that operate!
We had a suite, very dark they have not incorporated the colours and fabrics of the Vietnam/ Cambodian culture, a missed opportunity there
The bar has a drink each night for everyone that is complimentary, it was about 50/50 as to whether this is drinkable, mostly very strong made of local spirits, however drinks were cheap anyway approx $6-$8 for a cocktail
The aircon in our suite was terrific and much needed, due to their being less people on board getting access to the DVD library and the interest was not too much of a problem
The balcony area had 2 chairs in the suite but only one for other cabins- what a stupid thing to do, a romantic cruise down the Mekong and only one of you and sit outside for the view- another example of cost cutting and bad planning, the amenities in the suites were cheap rubbish, in an effort to appear ECO friendly the 5 star extras you are paying for have been sacrificed.
The bathroom was great wood panelling a huge bath with jets and spacious shower the linen was good quality the bed comfortable
The chefs are Indonesian and from the Philippines, so no flair to food simple only.
Breakfast is also a simple meal so special choices here pretty much less than you would have in your own home, the restaurant has no atmosphere no music just a silent room - another missed opportunity
The floors in the rooms are fake wood and due to the extreme heat are already starting to warp and buckle, every small every simple hut along the Mekong has cable TV and satellite service however APT cannot get an antenna or dish to provide this service
We did our own thing on excursions which made it possible to fit in more and get a better feel for where ever we were, if you are capable of only shuffling along stay with the guide, again this was not a trip for people who were not physically active, but again like so many of these trips old sick people with less mobility provide challenges and delays for staff and other travellers- please do not do this, some trips state that you need to be mobile for a reason and climbing off and on small rocky boats is precarious.
The evacuation procedure was not done until the afternoon of the second day so just lucky we did not sink on the first?? What is with cruise ships their first priority should always be safety -- you are on your own anyway as only a handful of staff speak any English
The breakfast buffet has kid's cereals on it -- why? There were no kids on board thank goodness -- please cruise companies cater to the adults who are paying 5 star prices
The sheets in your cabin are not changed daily you would need to request this- and don't forget this cruise is sold as a 5 star experience, if this is what you want you will have to ask for it
They ran out of tea bags lucky that I had brought some of my own?????
Again great planning- who is thinking of what the guests need
We bought bunches of flowers at the local markets and put them in our cabin as the cruise will not do this for you even though you are in a suite, and you will have to fight to get a vase to put them in- good luck
The seafood was for the most part excellent and all of the fresh fruit- no rich food at all so great for a diet plan when you remember the absence of dessert temptations.
Because most of the places you are visiting both in Vietnam and Cambodia have no differences in terms of attractions and scenery you will visit 3 silk weaving places and several identical markets and 3 floating villages, - hard to maintain the same enthusiasm but that's where you are in the world and that is all there is to see , the small villages are a massive step back in time, no electricity some of them and horse and cart for transport but all the people are friendly and there is a percentage that want a piece of you -- you are a wealthy tourist right?
The guides provide an Ok service, they really need to be able to communicate properly one of ours would tell different groups of people different times for departure so some would be stressed out and some relaxed- they would sometimes change the times for breakfast and not tell you- hopeless, if you question these confusing practices you could be accused of being racist and well we know how defensive that response is and how unnecessary
The ship docks midstream every night except at phom penh
The Cambodian guide straight out lied about his countries history in an attempt to hide his kings' actions during their very famous genocide, now why would a guide do that you have to ask yourself, the guides have their hands out for tips frequently and they don't always deserve it
Despite all being poor they have a university education are well travelled and would be quite happy for you to sponsor them.
Because you are travelling with geriatrics you will miss out on the most special places for example, Oudong one of the ancient capital city in Cambodia, we decided to go here and give a miss the visit to yet another newly built temple
What a great decision thanks to our own research a special amazing place don't miss it if you have the chance we walked around as much as we could -- beautiful
APT changed our free choice dinners in both destinations to inferior restaurant options leaving us very disappointed -- no explanation of course just suck it up
The ship may be new but is badly built in Vietnam and they are famous for their poor quality build and it is furnished with dated examples of Asian furniture sale stock, it will age and deteriorate quickly
The scenery remains unchanged for the whole trip so I guess the idea of doing this trip is to enjoy the cruise which you will have trouble doing when it is full, the public areas like many river cruise ships do not cater for all on board so your cabin takes on a higher importance.
Also having seen hours and hours and hours of Cambodia by bus I can tell you that there is nothing of any interest there, bad roads, no facilities, no infrastructure you are better off spending a week in Siem reap and doing day trips around there and also spend a few days at least in phnon penh it's a great fun city with easy access to museums and the killing fields and do a Mekong river cruise from there for the day -- its easy, plenty of good quality, affordable river cruise ships, they provide meals and then you have seen all there is to see.
This cruise is touted as the thing you must do after European river cruising however -- think very hard about what you expect and measure that against what you are going to get, you do your cruising mostly at night anyway when its pitch black and there are no views. Honestly if I had my time over I would do what I have suggested above.
My wife and I took the full 16 night tour starting in Hanoi and finishing in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) with an extra on our own at either end (March 5 to 22, 2012).
We flew from Vancouver to Hanoi with China Airlines. Just one word of ... Read More
My wife and I took the full 16 night tour starting in Hanoi and finishing in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) with an extra on our own at either end (March 5 to 22, 2012).
We flew from Vancouver to Hanoi with China Airlines. Just one word of warning: bring your own food! Just think solid like a rock blue scrambled eggs - and they were probably among the better food.
I will not go into any detail about all the things we did and all the excursions because they have been very well described elsewhere. I'd rather concentrate on the aspects of the trip that reflect AMA Waterways.
Hanoi is a fabulous city and well worth the visit and if nothing else, you will learn how to cross the most uncrossable street: nobody gives an inch, and neither should you!
Sofitel Hotels in Hanoi, Siem Riep and Saigon were first class. OK, one minor draw back: after having had a lovely dinner and entertainment on our first night in Siem Reap, close to half of our group came down with an illness which caused fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. Well, one explanation offered was that people may have drank too much cold water on such a hot day. Another was that people must have been carrying this form a flu and that it just happened to break out at that point in our trip. Great miracle that Brits, Aussies, Cannucks and Yanks can synchronize their illness so well. And no, it could not have been food poisoning; shouldn't have that affected all of us? This also meant that my wife and I had to cancel our dinner reservation in Siem Reap which we had been looking forward to. Yes, that's the risk you take travelling to exotic countries.
We spent two full days seeing all the temples and holy sites of Anchor. On the third day we took off on a five hour bus ride to meet the ship because the water level in the Tonle Sap Lake was too shallow for the AMALotus. We expected that to be the case, although we would have preferred to embark at Siem Reap. Can't blame anyone here. Can't blame AMA either for the fact that we had to drive almost to Phnom Penh to meet the boat for lack of roads to a point further up-river.
The docking location was a sight to behold: the bow of the ship rammed into the river bank and the stern tied onto a bush. Two planks were laid out to meet the bank to form a gangway adorned with rope rails on either side. We were welcomed by half the ship's crew with big smiles on their faces, received our keys and went to our staterooms. There was a strong smell of creosote (the smell of railway ties or power poles, the wooden ones).
The staterooms were spacious and the bed was comfortable, even the bath room, especially the shower, was bigger than I had seen on other ships. However, there was no place to put anything. One wardrobe is all - and that is shared with the safe and the water heater (which I had to turn on first incidentally - I know I could have called to have that done but I figured it out myself). There is a small balcony with one chair screwed onto the floor and a little side table. There was room for a second chair which would have been nice. The air conditioning worked non-stop which means it was inadequate. There is a card slot by the entrance which controls power, including air conditioning for the stateroom. You do not need to have a room key in that slot; your Airmiles card will work just fine. And before I g=forget: someone mentioned that the stateroom is tastefully all clad in wood. That is true for the floor. The rest is cheap laminate.
Try and get a stateroom as far forward on the boat as you can get because engine, shaft and propeller make an enormous racket while the boat is in motion, the further back, the worse. All that disturbs you up front is the raising and lowering of the anchor (don't worry, the boat is not breaking apart, although it does sound like it).
Lets get to the ship: Someone mentioned tasteful artwork adorns the walls - you know who you are and if you took it, please bring it back! Anyway, we had nothing but bare walls.
So, at our orientation we were warned again to use sanitizers since some of our group were obviously infectious with (food borne) illness. Also, we were proudly told that there is a guest to crew ratio of 2:1. That means since there are 124 guests there have to be 62 crew, right? Now lets count: two at reception, two bartenders in the lounge, one bartender at the sundeck, approximately 8 servers at dinner, the purser and of course, Sigi, the hotel manager. Add to that six for housekeeping (two per floor). Yes, and we need cooks, say six, and one spa lady. That leaves That leaves 34 people to operate the boat - WOW!!!
Sigi, the hotel manager used to work on the big ocean going ships. That has become too much work for him. He prefers the small boats now. I call it semi-retirement. I don't think he worked more than an hour a day, though he was always the first one having his meal in the restaurant, guess quality assurance. Anyway, with such a favorable guest to crew ratio, you would expect stellar service, you would, wouldn't you? OK, let's try something easy like phoning for some ice. Sorry, there is no room service - and no ice bucket in your room either even if you occupy suite.
Yes, and we need to eat too. For lunch you have a buffet for starters, salads and dessert (choices don't change throughout the cruise - unless they run out of something, of course). You also have the activity station where you can get the stir fry or pho of the day. The main course is a la carte: one meat dish (mostly western) one fish dish (local) and one vegetarian dish and for lunch there you can also have a choice of burger and two other fast food things I don't remember. Dinner is fully a la carte with the same plethora of menu choices, except no fast food. Thanks, AMA for making the choice so easy, any more and I would never be able to make up my mind. The service at meal time is best described as totally disorganized. While the staff are very friendly and very willing to please, they would surely benefit from a bit of supervision, direction and training. The most noticeable were staff searching for empty plates to take away of which there weren't any while they could have been serving coffee or drinks. It was like everybody was doing the same things at the same time and other things had to wait their turn.
Did I tell you there is wine with lunch and dinner, totally free, not a penny. Needless to say, it isn't worth any more than that. Please, AMA, pour it into the river and charge us a bit extra but give us palatable wine. Is that too much to ask for? The local beer is reasonably good and the free gin and tonics are fine too. be careful with the local rum, though, it takes a bit of getting used to. Best deal: mimosa for breakfast, made with Russian sparkling wine which is not bad at all - and it's free. Should have swiped the occasional bottle, just never occurred to me.
Entertainment: OK, there you are, floating down the Mekong, you can't afford to have a six piece band travel along together with a few dancers and a string quartet. So what you get is a piano player/crooner and a spot the lie game put on by the some cruise staff. On two nights local groups perform and they are, indeed, very good.
One last thing about tipping. We all know that wages in Vietnam, and especially Cambodia are extremely low, and make no mistake, that also applies to the AMALotus. The payroll on the Mekong is quite different from the payroll on the Rhine. So we are asked to tip everywhere and yes, you do need to bring at least $75 in singles per person. Incidentally, half the ship was occupied by Australians who had booked their cruise through APT (no idea how they are related to AMA Waterways) and they had all their tips included. What's so difficult to do that for the rest of the group, even with the option to prepay your tips?
So, AMA Waterways, yes, this was an amazing trip, but not because of AMALotus but because of the fabulous countries, and the fabulous people. And yes, the cruise offers a great way to see and experience the country and the people which would be a lot harder to do through any other way of travel. But please, on your ship live up to the reputation your company has in Europe.
Sorry, this turned out to be quite a bit longer than intended. Read Less
We are an Australian retired couple who in recent years have travelled extensively in Europe including a number of ocean and river cruises. Our standards and expectations are high. In selecting a trip we are looking for good food, ... Read More
We are an Australian retired couple who in recent years have travelled extensively in Europe including a number of ocean and river cruises. Our standards and expectations are high. In selecting a trip we are looking for good food, stylish cabin and a port/tour intensive itinerary .. we rarely use on board ship facilities such as spa, pool or go to entertainment.
The trip on Amalotus exceeded our expectations and is more highly rated than our two recent luxury river cruises in Europe.
All aspects of the tour were exceptionally well organised and executed from embarkation in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to dis-embarkation for Siem Reap. Tours ran like clock work.
Dining on Amalotus was very good. Travel in Asia is an opportunity to explore new things. There was a wide variety of western and asian selections. At lunch there was an 'activity station' where meals were cooked on order ...this provided an opportunity to try new noodle dishes and other local specialities. The only area where there was mild disappointment was deserts where pastries and tarts tended to be a little dry. The included beer and wines are perfectly acceptable (like an Australian table/cask wine) and there is a small varied wine list. Only a small number of people on our trip seemed to be using the wine list.
Cabins are well appointed. There is no satellite TV but a comprehensive DVD movie collection is available. Critically the air conditioning worked really well.
The most outstanding aspect of the trip is the tours. The variety is really good with just the right amount of time being spent in each place. Other reviews of Amalotus and the sister ship La Margeurite describe the tours in detail so I will not repeat the same information. The tour guides English was excellent and they very much engaged with their groups with a great sense of humour and fun. Passengers were divided into groups at check in for embarkation and these were the tour groups. However unlike a previous reviewer we did not find these groups were rigid and saw some people changing groups without any issues. Many unique experiences were available from ox cart rides thru a small village and the paddy fields to visiting markets, seeing Buddhist monks seeking alms , a Buddhist blessing and understanding some of the terrible conflicts people have endured.
Aside from the actual tours on most days there was exceptional sight seeing from the boat as it moved along.
Technology .. there is free wifi in the lounge(no option for cabin). We found this worked really well in general with only a couple of black spots.
Take something for the children but not sweets (dentists are expensive) ...school items, pens, paper and toiletries such as toothpaste, toothbrushes are very welcome.
Travel from Saigon to Siem Reap if there is a choice ...in this direction the river sight seeing just gets better and better each day.
If you plan to travel extensively it is worth investing in some secure luggage such as a back pack, camera strap, ladies carry bag and wallet. This will ensure you feel secure in markets and crowded areas as your personal possessions will not be easily slashed or pick pocketed.
Take some insect repellent for the room .... there were one or two bugs that found their way in at night. Also take personal insect repellent including a small spray for the backpack on outings. Read Less
Others have already given detailed descriptions of cruising the Sap and Mekong Rivers on the Amalotus; what I want to do here is provide my amateur assessment.
First, some background. We did the full package: two nights in Hanoi at ... Read More
Others have already given detailed descriptions of cruising the Sap and Mekong Rivers on the Amalotus; what I want to do here is provide my amateur assessment.
First, some background. We did the full package: two nights in Hanoi at the Sofitel Legend; one night on a junk in Ha Long Bay; three nights at the Sofitel in Siem Reap; seven nights on the Tonle level of the Amalotus; and two nights at the Sofitel Saigon Plaza in Ho Chi Minh City.
What works well:
The hotels were all gorgeous and luxurious, and the accommodations on the junk and the Amalotus were first class and beautiful. Both ships had rich, dark wood paneling and the facilities were excellent. We couldn't be happier with the rooms we had.
The excursions were well-thought out and well organized. We really got a feel both for rural life in Cambodia and Vietnam, and for the urban life in cities such as Hanoi, Saigon, and Phnom Penh.
The guides and tour director were all very helpful and informative. They spoke clearly enough that my father, who has trouble with accents, was still able to understand them.
What doesn't work so well:
Tipping. We were advised to bring plenty of small bills. We thought we brought enough, but we were wrong. Most of the American guests were unprepared for the number of small tips ($1s and $2s) they needed to make (I emphasize American, since the Australians traveling with APT had their tips included in their price). We were tipping so many people, so many times a day, that by the time we reached Siem Reap, we broke $60 in twenties into singles. It still wasn't enough.
So what should you do? I would strongly recommend that anyone doing this cruise bring $100 in singles and $150 in fives. The tip for the ship's crew (recommended: $10 a day for 8 days) can be put on your bill, but I think they would prefer cash, so plan ahead.
Food on the ship. Do not expect the same quality and variety of food that you would find on a European river cruise. At least part of the problem may be the availability of high-quality, hygienic food. If the choice is between variety of offerings and the health of the passengers, the cruise line has understandably chosen to emphasize the latter. I also suspect, but don't know for sure, that they may also have a legal obligation to use locally produced food rather than imported (e.g., Cambodian-produced ice cream rather than imported).
I found the best food on the ship to be the fresh fruit and the fish. The meat tended to be tough. The worst, in my opinion, were the desserts (with the exception of the fruit).
Another problem was the cruise line's policy of dividing the passengers into defined and permanent groups. This policy seems to be driven by the issue of tipping: 1) since guides may serve for a number of days and only be tipped at the end, it was important that each guide receive the proper amount of tips to reflect the work; and 2) since the Australians already had tips included in their price, they needed to stay with their already-tipped guides.
So why was this a problem? Well, in our group alone, there were at least three people with mobility issues. Since the cruise line couldn't offer a "slow-walkers group," their only options were to either choose not to go on an excursion or to try to keep up at the best of their ability, which was sometimes difficult.
Some people made friends with people in other groups, but they were not permitted to do excursions together, since any movement of people from one group to another would throw off the balance of tips.
Finally, and I'll have to put this delicately, there were some strong personalities on our cruise. By being kept together for the length of the trip, one might be trapped for 15 days with someone who one didn't merely dislike but was unable to stand.
What I would recommend to AMAWaterways is that they can solve many of these problems by making most tips inclusive in the price. This would diminish the need to bring a small suitcase of ones and fives and permit them to tailor excursions by ability.
Please do not take these criticisms and suggestions as unhappiness with our cruise experience; my father and I greatly enjoyed our cruise experience and do not regret our decision to go. I would only suggest that future passengers adjust their expectations to the reality of the experience on the ground. Cambodia is still a relatively new tourist destination and one shouldn't go expecting the Danube.
One last issue: this really isn't a solvable problem, but some guests were annoyed that due to lower water in the Tonle Sap lake, our transfer to the boat involved a 5.5 hour bus ride. This is what happens when one sails in the dry season, but it came as a surprise to some guests. Read Less
Though the cruise did not start out well, it got better. We were staying at the Sofitel Siem Reap because that is where AMA pick up the pax and take them to the ship. We were told two different times that as "the river was low, we ... Read More
Though the cruise did not start out well, it got better. We were staying at the Sofitel Siem Reap because that is where AMA pick up the pax and take them to the ship. We were told two different times that as "the river was low, we would be taken by bus on a 5 hour drive, to the place where the ship was waiting for us. Check-in would be at 07:30am." So, that morning we got up at 6am to be ready by 7:30am. We then discovered that instead of a 5 hour bus ride it would only be 1.5 hours and so check-in was at 11am. No one had let us know even though we had told AMA that we were staying at the hotel. No apology either! At 12:30 we finally on bus to get ferry to AMAlotus. The other people on the cruise were part of a tour and had booked the hotel through AMA. They take care of their own, that is for sure! Moral of story? If you book the hotel separately, call AMA and remind them you are part of the cruise too.
OK, end of annoyance part of the review!
All the people on the cruise were very, very helpful. In the Cambodian part, most of the staff were Cambodian. They left the ship at the boarder and Vietnamese people joined the ship.
Breakfast and lunch are buffets with a wide variety of food. I love Chinese style breakfasts and must recommend the congee which they have every morning. Try the one with pork. Excellent. Lots of fruit too. Lunch was hot and cold food with excellent salads. Dinner was a full service meal with a menu. Usually three choices for the main part: a European style meat dish, a Cambodian/Vietnamese Fish option, or a vegetarian option. They wanted everyone to sit down at 7pm together. One could sit anywhere. We soon learned that it would be OK to eat later. We are English and like to eat later.
The pax were Australian, UK, Israelis, Turkish and American. It is not a tour for children though there were two children on board. They must have been bored as there are no facilities for children.
Half the ship came down with a 24 hour stomach virus. The first half of the cruise, one of the managers was on holiday and I believe that because of that, sanitising ones hands was lax. As soon as he rejoined I noticed an improvement in that as one walked into the restaurant, one was handed the sanitizing liquid.
Cabin: smallish but nice looking. White walls with teak. Very poorly laid out in that there is no bureau, no chest of drawers. Cannot get the suitcase under the bed.
Toilet: signs telling you not to put toilet paper in toilet. Very hard to get used to that! Surely in such a modern ship the toilets could have been better designed? They claim the ship is 5 Star!
Every day there is a lecture on the excursions for the following day. Also, a very good lecture on Cambodian history and a not so interesting one on Vietnamese history.
A comfortable sun lounge with good lounge chairs. Tea and coffee available.
Though it is supposed to be "all inclusive" they charge $1.50 for sparkling water! The house wine was not drinkable.
The tour director was excellent and very helpful.
Phnom Penh is not to be missed.
The disembarkation was very easy. They take you to the Sofitel Ho Chi Minh City (which I have reviewed on Trip Advisor). It is just over an hour's drive from the ship. Read Less
The journey through Vietnam & Cambodia is a worthwhile trip. The tours provide an insight into the daily life of the people in the cities and countryside. The activities, such as the rickshaw, oxcart rides, visit to the markets, ... Read More
The journey through Vietnam & Cambodia is a worthwhile trip. The tours provide an insight into the daily life of the people in the cities and countryside. The activities, such as the rickshaw, oxcart rides, visit to the markets, blessing by the Buddhist monks, seeing the production of silk, bricks, rice paper, coconut candy & rattan mats are most interesting.
We obtained the multiple entry Vietnam visa by using VISA ON ARRIVAL, over the internet. We paid a US$19 fee (on credit card) for the letter of invitation. On arrival at the Hanoi airport, we presented the letter, a passport photo and our passports. After a short wait, we paid a US$50 cash pp (per person) 'stamping fee' for the visa in our passports. This worked well.
The Cambodian visa was obtained by our AMA tour guide. You hand him your passport, a passport photo and US$20 cash pp. The guide handles the rest at the Siem Reap airport.
In November the weather was very hot (30 degrees Celsius) and humid. Light cotton, loose fitting clothes are essential. We washed shirts often. Closed in shoes are best for all tours. You are required to remove shoes at some sites. A hat is a good idea -â€" umbrellas and rain ponchos are supplied on the ship.
We took bug spray, but found we really didn't need it. It is advisable to take an antibiotic, Imodium, pain tablets, stomach remedies and cold/flu medications. None of these are available on the ship.
Take an ample supply of US$1 and US$5 bills. You will find it difficult to acquire small bills on the trip. AMA recommends tipping each service (rickshaw, oxcart driver, bus & boat driver, etc.) US$1 pp, so you can go through a lot of $1 bills. It seems the US dollars are accepted everywhere -â€" however, change is in local currency. ATM machines do not dispense US dollars in Vietnam (only in Cambodia).
The Sofitel Hotels are very luxurious. An extensive breakfast buffet is included. The hotel in Siem Reap is like paradise -â€" a gorgeous resort. Restaurant prices in the hotels in Hanoi and Saigon are high. Siem Reap prices are inexpensive. There are many local restaurants recommended by the tour guides.
The ship has been sailing for 11 weeks at the time of our cruise, and they are still experiencing many problems. The following is a list of several:
- On arrival the ship had a strong smell (like diesel fuel) everywhere. We believe this was a disinfectant/insecticide used throughout the ship, and the smell never went away.
- The quality of the food is poor. For example, dry bread, crystallized ice cream, limited choices and poor wine.
- Buffet line is congested, not enough serving utensils, flies on the food, toaster is hopeless and on and on.
- The ship is in poor condition for being new. Some rooms were infected with bugs, air conditioners didn't work properly and security safes are not bolted down.
- The ship vibrates excessively and is very noisy when travelling.
- At one point or another during the week most passengers were sick with colds, flu or stomach issues. We think this was related to the lack of sanitation and hygiene on the ship.
- We didn't bother attending the entertainment in the evening, as it didn't sound appealing. We heard from others that it was poor.
- DO NOT book a room on the bottom level with a porthole. It is dark and noisy due to the proximity to the crew quarters.
- Most of the tours are accessed from the ship by tender boats. This involves some gymnastics to transfer from one to the other. The only ship docking is in Phnom Penh.
- The quietvox receivers used on the tours were junk. They seldom worked and the guides were constantly changing batteries.
- All tour guides are English speaking, however they are very difficult to understand.
- The tours are timed well -â€" just the right amount of time is spent at each site. Walking distances are not long. There is always time for shopping at the conclusion of the tour.
This is our fourth AMA cruise. We were disappointed with the ship. The service, quality of food and beverages, ambiance, communication with crew, cleanliness, entertainment and our room fell short of our expectations. This cruise did not meet the high standards of our previous cruises with AMA in Europe. Read Less
This is a rather long journal of our AMA Waterways land/cruise to Vietnam and Cambodia. The trip was taken in November 2011. Within the daily entries are some dining suggestions, travel hints and information about the sites that were ... Read More
If you select the Amalotus or her sister ship you must understand the seasonal patterns of river flow, lake heights and rain season characteristics along the Mekong because this causes get variations in the nature of the environment and ... Read More
If you select the Amalotus or her sister ship you must understand the seasonal patterns of river flow, lake heights and rain season characteristics along the Mekong because this causes get variations in the nature of the environment and point of Siem Reap arrival/ departure. Brochures advise about this. There can be over 30ft height difference in the lake level. In late Sept 2011 there was a very high flood late in the wet season and many roads to the lake edge became impassable even by bus thus causing a five hour bus trip, the dry season journey
The vessel had acute problems with vibrations of the prop shaft, air condition problems in the upper cabins, and anchor noise. The cruise experience some teething problems but the crew made light work of any problems. There were no problems with service except trip departures were a bit confused. Food was good but will improve when the staff become more familiar with the ovens and grills. Quality was good and there was ample selection. Free drinks were plentiful, if you do not like it buy your own. Local beer is very good and equal if not better than most US brands.
The crew were young and very willing and their enthusiasm and personality were the making of many positive experiences. Talk to them, learn their stories, share their emotions, look analytically at what has happen in Cambodia and Viet Nam and Laos and do not accept the spin put on the history by any one from US political departments. WE had the former US ambassador to Cambodia on board who tried to validate all aspects of US involvement as positive and beneficial?Shore visits and boat trips are interesting whatever the weather, they provide an excellent perspectives on river life in the different countries. The larger cities are too big to cover in a day or two but visit the graves and killings fields of Cambodia. IT will put the problems of your own life in perspective.
Our wet season trip was great; Yes, we had rain, we had some experiences with floods and tuk tuk rides, the paddies were full, the landscape was green, the lake side settlements were reachable by boat, the temples had mysterious atmosphere, insects were absent and the people were fantastic especially in Cambodia. Remember 80+c/80+rh
Two days in Siem Reap is insufficient to do there are any justice. Find a 4 star hotel and stay for longer at a mush lower cost. Hire a tuk tuk by the day and just go with the flow of people or water?
I will do it again.
Shore tours groups seemed to be based on who you booked your cruise with. APT and AMA were segregated and independent travelers were formed into other groups. Not all took any notice and formed friendship groups. This is not a European cruise, this is the real SE Asia but the quality and value is very good. Just go and enjoy. Read Less
We took this tour in January 2011 which is during the dry and cool season. Most of the comments that others have left are quite accurate, but I will add some additional emphasis to some issues.
This was our sixth river cruise and second ... Read More
We took this tour in January 2011 which is during the dry and cool season. Most of the comments that others have left are quite accurate, but I will add some additional emphasis to some issues.
This was our sixth river cruise and second with AMA Waterways. The AMALotus is a new ship, but perhaps the worst river cruiser we have ever been on. This includes river cruises we have taken in China and Egypt, as well as Europe. Staterooms are comfortably sized, but the selection of furniture was not very functional. Other than a closet with hangers, there was literally no place to put your things.
The bathroom was excellent, but we consistently had a major problem with the shower water temperature. It varied repeatedly from scalding hot to icy cold regardless of the faucet settings. Rooms had a nice HD flat screen TV, but no satellite reception. Wireless was limited to the lounge and was good when we were moored or in port.
One reviewer stated their air conditioning was excellent. Our's was not. Our room was over 90 degrees for the first two days. The situation only got better when it became cloudy and cooled off outside. The air conditioners are individual to each room and only run when you have your room key card in the key slot on the wall that turns on the lights. OK for saving energy, but IMHO the air conditioners were undersized for the job and not able to do the rapid cool-down required if they were being turned on and off in this manner. Many people got an extra key card from the staff so they could have the a/c run all the time. That helped a little, but not completely.
Meals were good but not great. The only complaints we had was that the free local wine at meals was really bad, and the freshly baked breads pretty much amounted to the same bland white and rye each day.
Someone mentioned the QuietVoxs were junk. Ours worked OK (as they have on many other cruises we have taken). But there was a major problem with the batteries constantly wearing out after a few hours of use. I noticed that AMA was using a cheap Chinese battery; perhaps rechargeables or quality batteries would have been better.
Out land tours varied. Most were really great, but somewhat similar (tours of local villages). For most excursions we needed to use tenders. A few of them were very difficult to board and we considered unsafe (life vests were rotten, seats were not attached to the tender, tender was overcrowded). In a number of places where we disembarked from the AMALotus directly to shore, we literally had to walk a plank to get off or on.
In conjunction with the cruise, we had land tours and hotel stays in Hanoi, Siem Reap, and Saigon. All which were well done. We also had a tour to HaLong Bay and spent a night on a Junk. The trip out to HaLong Bay and back could have been arranged a little better. We were rushed in places to hit departure times or meals, yet had other times when we basically just sat and waited on the bus or at a rest stop. Overall, I think the timelines and activities on the trip could be better optimized.
Our local guides were all knowledgeable and had an excellent English vocabulary. However, a few had difficulties with pronunciation and we could hardly understand them.
Last, let me second the reviewer who commented on excessive tips. I have never been on a land cruise or river cruise where the staff and guides reminded us so often to tip--to the point of it becoming an annoyance. AMA Waterways needs to pay decent wages to their guides, bundle the tips into their own fees, discourage begging for tips, or take whatever other steps are necessary to end this annoyance.
Bottom Line: Vietnam and Cambodia were great. The AMALotus was only OK. AMA Waterways needs to get this trip better organized. Read Less