My wife and I just returned from our Feb/Mar AMA Lotus cruise, south to north, a few weeks ago. My wife and I were very happy with this cruise. The “Con” remarks below are meant as constructive and hopefully would not lead anyone to think that they should not take this trip.
This trip is a little different from AMA Waterways North to South tours. The main thing is that on the North to South version, you spend a night in Hanoi and the next day you are bused to Ha Long Bay for an overnight on a Junk. The next day, you are taken directly to the airport for a flight to Siem Reap. Your port of entry into Cambodia is via the Siem Reap Airport and you can do a Visa-On-Entry. On the South to North version, you cruise up the Mekong Delta and enter Cambodia via one of several river stops. You cannot do a Visa-On-Entry this way and must have a Visa Stamp in your Passport. I actually requested both of the required Visa’s directly from the Vietnam and Cambodia in Washington, D.C. You will save a hundred dollars or more this way and the applications can be found on their websites. It was very easy to do. Be sure to request a Multi-Entry for Vietnam.
I’ve reviewed many restaurants in both Saigon and Hanoi on TripAdvisor (Semi-OldTraveler). There are some great places to eat in both cities. After our tour with AMA Waterways, we stayed on for several days in Hanoi. There we toured with Hanoi Eco Tours. Another very good group. They also can be found on TripAdvisor. A small note, AMA Waterway only gives you about 1 day each in Saigon and Hanoi. This is normal with most companies. It is not enough time to see these cities. So I would recommend that you plan on arriving a few days early and also stay a few days after to really get the most out of this tour.
1. AMA Waterways provided very good transport between airport/hotel and vise verse if you are arriving outside normally scheduled transfer periods, if you book it through them. In both Saigon and Hanoi, the airports are about a 55 – 60 minute drive either way and taxis’ needs to be researched before you get to Vietnam if you are planning on going that route. AMA charged us $60 each way for special transfer which is about what taxis’ will charge, so I’ve been told. Worth the money.
2. Hotel section in Saigon, Siem Reap, and Hanoi are all 4 – 5 Star properties. Siem Reap is to die for and most of our group would have liked to spend the balance of the trip there.
3. AMA Waterways only gives you a couple of hours at each of the temples in Siem Reap. As it turned out, this is more than enough time.
4. Rooms and other facilities on the AMA Lotus were all pretty good (except for the two front cabins which are next to the anchor chain locker.) No major complaints there as they warned us before dropping/raising the anchor.
5. Food in the hotels was what you would expect from these types of properties, i.e. very good. Food on the AMA Lotus was pretty good and you get a good International menu with each meal.
6. The cruise director and all of our guides were very good. On day one, you are broke up into smaller groups to accommodate the smaller buses and you will normally stay with that group throughout the tour. We heard a complaint about only one guide outside of our group.
7. AMA Waterways tries hard to make it easy during the many transfers on/off the boat, hotel check-ins, and border crossings.
1. Being notified of a last minute change to the schedule (arrived with our final package/tickets days before departing) was not necessary as AMA knew about the changes for weeks prior. It could have presented a problem with Visa’s had we not been persistent in determining our Cambodia entry point. See #3. below.
2. The drink policy on-board the boat was not as AMA advertised including our Welcome Letter on the boat. Wine and beer are only free during lunch/dinner in the dining room (not in the lounge) and other liquor (whiskey, vodka, gin, and rum) are free only as long as you drink their local brand and don’t mix any other alcohol with it, i.e. no free martinis. When brought to the Hotel Manger’s attention on the boat he said that the letter was incorrect and would need to be changed. There website posted the same information.
3. There was too much confusion over the point of the Cambodian border crossing on the south to north bound trip prior to getting our Visa. The company that AMA recommended to process the paperwork for us assumed we were going into Cambodia via the Siem Reap Airport which was wrong. I and my TA got two different answers directly from AMA before getting the correct entry point. As a side point, it is very easy to apply for the Visa’s yourself (multi-entrance for Vietnam and single for Cambodia) and you will save a couple hundred in additional processing fees.
4. The Wi-Fi on the boat left much to be desired. There was absolutely nothing on the TV. They did have some old movie DVDs if you wanted them. It would have been nice if they would have maybe had some news feeds. We saw satellite and other TV antenna’s in most places we sailed so it should not have been a problem.
5. At the Wat Hanchey stop, many of us felt that we were scammed by the locals and AMA should have forewarned us. Ladies were selling packages of 10 children’s books in a clear wrapper for $5.00. If you buy them and distribute to the children standing around, the children take the books back to other women where they are rewrapped and sold again. Even the Buddhist priests were turning them back in for resale.
6. Final bill on the boat was provided in Vietnam Dong vice US currency. This resulted in another transaction/conversion fee by my credit card company. In all my years of traveling with US based cruise companies, the final bill has always been in US dollars. Two of the hotels, Saigon and Siem Reap quoted the final bill in both currencies and even the Junk in Ha Long Bay billed us in US dollars.
7. The tour director made a pretty big deal out of providing sandwiches for us at the Siem Reap Airport prior to our flight. They were horrible and we got a small meal on the airplane which would have been adequate.
8. On the flight between Siem Reap and Hanoi, some couples could not sit together (think rows different). There really didn’t appear to be any excuse for this as AMA knows far enough in advance of the flight to book your seats together.
9. This last one and I’m not sure it is AMA’s fault but ultimately, they are in charge. All one morning our guide had bad audio equipment to contend with. I belief that all of the land portions of the tour is subcontracted by AMA and the subcontractor provides the equipment. It was only the one morning and the guide was on the phone constantly trying to get better equipment (it was her transmitting unit). After 3 replacements, she finally was given a working unit after lunch.