The mighty Mekong flows for almost 3,000 miles — from China through Laos and into Cambodia and Vietnam — and is one of the world’s great river systems. It forms the borders between countries in Southeast Asia and many of the region’s oldest cities have been built on or near its banks and those of its tributaries. A visual tapestry of vivid green rice paddies, ancient temples, floating markets, ramshackle villages, and former royal residences makes for a fascinating cultural journey. The majority of Mekong River cruises focus on the section between Siem Reap (Cambodia) and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) from August to April, since the weather is too hot and river levels are too low from May to July.
What We Love
Vietnamese Food: Don’t miss any opportunity to sample the local Vietnamese fare: Pho noodle soup, spring rolls, and steamed rice cakes are a good start, all made with lots of cilantro, mint, and basil.
Floating Markets and Fish Farms: Have your cameras ready as you explore the region's legendary floating markets, maneuvering among shops built right onto small wooden sampans, and watch as fish flop and splash in the nets of floating fish farms.
Best Known For
Temples: They vary from the impressive and intricately carved stone structures of Siem Reap's Angkor Wat, which date back as far as the ninth century, to the humbler shrines and monuments found in most Southeast Asian villages.
Rice Paddies: As you cruise along the Vietnamese side of the Mekong, you’ll be treated to mesmerizing views of the country’s emerald-green terraced rice fields.
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Phnom Penh: There's a lot to see and do in Cambodia’s capital, from the lavish Silver Pagoda (named for the 5 tons of polished silver that cover its floor) to the sobering Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum that documents the horrors of the Pol Pot regime and the "Killing Fields" of the late 1970s.
Cai Be: By local sampan, glide through canals and narrow tributaries of the main Mekong channel and see a French Gothic cathedral, former royal residences, and factories where Vietnamese rice paper and pottery are made.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
The Heat Can Be Extreme: It’s hot year-round in Cambodia and southern Vietnam, but it’s downright boiling between February and May.
The Poverty Can Overwhelm: This is especially evident on the Cambodian side, where four decades after the country's tragic genocide, many families still struggle to survive.
Heidi Sarna is a Singapore-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Condé Nast Traveler and USA Today.