Six Frequently Asked Questions: Cruising the Mekong

The Mekong River continues to grow in popularity for river cruisers and the companies that operate along the storied waterway. AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, CroisiEurope, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Viking River Cruises all offer journeys along the Mekong. Accordingly, we get a lot of questions here on River Cruise Advisor about Mekong River cruises. Here are the top six.

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo ©  Aaron Saunders
The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo © Aaron Saunders

1: Do you need Visas for Cambodia and Vietnam?

American, Canadian and European guests will need visas for both Cambodia and Vietnam. Cambodian visas can be purchased on arrival in Siem Reap Airport for $27 USD, cash-only (up from $25 in 2013), but you must bring your own passport-style photograph. Guests should consult the Kingdom of Cambodia Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Vietnamese Visa pages (the one for the United States has been linked to here) for detailed information.

2: We were wondering about the internet on the ship. Is it generally accessible?

Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

In our experience, internet access aboard ships sailing the Mekong is not reliable. In many instances, simply establishing a connection can be an exercise in frustration. Wrap-up any business you need to before you set sail, because connecting while you’re away will be more difficult than on river cruises in Europe.

3: Are rain ponchos provided, or do we have to bring our own?

We only got caught up in the Monsoons once - but it was a doozy! Fortunately, my complimentary poncho kept me dry. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders
We only got caught up in the Monsoons once – but it was a doozy. Fortunately, my complimentary poncho kept me dry. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Ponchos – and umbrellas – are generally provided for guests to use ashore. But we would recommend bringing your own umbrella and a waterproof rain jacket. Rainfall can be short but very intense when it happens.

4: What is the age group of fellow passengers?

Guests aboard the AmaLotus look on as the process of making rattan mats is explained during a factory tour in Tan Chau. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders
Guests aboard the AmaLotus look on as the process of making rattan mats is explained during a factory tour in Tan Chau. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

On our Mekong River cruises, ages ranged from teenagers to active travellers in their 80s. This is a very active itinerary, so you should be in good enough physical condition to climb into tender boats and spend time walking ashore. But there’s no limit to what age group would enjoy a river cruise along the Mekong.

5: Do I you recommend I exchange money or use U.S. dollars and credit cards?

Entering Saigon's famous Central Market, which is one of the oldest in the city. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders
Entering Saigon’s famous Central Market, which is one of the oldest in the city. US Dollars and Vietnamese Dong were taken here. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

It depends on the place in Vietnam you’re visiting. Major stores and hotels will likely have pricing listed in U.S. dollars, and you can certainly use them (or credit cards) to barter and pay for goods in the Central Market. If prices are not listed in U.S. dollars, you’ll have to do the conversion in your head. At this time, one U.S. dollar is equal to about 21,105 VND.

That said, we wouldn’t recommend changing from USD to VND unless absolutely necessary. In Cambodia, the U.S. dollar is widely used, so there’s no real point to using anything else. 

6: We are considering this cruise and looking into AmaWaterways and Viking. We usually travel with Tauck, but they do not offer journeys along this river. Is there an advantage to one over the other?

A day of scenic cruising provides the perfect opportunity to take a closer look at AmaWaterways' AmaLotus. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders
Besides the itinerary and service, it is these air-conditioned corridors that are one of the defining features aboard AmaWaterways’ AmaLotus. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

We haven’t experienced Viking’s product along the Mekong (or offerings from Avalon or Uniworld, for that matter), but there is one area that may give AmaWaterways an advantage over their competitors, and that is the design of AmaWaterways’ ships.

AmaWaterways is one of the only lines to offer climate-controlled, interior corridors to access their guest staterooms. The company is also one of the few lines to offer guests both a full-size, air conditioned Lounge and an outdoor Sun Deck.

On other lines, staterooms are accessed via the ship’s outer decks, and a few ships lack an indoor Lounge. If you can handle the heat, this may not be an issue for you. 

That’s not to say you shouldn’t consider other lines along the Mekong; each line has its own unique activities and amenities that will make the experience worthwhile on any ship.

As we sailed for Phnom Penh, children ran along the banks of the river to wave at us, and boats took to the water.  Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders
Sailing for Phnom Penh aboard AmaWaterways’ AmaLotus. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Do you have any questions about sailing the Mekong?  Let us know by using the comment form below.

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visaforvietnam says:

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