La Marguerite Cruise Review by Mike Cox: Mekong delight
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We found it difficult to locate any reviews of La Marguerite cruises prior to our cruise, so hope this will help future travellers. This was our first river cruise and was mid-November from Siem Reap to Saigon.
Although you can book travel to/from embarkation/disembarkation and can also book add-on packages, we chose to make our own travel arrangements. We flew to Siem Reap from Bangkok, easily obtained visas at the entry airport and stayed 3 nights in Siem Reap visiting many temples and seeing the local sights - this is not to be missed. Most cruisers had already done associated tours of varying lengths and stayed at Le Meridien in Siem Reap but we stayed at a really good small hotel called Pavillon d'Orient where the local staff were really friendly and helpful.
There was some confusion for us about exactly where we would embark and neither AMA Waterways nor Fred Olsen Travel (the UK Agents) distinguished themselves in this regard. Apparently, just after the rainy More season and for a couple of months thereafter, embarkation takes place on the Tonle Sap Lake about 20 mins drive from Le Meridien. At other times there is not enough water in the lake and you have to be bussed to a more distant embarkation point downstream which can be up to 5 hours away. We received several letters from AMA/FOT advising us of a change of departure point and time but never one with the actual ones. It was left to us to discover this in Siem Reap!
We were located on Tonle deck and there seems little difference between this and the one above (Saigon) apart from price. Both were identically sized and have a large picture window and a smallish balcony which houses the next cabin's a/c so is not very suitable for standing on - not enough room to sit! Our cabin was surprisingly spacious, particularly the bathroom (larger than Princess for example) although storage space was a little limited. It was a little on the dark side due to the wood inlay but was tastefully decorated. The rooms were quiet with little noise from the corridor - the doors were quite thick. Beds were comfortable if a little on the firm side. Double or twin could be requested prior to the cruise although our request was not fulfilled. However, it was soon altered once on board. Towels were changed rather unnecessarily frequently even if you hung them up.
Our fellow passengers were mainly from N America, Australia, Switzerland, France and the UK. The ship can take ca. 90 passengers but on this occasion there were about 80. There are about 25 sunbeds and 20 assorted chairs on the sundeck which surprisingly seemed to be adequate.
The service on board was excellent. The restaurant staff were very attentive and helpful. The dining room did tend to be somewhat noisy, depending on where you were seated (free seating arrangement) and the a/c could be quite a cool breeze. The food was first class with plenty of choice (International and local cuisine). There was a good supply of free beer and soft drinks, although spirits were limited to local rum and brandy. Other brands could be purchased. House wine was provided at meal times although the quality seemed to be a bit variable (one night the red was almost undrinkable). Wine could also be purchased by the glass or bottle (20USD upwards). Bottled water in a handy carrier was provided on all excursions. A nice feature was the provision of an International newspaper several times during the week. Wi-Fi was free in the library and there were 2 PCs for general use, although one or two individuals did tend to over-use them. There was no booking system. Connection speed was variable depending on the position of the ship but remember you are in the middle of the country most of the time. There was a very small exercise room which seemed little used on this cruise.
The Cruise Director made a presentation about the next day's programme each evening and often sang (badly) to round things off. He was a much better (Vietnamese) guide than a cruise director. The guides were very knowledgeable and made all the shore excursions very interesting. All excursions were voluntary. However, the Itinerary was a good mix of visiting small towns, floating villages, markets, craft workshops, local industry and temples. There were also a couple of interesting talks about the history of Cambodia and Vietnam. Whilst we realised the extreme significance of the Killing Fields and associated history, it was a bit laboured at times.
You do need visas for both Cambodia and Vietnam - an important point not communicated to us by AMA till it was almost too late. As mentioned previously you can easily obtain one for Cambodia at the airport - much cheaper than using an agent prior to the cruise. Vietnamese visas need to be obtained at the relevant embassy prior to leaving home. Be careful to check that the arrival date on the visa is correct. We didn't and ours had the departure date instead and we had to pay 30USD each to have this amended on board at the border. Apparently this is not an uncommon experience!
The disembarkation was smooth in spite of the fact that people had flights or onward travel at different times. Disembarkation takes place at My Tho port from where it is about a 1 hour 45 mins coach trip to the centre of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon is the name of the city centre).
All in all this cruise was well organised and the itinerary should provide something for everyone. Despite some of the frustrations experienced we would thoroughly recommend it. Less
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