How to Take a Grand Tour of Southeast Asia—by Boat

For the ultimate grand tour of Southeast Asia, sail down this iconic waterway on one of a growing number of boutique river cruises.

How to Take a Grand Tour of Southeast Asia—by Boat

The AmaDara, AmaWaterways’ second Mekong River-based ship, is the newest of the vessels making the journey down the delta, with 62 balconied staterooms and suites, and two restaurants (rare on smaller ships). My 16-day adventure began with a land-based tour of Hanoi, then we flew to the ship’s launch point in Siem Reap. From there, we set sail on a seven-day trip that traversed two countries, ending in Ho Chi Minh City. The small boat allowed us to access remote rural villages but also to tap into the big, exciting cities that, if you come so far, you don’t want to miss. I’ve spent years traveling throughout Southeast Asia, but I’ve never experienced it quite like this. From $4,498.


Cambodia: From Siem Reap to Phnom Penh

Some guests arrived early to explore the ancient city’s ruins (such as Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm) and artisan crafts before boarding the AmaDara. As the ship made its way down the delta to Phnom Penh, we stopped to watch metalsmiths make bronze bowls in sleepy Koh Chen, which offers a window into traditional crafts that were almost lost during the violent Khmer Rouge regime. The vibe changed completely when we landed the next day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s rapidly developing capital. While a trip to the Killing Fields was a sobering reminder of the country’s darkest chapter, it was refreshing to see busy streets and galleries showing work by young artists—proof that Cambodia is looking to the future.


Vietnam: From Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City

We spent a day on the river when we crossed the border to Vietnam—enough time for me to squeeze in an onboard massage and a Vietnamese cooking class. A bowl of pho noodles the next morning fortified me for an excursion to the agricultural village known as Evergreen Island, where we toured a local home and saw dragon fruit. We spent the afternoon in Cai Be Floating Market, where deals are made between boats for everything from coconuts to pigs. That night we headed downriver to Ho Chi Minh City, the region’s fastest growing urban hub. I stayed a couple of extra days for a historical walking tour with Trails & Tales and a flight of local craft beers at Pasteur Street Brewing Company.

Jennifer Flowers is an award-winning journalist and the senior deputy editor of AFAR.
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