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Why do a River Cruise to Cambodia and Vietnam

We cruised on the Mekong River from Phnom Penn to Saigon on the Avalon Saigon. The Saigon is a river cruise ship traveling the Mekong River from Phnom Penn, Cambodia to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam. The ship carries a maximum of 36 passengers while cruising and cruises directly from each of these cities. The ship can make this uninterrupted river trip due to its flat roof and lower overall height allowing the ship to cruise under low bridges and powerlines that larger ships cannot sail under. The Avalon Saigon is not sleek or modern looking but highly functional in appearance.

The lounge in the front of the vessel is beautifully appointed with comfortable chairs and couches for relaxing in the morning before breakfast with coffee or tea and in the afternoon or evening with a cocktail from a fully stocked bar.

Your cruise fare will include some alcoholic beverages and a cocktail of the day, while premium brands are available for purchase. We never had to purchase a premium brand as the brands included in our cruise price were fine. The lounge has an indoor area and an outdoor covered deck for enjoying the outdoors without a need for sunscreen. All the staterooms on the ship are identical with a king size bed (can convert to 2 singles), a table with a small love seat and chair and desk area. All cabins have a small refrigerator that will be stocked with soft drinks and beer. I drink Coke Light and asked our cabin steward to replace the regular Cokes with Coke Lights, which he did and kept the fridge stocked for our entire cruise. Local beers were also stocked in the fridge.

One of the things we like about Avalon River cruises is the orientation of the bed in our cabin. The bed faces the floor-to-ceiling window so you can lay in bed and watch the river go by without turning your head. This is an attention to detail that we appreciated.

We chose this cruise because it was in a new area of the world for us, and we had heard that these two countries are eager for tourists and were welcoming to US visitors. Our experience on this trip confirmed these musings from people we know in the travel industry, and we were pleased at our reception from the locals we encountered. We highly recommend visiting this part of Asia for its sights, and for the people of the region. Travel in Cambodia and Vietnam is safe and pleasant.

On arrival in Phnom Penn, we were greeted by the cruise line at the airport and transported to the Avalon Saigon for an effortless check-in. Note that Cambodia requires US tourists to obtain a tourist visa for entry into the country. We easily got our visas online. The ship docks in Phnom Penn in a working area, so there is not much to see from the ship, so we walked around the area looking for some shopping and to catch some of the local flavor of the area. The shopping turned out to be farther away than we were willing to walk, however we did get some small exposure to the city.

We cruised overnight to our first stop at a temple complex at Wat Hanchey. The walk to the temple complex is 315 steps up the side of a large hill. You will need to be in reasonable shape to make this climb, but Avalon offers a bus to the top for cruisers who do not want to make the climb. At the temple we received a traditional water blessing by local monks and toured the temples. Many of the buildings were rebuilt after the Khmer Rouge period in the late 70’s but there were some older temples from earlier periods of Cambodian history. This tour took about two hours and did include a walk down the stairs as well (this can be harder for some people than going up) and then back to the ship for lunch and cruising to our next destination.

This was a walking tour of the village of Angkor Ban. This tour included a visit to a local school. We were able to pair up with a local student and listen to them read and talk about their lives and what they want to do as adults. Their English is heavily accented, as you can imagine. The time we spent with these children was charming and a highlight of the trip. We were then back to the ship for dinner and then an overnight cruise to our next destination.

Our next stop was the village of Kampong Tralach. This is more of a small city rather than a tiny village. Our day started with an interesting activity. On the shore just up from the river were lined up a string of ox carts, and we rode in pairs on small carts pulled by a pair of oxen. The carts were just flat-bottomed carts, no benches, this mode of transportation was a first for us. This slow ride through the town gives you a great chance to see the town with time to really observe life in a Cambodian town as well as the Sap River which runs along the road just to your right. We stopped at a farmer’s home and met his wife. She talked about their lives and showed us their home. This charming woman and the stories of her life were another highlight of the trip. You will be glad you came to Cambodia just for this experience. We rode a bus back to the ship for lunch and then cruised down the Sap to Phnom Penh. This leisurely day was incredibly fun.

I love seeing the countryside go by as I cruise these rivers in faraway exotic locales. The bar is open if you enjoy adult beverages (softer drinks are also available), so you can really soak up the scenery.

Any visit to Cambodia should include the opportunity visit to the Killing Fields. In the 70’s, Cambodia had a revolution, and the country was run from 1975 to 1979 by the Khmer Rouge. This was an extreme communist regime led by a man named Pol Pot, among others. The regime attempted to forge a nation of peasants living in villages as farmers, and they tried to empty the cities into the countryside and murdered all who opposed these forced moves. Many of the people that agreed to move were taken to the countryside and murdered in what became known as Killing Fields. Approximately 25% of the population of Cambodia was killed by the regime. Some of the Killing Fields, as well as the primary prison in Phnom Penn, have been preserved as reminders of the brutality of this regime, and the cruise ship offers a tour to visit these sites. This was not a comfortable excursion for my soul. I did not take any pictures of these sites as that felt disrespectful to the victims.

The first stop is a visit to the prison and then a ride out to a killing field. The tour involves a walking tour of the killing field, and many disturbing sites greet you. The site and tour are important but not comfortable mentally. I am glad I saw them and will remember this day. I encourage you to see these sites, but not everyone on the ship went, so if you do not want to visit the Killing Fields, you don’t have to do so.

The next morning, we boarded a cyclo, which is a three-wheeled bicycle taxi for a short ride to the national museum and royal palace. The national museum has artifacts from the history of Cambodia, and the royal palace has the famous Silver Pagoda. The museum is a two-hour stop, so you have time to wander the galleries and see Cambodia’s history through the collection of artifacts housed here. The royal palace and the silver pagoda are beautiful sites that are a must visit. The cyclo ride was fun. (Remember to tip your driver.)

The evenings on the ship brought on locals to entertain. One evening we were entertained by children and teens doing Cambodian cultural dances. We even got to participate.

Visiting Cambodia is different than visiting other tourist destinations. Cambodia is a poor country and lacks many of the spectacular sights you will find in other tourist destinations. The pyramids of Egypt, the sights of Paris, or the incredible animal life in South Africa are awe-inspiring; however, the people of Cambodia are a treasure. They are welcoming and open to sharing their lives with visitors and they charmed us on this river cruise. Go to Cambodia for the people, this trip will be a highlight for you as you explore the globe with Condor Tours & Travel.

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