www.CRUISE.co.uk’s Millie has just returned from her two week river cruise on the Mekong with APT! From Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City, Millie visited lots of local towns and cities along the way and is here to tell you her story of the reality behind a visit to Cambodia and Vietnam.
Did the excursions live up to expectations? What was the food like? How did Cambodia and Vietnam compare? What was La Marguerite like as a home for a week? Read on for all the details and the in’s and out’s to a trip down the Mekong…
Let’s start with your photos! What are your top three favourite pictures you got from your trip and why?
1- I was mesmerised by so many views in Cambodia and this was my favourite one! It was at a luxury hotel in Siem Reap which is another one of the resort’s that APT use for their trip’s down the Mekong. To me, this is the type of view you would specifically travel to to see and admire, but this just happened to be part of the hotel itself and I didn’t expect to see this type of beauty over in Cambodia before I went on the trip!
2- This was when I captured the moment that we were giving our gifts to some local children and even though they were given one pen and pencil each they were over the moon and beyond excited to be given some gifts and it really makes you realise how different things are over that side of the world. Their lifestyles have such simplicity and they are so grateful for even just our presence (aswell as the presents)!
3 – The main thing I was warned about before visiting Ho Chi Minh was the vast amount of motorbikes and the struggle to cross the road! So for me, this picture is more about what it captures- the essence of life (or the life of a pedestrian) in Ho Chi Minh and as you can guess, this is not half as intense as it can get (but those moments are the ones not safest for taking a photo!)
Take a look here at my blogs from my journey to see the rest of my favourite photos!
Talk about your time on La Marguerite- what were your first impressions?
I had only been on ocean ships before so had no idea what to expect from a river ship despite everybody’s own verdicts they had warned me of, but I was pleasantly surprised. The talk of the sheer comparison in size between ocean ships and river ships was what I felt made our new home for the week cosy and intimate. It was a bonus to not have to walk too far from the lounge to the restaurant, from the sun deck to the cabins, and when you’re 6000 miles from home anything like this is a comfort!
How did you find the food?
As a vegetarian it was assumed I would struggle at meal times (and you really do feel like you’re eating all the time!), but the staff on-board were the most incredible staff I have ever come across. Me and another lady I was travelling with who had allergies were given a separate dedicated waiter for the entire week for all three meals all day to ensure there was something on the menu we could have and if not, we were able to make a special request and this would be taken care of, no bother! There was a wide selection of the local cuisine so that we could experience the culture in this way aswell but there were still options to sometimes have food that we are more familiar with from home, too (although this did feel like cheating).
Click here for more images of dining on La Marguerite!
What was the entertainment like on-board?
As it was a jam-packed seven days on La Marguerite there wasn’t entertainment every single night (although there would still always be a pianist in the background each night in the Saigon Lounge), but over the seven nights we had on-board there was karaoke, disco’s and the crew members even put on a show for us on the penultimate night: they picked three passengers as the judges and each crew member came out dressed as different characters for different performances! The guests were their absolute priority at all times.
What was the décor like on-board?
The colours were dark, mahogany brown and the décor felt rich so I always thought that even the furniture around you was bringing you into embracing the culture further; in this sense you feel like you’re wrapped up in a bubble out there full of culture and new experiences!
Our cabin had a balcony which was perfect for the burst of fresh air in the morning and to check out the sights of the next place we were cruising to. The window seat made me feel like I had my own private view of the Mekong!
What was the main thing you were shocked to see during your excursions?
It’s got to be the Killing Fields for me as I am ashamed to say I wasn’t aware of the Khmer Rouge before this trip! We visited the graves of the 2.2 million that were murdered as a part of Pol Pot’s regime in the 1970’s; the vision of the vast amount of skulls and graves is one you can never imagine until you have actually witnessed it.
The highlight was getting to meet a survivor- this was incredibly inspirational to be standing in the presence of a man who’s wife and children were killed at this time (and he only survived because of his ability to fix the typewriters that the soldiers used to report the murders on!) This trip gave me so many moments where you vow never to take for granted how lucky you are again, and this moment was the most eye-opening by far!
What was your favourite excursion?
One of my favourite excursion experiences was the Cu Chi tunnels because that was the moment I realised I was stood in the exact place that once held such a massive significance to people’s lives and whether they lived or died!
I took my opportunity to go through one of the tunnels (it involved a lot of crouching and feet shuffling) but it was bizarre to imagine that this is how the Vietnamese used to hide and escape in the war and the space inside has even been widened for tourists so this was as close as we would ever get to imagining what it was like!
Sometimes even just the way we travelled from the ship to our next excursion was exciting because we travelled by tuk-tuk or rickshaw (one time we even took an ox-cart ride! Click here for the ox-selfies on my blog.) This made for a brilliant way to experience what was around us because it was so open. The breeze was amazingly refreshing and the kids we passed at the markets and their homes would be waving at us and high-fiving us as we passed (definitely a lot more cultural than hopping in an uber at home!)
What was your favourite thing about the culture you experienced on your trip?
The simplicity of their lifestyles was so incredibly refreshing! My two weeks on the trip was an eye opener to the complete difference in how we live our lives in comparison and it really teaches you a thing or two about a simpler way to live.
They do not rely on the latest technology or certain amount of money for happiness and the children in Cambodia and Vietnam have a real appreciation for the little things. This may be because this is all they know but it was clear that their happiness came from just our visits to them or even us waving as we pass by on rickshaw or tuk-tuk.
How did Cambodia and Vietnam compare to eachother?
The hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh was the main difference between Cambodia and Vietnam whereas places like Siem Reap were still busy but understandably less ‘city like’. The shopping centre’s replace the markets that scatter everywhere you walk in the likes of Siem Reap (although we did come across the same type of markets in Ho Chi Minh).
So in a way we all felt like we could relate a little more to Ho Chi Minh city as it felt London-esque with its tall buildings and busyness, whereas Cambodia felt very scarce and like a complete other world to me.
If you could describe your trip in three words, what would they be?
Extraordinary, eye-opening, and incredible!
Lastly, do you have any tips for anyone planning on going on the same trip or visiting the same parts of the world?
First of all, I think you should definitely research the trip a lot because the culture difference can be a big shock (read my blogs here to find out all the details to my trip!) And secondly, just make the most out of every second and to do and try every single thing you can because you may never travel to these parts of the world again!
So, what do you think of Millie’s journey down the Mekong? What was your favourite part? Would you want to do the same trip yourself? Do you think you’d fancy starting in Siem Reap or Ho Chi Minh? (APT offer the trip starting from both destinations!) Leave us all your thoughts below!