A Mekong River cruise begins with questions.
How will I get there comfortably? Will I be able to rest on the plane? Are visas required? Shots? Do I need malaria prophylactics? What is the ship like? The food? Will I get sick if I eat something ashore? Will I be too jet-lagged to enjoy the cruise? Will I see Angkor Wat? What type of insurance do I need? Is this the best time to go?
Columbus probably spent less time preparing for his journey across the Atlantic than I spent preparing for mine to Asia. I am assured that the time spent will be worth it. I expect this trip to be transformational, not only for me but also for my 14-year-old daughter.
Up In The Air
As I write these words, she is in the air, flying from Atlanta to Los Angeles. My first challenge: how to collect her.
Because she is an unaccompanied minor, I am required to meet her at the gate. Delta requires children up until the age of 15 to be accompanied from gate to gate. If a guardian cannot accompany, Delta charges a $100 fee (each way) to put the child in a flight attendant’s charge.
At the bookends of the flight, one guardian delivers the child to the airport, all the way to the gate, and the other meets the child at the gate on the receiving end.
Problem is, I have luggage, with liquids, and we’re not flying Delta to Ho Chi Minh City. We’re flying Thai Air, and the Thai Air check-in counter is not open. It will not be open until 8:15 p.m. and my daughter’s flight arrives at 8:30 p.m., in another terminal.
A small challenge: It will be close, but I will check in when the Thai Air counter opens and rush to the Delta gate. I’ve planned in advance by going to the Delta counter to pick up security authorization. Fingers are crossed. Thankfully, both my daughter and I have our mobile phones.
Thai Air, The Best Choice?
I chose Thai Air because of its Economy Premium class. First Class and Business Class were too pricey. But sitting 17 hours in Economy Class would be like enduring some of the finer tortures of the Spanish Inquisition.
Thai Air’s Economy Premium seemed to be the perfect compromise, only a few hundred dollars more than Economy Class, and with generous seating (see Premium Economy Comparison Chart). I’ve read elsewhere that even Thai Air’s Economy Class seating is comfortable, even for those who are 6’5″, like me.
The air was more complicated that it first appeared, because we also needed a ticket from Siem Reap, Cambodia, where our cruise would end, to Ho Chi Minh City. The only practical alternative was Vietnam Airlines, and the airline’s web site was an exercise in frustration. After finding the flights that would work, I entered all of our personal information as well as payment information. My credit card was not accepted.
After some effort, I found a number to call and was advised to call my credit card company. I did so. Rinse and repeat. I called the airline representative again. “Our web site really is not all that good,” a lady on the other end told me. Could she take a credit card? No. Her company was only the booking agent, not the airline. Conceding defeat, I called a travel agent who was able to book the flight for me, but a few days later received an e-mail that the agency’s credit card was also turned down. The flights were still being held, but I would need to send a check.
AMAWATERWAYS would have gladly handled all of the air arrangements for me, but when it comes to airline seats, I like to be in control.
Because we would be entering Vietnam twice (once from the United States and once from Cambodia) we would need a “Multi-Entry Visa.”
Fortunately, this part was easy, but pricey. There are good instructions at the Vietnam Embassy’s website.
You’ll need two passport photos for the Vietnam multi-entry visa (you’ll need two more for the Cambodia visa, which can be issued on the ship). Mail the two photos with a completed application form, passport or copy of passport, with check or money order for $120 per application for the (recommended) expedited service, which promises processing in two working days. Use FedEx or a trackable courier service, and include a prepaid return shipping label. We followed the instructions and received our visas within a couple of days of applying.
You can reach the Vietnam Embassy in Washington, D.C. by calling 1-202-861-2293 or 1-202-861-0694 between the hours of 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Thai Airways offers a fair cancellation policy; refundable before departure for $200. That was flight insurance enough for me.
AMAWATERWAYS offers a trip-cancellation policy, but as we were guests of the company, there was no need for the insurance.
Our Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance covers us worldwide, so the only worry would be if we were injured in a way that required hospitalization. That’s where Medjet comes in. If we are admitted to a hospital more than 150 miles from home, Medjet will cover the cost of flying us home. There are rules and stipulations, of course. For details, visit Domestic & International Travel Assistance Annual Membership | Medjet Assist. Medjet’s Family Membership goes for $385 annually, a good value in my mind.
Those are some of the questions, and there are more. It’s nearing the time when I should go to the Thai Air check-in counter. If you don’t hear from me for the next 20 hours or so, you can assume all went well. Wish us luck!