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142 Asia River Cruise Reviews

The ship name is Viking Orient and leased from Pandaw, but not on the list so I've put the name of the ship as the closest to "Orient". The cruise started in Mandalay, and not Yangon, but there is no such option for the port ... Read More
The ship name is Viking Orient and leased from Pandaw, but not on the list so I've put the name of the ship as the closest to "Orient". The cruise started in Mandalay, and not Yangon, but there is no such option for the port of embarkation so I choose the closest available option- Yangon. Please keep in mind that the opinion expressed here is my personal and could be very different from your personal experience. I'll tell it chronologically with some practical advises as it goes. Flight: we flew from NY to Taipei and from there to Bangkok one day prier to "official" day of arrival- to get used to 12h time difference and to see more. We've used pills "No jet lag" which, probably, helped, because we've arrived to Bangkok at noon in, I'd say, pretty normal condition. We did not purchase transfer from Viking, so we got a taxi to hotel on our own. Here is how to do it: When you leave Custom area, don't go out, but to the right on the escalator, down, and only now leave the terminal (the door will be on your left- 90 degrees to the escalator) and on your right (45 degrees) you'll see few counters with girls. You're getting to any of them, specify what hotel you want to go (the taxi driver usually stands behind her and listen to it). she gives you piece of paper with your destination and info about driver/taxi- (in case you forget something behind or would like to complain), driver takes your suitcases and lead you to his car. The moment he is in it and if he did not turn on the meter, say to him (and this is going for all your future taxi usage in Bangkok) "meter, please!" He will turn it on and it will show 35B. He will ask you "highway"? Tell him "yes" and be prepared to give him 25B on first and 50B on the second stop at the toll booth. At the end of trip (between 35min to 1h, depending on traffic and hotel. Millenium takes longer, Shangri-La is shorter) you need to pay him whatever on the meter 250-300B plus 50B for the girl's booking at the airport. Tip is not expected, but common to round up to the next 10 B. So, 5B-15B tip will do. In general try to use skytrain or Chaya river boats and not taxis, because the traffic in Bangkok is really bad (see about it further) and while taxi is not expensive (most rides in the center should cost between 60B-90B, but you can spend much more time in taxi then exploring.... Before leaving the airport you'll see a lot of currency exchange booths- all of them have the same exchange rate (it was 30.78 on 11/1), so change SOME money, because in the city you'll get better rate. (For example in hotel it was 31.29 and near Wat Triamit 32.2). We've expected to be in Millenium so I've booked it for additional night in advance and on non-refundable basis ($160 including breakfast), so when Viking informed us that Shangri-La will be our hotel, we did not have much choice, but stayed 1 night at Millenium and then 2 nights in Shangri-La. To compare: both hotels are VERY nice, swimming pool & breakfast is better at Millenium, but Shangri-La location is better. There is Wi-Fi in both hotels, but in Millenium it works only in common area. BTW, the time difference with Bangkok - 12h (compare to NY) Day 0. We arrived at hotel, went for short swim and went for two major attractions - Wat Arun & Wat Pho. Wat Arun is much smaller, you can climb to the top (recommended) and then took boat across the river (3B cost, the pier located to the left of Wat Arun) and went to Wat Pho,- it is about 150 feets from the pier- on your left will be the walls of Royal Palace and after 150 feets on your right the entrance to Wat Pho. It is extremely large and beautiful place. Prepare to take your shoes off periodically. It is getting dark around 6pm so about when we were heading back to hotel it was dark. We went to the same pier, caught a boat to "Safam Tsakin"- central pier, about 5 stops. You buy ticket on board, 15 B. Millenium ran free shuttle service from the central pier to the hotel, so when get out at the pier, turn right go the pier on the right, ask, policeman there "Millenium"? and he will tell you when the right boat comes. We did not go for Dinner to Millenium- the prices there....main entry $80-$100 plus service and tax, so we went to the left of hotel by the river and in about 150 feet got to local restaurant where prices were "Thai prices" - main dishes 90B-200B and food was ok. Day 1 (official arrival day) Next morning after having breakfast- very large selection, including a lot of "Chinese breakfast dishes" we took another shuttle from hotel (to the left of complimentary shuttle boat) across the river to "River City" shopping complex (do not bother if you're after shopping- see later; the complex mostly empty) 3.5B cost of the transfer. We were on our way to self-guided walking tour of China town. The first stop was Wat Triamit (golden budda), but it was about 15-20 min walking from the pier thru typical China town When we looked unsure where to turn one of the locals asked (with his hands) what are we looking for and showed us where to go. (In general people in Bangkok where extremely nice and pleasant in communication). wat Triamit was ok. (I'm not going to describe the tour- if interested you can download a lot of different versions of it). Then we've passed a lot of gold selling stores, China town market with plenty of kick-off bags- my wife got 3 for about 400B each- after negotiations, took a river boat to hotel and took a taxi to Shangri La. The official "cruise" has began! At Shangri-La we met Viking representatives Tum & Tango and got keys to our room. We wanted to see traditional Thai dance show so they've recommended one at the nearest hotel (Oriental), but since it was on the short notice, we're informed that the sits will be too far from the show, so we opted for another place $65/p including dinner. We'd be picked up from hotel and dropped off. That place we were told an hour from the hotel. Well, this day we got first hand knowledge of Bangkok trafic: it tooks us 2.5 hour to get there and 20 min to get back! The dinner was nothing to write home about and the show was very interesting and nice! Pick up time was 5.30pm and we've back about 10:30pm. Day 2 At 9am we've first briefing with Viking reps (Tum & Tango), were divided in two buses (total 50 people)- and this division will hold for the whole trip, got "quiet boxes" with spare batteries (keep them, you almost for sure will need them later) and informed about day schedule (10am-12:30am visit to Grand Palace by boat, 6:30pm leaving for the Thai restaurant dinner) and collected $10/p for tips to everyone in Bangkok besides them-selves (this amount seems reasonable, even though it is not acceptable practice in Thailand to tip...). There is no canals included in the tour, even though it was supposed to be included according to Viking brochure. Piece of advise: if for some unlucky reason you're in Tango's group, insist on going with Tum. In my view Tango's English is absolutely is incomprehensible and while he is very nice guy this does not compensate for the fact that you'll be not able to understand his explanations in Royal Palace and/or on the way there. IMHO, he should not have been employed at all. In the afternoon we went for Thai massage (300 B for 1h.) I recommend it- you'll be streched, pushed, pulled, but eventually will feel better. If not go for foot massage - the same cost. And we went for shopping in MBK. This is very interesting place (including food court on 5 fl) and if you've some time to spare, go for it! It is 5 stops by skytrain ("National Stadium" stop), 37 b each way. Dinner was fine,- community style service, most of the dishes too spicy for my taste, but manageable. And it will be your first chance to sit with your companions - stupid and poor people don't go to such cruises so, I think you will (mostly) enjoy it! (in our group the oldest lady was 90y old, the second 86 y.o and my wife - 52 y.o was the youngest one). Day 3. In the morning we got transfered to airport for our flight to Mandalay. It was well organized process, no complains. The fly leaves around 12:30pm, lasts 1:30 h, they feed you lunch (extremely spicy so you better off to make some sandwiches in the hotel). When we arrived, we where met by Andrew & Nan Da- our PD's (program directors). They're going to be with you for the duration of the cruise until you leave from Yangon back to Bangkok. It is not sure that you'll get the same guys- there are 4 PD's for each ship, so which 2 you'll get is unknown. In any case, Andrew's English was easier to understand than Nan Da's, but Nan Da was more open about things and it is hard to say who was better. You can exchange money at the airport, but if you ask PD to do it tomorrow in the city you'll get 3% more for your money. I suggest to exchange only $100 per couple (they suggest twice that much),- a lot of places accept $$$, but some not. In any case you can exchange back or leave it as a tip at the end of the cruise. since it was already too late to go to monastery as planned (it closes at 4pm) we went directly to the ship and all planned things were moved to the next day. the trip to ship takes 45 min. On the bus, PDs will suggest to give $50 each toward tips for everybody not from the ship. At the end of the cruise you'll get the breakdown how that money was spent. We all (besides one couple) agreed and from looking on the breakdown of expenses I strongly recommend to give them only $30 p/p- it seems sufficient enough,- the tip IMHO, was not only exessive in some cases, but also given to some people that simply should not have got it at all. The ship (Viking Orient). Huge disappointment. Not even close to European river ships. The room is too small (about 140 sf), the storage space is very limited, the only "window" is the door that you came thru, but if you keep it open, then, everyone who passes will see inside your cabin. There is no A/C common space and sun deck is too hot during the day. There is also extremely bad acustics in dining room and you need to raise your voice in order to be heard. Put A/C on the "wave" you'll get better cooling. There is no Wi-Fi on board, but 2 computers with slow internet available, most of the time. Nothing blocked. Regarding clothing: don't worry about what to wear to monasteries or pagodas- every day it will be announced what is appropriate and worse case scenario you'll be given something to cover yourself. I suggest to pack light, the dress code is super-casual, no formal nights and no ties, suits, evening dresses- this is not like in Europe. Wear flip-flops, if you can. The schedule looks like that: 7-9am breakfast (very limited choice. You won't go hungry, but this is not Shangri-La) with tea or coffee; 9am -11:30am sightseeeing 12am- lunch. (Very good salads, poor main dish). 3:30pm- second sightseeing. 6pm- coctail hour; 6:45pm briefing for the next day. 7pm dinner. 8:30pm some kind of entertainment- movies ("The Lady"- highly recommend, and "The life of Budda"- put me to sleep), local productions- worth to try and once trivia game. At 10pm the computer is all yours- everybody is sleeping. There is no tea/coffee served during the lunch or dinner- there is machine at the bar where you can get very bad cappuchino or so-so coffee and normal tea. The drinks are included, besides imported hard alcohol (so local Wisky or Rum and local wines and coctails as much as you can). I'm not much drinker so have no clue about quality of any drinks, including beer. The desserts are mostly nothing to write home. BTW, Viking use to issue every traveler name tag (very convinient), but for some reason stop doing it few weeks ago. When you leave the ship for the daily excursions you'll get battle of water; when you come back you surrender your foot wear for the cleaning (do it) and get it in 1/2 h. Regarding sickness: I'm 100% sure that nobody ate anything from outside the ship and still every time someone was sick for 1-2 days. I think the reason for it the spices and the combination of unfamiliar food with drinks. At some point about 9 people were sick and did not show for excursion. Don't use Imodium, but rather Pipto-Bismol. Back to the day 3. At 6:15pm we got briefing with Hotel Manager- Dominiqe from Switzerland. Very nice and open guy. What is important, is that he said that in the area we pass there was no malaria case in the last 5-7 years so you don't have to take any profilatics. Day 4. The full day of Mandalay, including lunch in local (Chinese) restaurant. Very nice. Here you'll get your first real taste of Myanmar,- the city of 3m, looks like oversized village and simply different from Europe or USA. I'm not going to describe what we've seen (mostly), because you'll see it yourself, but rather just prepare you for any logistics or surprises. Day 5. Ava . Here you're going for the first time encounter local vendors,- mostly girls 7-17y old. They will try to sell you some costume jewelry (negotiate) and try to make you feel gilty ("what is your name? will you think about buying? (we're going thru them again) do you remember me? You make me unhappy if you don't buy" etc). My advise: if you like something- negotiate and buy, it is not expensive. If not, then tell them that their happiness is not your concern. The horse ride was unplesant. Amarapura. The visit to monastery is really waste of time; the gandolla ride on the lake is much more interesting. Unfortunatelly because of the time spent in monastery we don't get the chance to walk on the teak bridge. The entertainment: classical Burmese Ballet. highly recommend. Day 6. Your real encounter with village in Burma. Well, if you're after church-castle-palace-square, you'd be better off in Europe. Here it is totally different.... Evening entertainment: lecture about Bagan. While the subject is really interesting the lecturer was falling asleep and was done in 12 min on the subject that could be told hours. Very disappointing. From my later discussion with Dominiq it seems that there is a problem to find English speaking lecturers. Day 7. Bagan. Extremely interesting area, magnificient views. A lot of vendors. Some women bought "elephan pants" $4-$5, T-shirts and other touristic souvenirs. Vendors- see day 5. We dock near reasort where you can get Wi-Fi. Some people went to their coffee shop in the afternoon, but we choose their pool (they did not charge us, but I've heard about $10 fees). Very nice! Entertainment: Puppet show. Could not stand it more than 15 min. Very repetative. Day 8. Another village. Afternoon in Sale with monastery. Day 9. Another village. Afternoon in Magway, by trishaw to Pagoda with very nice view. This was very interesting- the city is not spoiled with tourist attention so we got to feel like on parade. Day 10. Monk blessing on the ship. Works for 26 days. Visit to local market. My wife got "Tanaka" 70c a jar plus some remedy against headachack- another 65c. I bought some bag for my camcorder- $3. In the afternoon we went to Minhla port- total waste of time and another small town. Day 11. Visit to local school where they made serious reception for us with dances, meals etc. (The tip money that left over get contributed to this school) Day 12. We get to Pyay and this is the last stop. For some reasons instead of going by ship to Yangon (160miles), they choose to get there by bus - 7 hours of not pleasant ride. We visited Shwe San daw Pagoda- very interesting and archeological museum- really nothing. Afternoon on your own. But it is so hot that no desire to go and explore more of that town. Disembarkation briefing. Tips: Viking recommend about $200 to crew (per couple) and the same to PD. In my view it is really exesessive,- I think 1/3 to 1/2 of it will do. To crew you can put it on credit card, but to PD only in cash. could be given later in Yangon. Dominiq also collected from everyone e-mail addresses and distributed list with it. Day 13. After breakfast we hit the road to Yangon and by 3pm we're there. Yangon, is the first normal town you'll see. A lot of traffic, normal streets & shops, even supermarket, squares with fonutain. Nice. We went for a swim & then to downtown- very close. The dinner in hotel is included, a lot of selection, but nothing to eat.... Day 14. The climax of the trip Shewdagon pagoda. Unforgettable! It is good thing that we started from Mandalay, because have we started from Yangon everything after that would be really downhill. At the top we got calendar for 2015 (50 cents) with the pictures of Pagoda. Extremely beautiful (both)! In the afternoon we went to supermarket to get idea about local production. Rum- 80 cents bottle. the other imported things are on par with US. Farewell dinner at hotel. Day 15. Moving back to Bangkok. 1 hour flight. The time difference with Birma 1/2h (compared to Bangkok). The same Tango met us, transfer to hotel, return your head pieces and we done. Day 16. Flying home! All in all was very interesting trip. Read Less
Sail Date November 2014
This was our first venture into China, so we booked all air and transfers through Viking. They flew us to Beijing a day early which was appreciated. We flew Air China which offered nothing out of the ordinary regarding space or food. It ... Read More
This was our first venture into China, so we booked all air and transfers through Viking. They flew us to Beijing a day early which was appreciated. We flew Air China which offered nothing out of the ordinary regarding space or food. It got us where we needed to be both directions. We were met by a Viking representative who took us to the beautiful Kerry Hotel. The bathroom here was the talk of the tour. It has the most high teck toilet I've ever used. It also offers a bountiful breakfast buffet, and a very nice evening buffet as well. We are very glad we did this trip in November. The temperatures were moderate to cool. Because of the APEC conference, factories in the Beijing area were closed for the week or so before hand and only half the cars (either odd or even license plates depending on the date of the day) were permitted to drive so air quality was better. We heard tales of very hot summer weather. Advice offered in other reviews led us to book starting in Beijing. This is indeed a very active tour, and since it begins with walking Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall the first two days very glad we packed our insoles. Because we arrived a bonus day early, we took the subway to the Summer Palace. Young people speak good enough English and were very helpful in finding stations and giving directions when we needed them. There is an optional tour to this Palace, but it is easily done on your own for less than $2, and you have the adventure to talk about. Day 5 included Xian and its Terra Cotta Warriors. Enough time there to get a good look and lots of photos. We didn't attend the optional Tang Dynasty show, but those who did were positively impressed. The following day we flew to Chongqing to board the Emerald which is leased from the Chinese. The staff is all Chinese and works very hard to insure a pleasant journey. The first few nights there were problems with temperature controls. Dining room very warm, cabins usually too warm, sometimes too cold. Food on the ship was plentiful and good. Food on tour was adequate. Meals on tour are usually served one course at a time. ie, the beans are put on a lazy susan. All people at the table help themselves. Pity the last person to be served, cause there isn't always enough. Then come the next 9 items, one at a time ending with soup or a slice of watermelon. So you may taste a bite of 10 dishes, and one of these is always tofu, and smalls bits of fish, pork or beef. One day we experienced hot pot. There are other comprehensive reviews and the Viking itinerary offers more touring details, so I'll let you know that the guides are wonderful. Their English is excellent, they are well versed in culture, history and current events. They find good restrooms on tour...sometimes there are lines because of limited western toilets for the ladies. They are able to answer questions forthrightly and give insight into the thoughts of young people. There is, it seems to me an excessive amount of residential building going on in most cities in China. "Ghost towns" seem to be everywhere. There is almost too much time for shopping, but some loved that aspect too. The multi talented crew presented two evening shows. One featured beautiful costumes and dances of various ethnic groups in China. The other was a very well done variety show. The fellow who poured our wine was a pretty good magician.! The cruise director gave interesting lectures on history and culture. We also enjoyed presentations on noodle making and Chinese art. There is no wifi on board! There are 8 computer stations on deck 6, and a terminal was usually available, though connections were very slow. Disembarkation and transfers to Shanghai were handled efficiently. We learned so much, saw and experienced more than we'd expected. Although there were a few people who had difficulty walking, I'd recommend this trip well before you need a knee replacement, or after you've healed because it is a very active trip and mobility issues will interfere with seeing many sites.   Read Less
Sail Date November 2014
Pictures, films, books, and magazines fall short of capturing China in it's beauty, frenzy, contradictions, and growth to modernization. The Viking cruise did a fantastic job in showing as much as possible in a short period of time. ... Read More
Pictures, films, books, and magazines fall short of capturing China in it's beauty, frenzy, contradictions, and growth to modernization. The Viking cruise did a fantastic job in showing as much as possible in a short period of time. Everything was well planned, well timed, and executed. The tour escort Jenna was exceptional. The ship was very comfortable with good food, cabins, lectures, activities, and staff. The pace was good for older travelers wherein we saw a lot but were not hurried from place to place. We had time to rest with some leisure time on board. We took the extension to Guilin and Hong Kong which was well worth it. All the hotels were 5 star by western standards. The buses were comfortable and modern. We could not have covered as much ground on our own in such a huge country especially not knowing the language. Vikings airport service was efficient and much appreciated. They handled all our ticketing and bags from the moment we booked, arrived in Shanghai until we left the country with no slip ups. This is a first class operation. Read Less
Sail Date October 2014
We are not easily impressed having been disappointed on many occasions, but this is one time where the trip actually lived up to its hype. While travel in China is not without its drawbacks, we felt that Viking did an excellent job of ... Read More
We are not easily impressed having been disappointed on many occasions, but this is one time where the trip actually lived up to its hype. While travel in China is not without its drawbacks, we felt that Viking did an excellent job of delivering the highlights of China within a reasonable time frame and at a reasonable cost. We like the corporate culture, and were amazed by our tour guide, Bonnie, and the staff onboard the Viking Emerald. I felt that the people Viking employed were very concerned about the welfare and comfort of the participants and very determined to give us personal insights that you would not have gotten had you tried to attempt a trip of this complexity on your own. We had no problem with food safety and were given unlimited bottled water everywhere we went. We only spent 5 days of the cruise tour on the ship, but we found it to be a pleasant experience. There was a pride in doing a superior job that we have not seen in a very long time. I think the Viking corporate culture breeds this type of employee and they should be commended for their excellence. Read Less
Sail Date October 2014
Roof of the World was a trip of a lifetime! My husband and I thoroughly recommend it for both the cultural and historical aspects. We chose this excursion because it included visiting different areas of China and Llhasa, Tibet. Our group ... Read More
Roof of the World was a trip of a lifetime! My husband and I thoroughly recommend it for both the cultural and historical aspects. We chose this excursion because it included visiting different areas of China and Llhasa, Tibet. Our group of 38 people were housed and traveled separately from other Viking groups (except on the river cruise) because we were the only group going to Tibet. Viking assigns a guide who remains with you throughout this trip. Our guide, Francis, is a Bejing native, and was by far the best guide we've ever had in our many travel experiences. He has 10+ years of travel industry experience and is able to share his personal experiences of the past 30-years of change within his country. Our time aboard the Emerald on the Yangtze River was marvelous. Cruising on this river we could enjoy a variety of local and business traffic, the farmers and fishers in their daily activities, the amazing Three Gorges and the minor gorges, Three Gorges Dam, and large and small cities along the route. Our cabin was compact but thoroughly comfortable. Closet space was a premium, but suitcases fit under the bed so you can store unnecessary clothing. (Note: this cruise is a relaxed environment/dressy casual atmosphere, so formal clothing is not needed here nor on land. Comfort is key!) The Emerald staff are helpful, friendly, and courteous. If they can't understand your question, they find someone who will help you. Of particular note are Lois (lounge), Paul (activities), and the head of the dining room (sorry, but I forgot his name!). With my food allergy, everyone was able to help me avoid problems. We were amazed at how rapidly staff remembered our names and room numbers! If you like to visit the lounge and like wine, we encourage you to sign up for the Premium package! Ordering from the menu or visiting the daily buffet gives a variety of food options. The port and shore excursions included local guides with detailed knowledge of history, traditions, and daily activities. We enjoyed walking through towns, museums, and temples to see and hear the local activities. The Vox speaker system is a perfect in these situations! The visit to a local Tibetan home was an excellent experience. The Viking School children visiting us onboard was wonderful. We were extremely lucky with beautifully clear weather on most days of our trip. The Great Wall was spectacular with fall foliage and blue skies. We know this isn't always the case, and breathing can be difficult for those with asthma or related health issues. Tibet's elevation makes moving and breathing difficult, but the people, places, and food makes it very worth drinking lots of water, resting, avoiding alcohol, and, if necessary, using oxygen. Embarkation, disembarkation, airport check-in, and baggage handling are very efficient. We enjoyed having someone else handling all this for us. A carryon bag and small "daypack" are essential in addition your checked bag. Be prepared for staying in luxury hotels, eating a variety of foods, and non-western toilets. Take this trip and be adaptable. Viking's trip to China and Tibet is excellent! Read Less
Sail Date October 2014
This was our first experience with Viking and although the cruise part of the tour and pre cruise trip was only 5 days, the entire trip was 15 days for us. There were lots of logistics for them to handle and we felt they did an excellent ... Read More
This was our first experience with Viking and although the cruise part of the tour and pre cruise trip was only 5 days, the entire trip was 15 days for us. There were lots of logistics for them to handle and we felt they did an excellent job. In fact we have signed up for a 30+ day Baltic/ Norwegian/Iceland extravaganza on their new ocean ships for 2016. We feared that 5 star in China might not mean 5 star, but really I think it is pretty accurate, but this is not a cruise for the person looking to go to the spa, dress up, drink exotic cocktails, see glitzy shows, dance and gamble the night away. This is for the hard core travel addict who is there to see the country, expand their horizons and come home with a new appreciation for a different culture, but wants comfort and safety. The tour guides and staff took their jobs very seriously and gave us wonderful personal insights into their country. We have cruised on many different cruise lines, but Viking seems to have matched our interests better than the others. Read Less
Sail Date October 2014
I just returned from this trip and it far exceeded my expectations. (I traveled the direction: Beijing to Shanghai.) First I can tell you that I heard nothing but good reviews from my fellow passengers about their own Tour Guide, but I ... Read More
I just returned from this trip and it far exceeded my expectations. (I traveled the direction: Beijing to Shanghai.) First I can tell you that I heard nothing but good reviews from my fellow passengers about their own Tour Guide, but I still think ours was the best: Terry! From start to finish everything was first class. The land portion has passengers staying in 5+ star hotels. Enough cannot be written about how outstanding the hotels were - one simply must experience them. Taking this tour, one sees all the highlights of China, and if there is something in particular you wish to see that is not on the itinerary, the staff is more than helpful in assisting you to put something together so that you can see what you wish. Do come prepared to be in, and experience, a non-Western country. Some individuals on my tours were disappointed they ate so much Chinese food! Others became impatient because a Chinese national could not understand English. Since we were in China this surprised me; I simply thought we all came expecting a country, food, culture and language very different from our own. As with touring anywhere outside of one's home country digestive tracts can become upset trying to adjust, so do come with over-the-counter preparations to help you with such symptoms. I had no issues at all, but about 10% of our group had mild to moderate digestive problems for a short duration. The Summer months can be hot and humid. I understand that Spring and Fall are perhaps ideal times to visit. My trip was at the tail end of Summer and so the climate was still fairly warm and muggy. Light-weight travel clothes that launder well by hand are ideal. On-board I would recommend asking for a dehumidifier for one's room as soon as you board. It will still feel a bit damp in the room, but the dehumidifier does make a pleasant difference. My recommendation is to make this tour starting with Beijing if possible. The Beijing portion is the most physically taxing - long day and significant walking at Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Summer Palace and the second day at the Great Wall. It makes the relaxation when you get to the boat even more enjoyable. I do wish there had been one more day in Shanghai and others seemed to agree with this, so if your plans allow, add time in Shanghai. In all ways I recommend this tour. Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
Before booking this kind of holiday please make sure it is for you. If it is what you want it is great, if not you could very well be disappointed. My husband and I cruised on La Marguerite 9-16 September 2014. Our first disappointment was ... Read More
Before booking this kind of holiday please make sure it is for you. If it is what you want it is great, if not you could very well be disappointed. My husband and I cruised on La Marguerite 9-16 September 2014. Our first disappointment was that we in our mid 50s were the youngest on board. On booking we had asked about ages and told it was mixed, but most were 70+. The ship is very nice, but not a lot of space to move about. Food was excellent but the lack of activity made it hard to enjoy it, as I never felt that hungry. All the staff were sweet and attentive - faultless in every way, and the boat was immaculately clean. The Vietnamese cruise director was incredible - Son - he could sell you anything - each day raising our hopes about the 'beautiful' things we were going to see, and though on each trip we were disappointed, we still believed him again next time. Without his lead there may well have been dissatisfied voices, but no-one wanted to upset him I think! the local guides who travelled with us had excellent English and tried hard, but they had little to show us. The real problem was the excursions. There really is nothing to see along the way, in Vietnam the river is wide and brown, the shore the same old farming land or village slums and rubbish, and most of the other boats you pass are large dredgers. In Cambodia it is slightly better, no dredgers. I didn't find anything beautiful to look out at. the sky is cloudy all the time, creating oppressive heat, then at some point each day there is a torrential down pour which can last hours. If you are on an excursion at the time, bad luck, put on a mac and get on with it. Mud everywhere! The daily excursions are to villages and to look at the homes of the people - so poor and full of rubbish - schools, markets (with some quite unpleasant sights) and temples, that are neither ancient or attractive. By the end of the week about half of the party had given up getting off the boat! If you want to see the real life of the local people, can face the dirt, smells and rubbish, and like sitting around chatting on the boat with free drinks and good food, and amateur evening entertainment - including poor copies of dvds - then this is for you. If you are expecting luxury, 5*, freedom to walk around on lovely excursions (during the briefing each night Son told us that the excursion would involve about 500 mtrs walking and 10 or so steps to climb - you get the idea - not meant for those with energy or no walking issues) then choose something else. As I said before - if this is what you are looking for you will love it. I felt we had been missold - or maybe I should have done more research before booking rather than relying on the travel agent and glossy brochure. Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
I have recently returned from the Pandaw Cruises trip between Siem Reap in Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam on the RV Mekong Pandaw. It is impossible to highlight one particular service or event as they do it all so brilliantly. ... Read More
I have recently returned from the Pandaw Cruises trip between Siem Reap in Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam on the RV Mekong Pandaw. It is impossible to highlight one particular service or event as they do it all so brilliantly. From the roomy cabin on a limited passenger river boat to the fine dining and casual luxury, it is just magic. All land tours during the cruise are escorted with options for pre and post cruise tour options, leisurely paced and very well presented. Of course, you can just sit back and do nothing if that's what you want. If you're in the mood for a trip on a luxury river boat in SE Asia I highly recommend Pandaw Cruises. Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
I cruised on the Kalaw Pandaw from Sept. 6 to 13, 2014, embarking in Mandalay and debarking in Bagan, Myanmar (Burma). The Kalaw is a beautiful little river steamer built almost entirely out of a dark hardwood that is indigenous to ... Read More
I cruised on the Kalaw Pandaw from Sept. 6 to 13, 2014, embarking in Mandalay and debarking in Bagan, Myanmar (Burma). The Kalaw is a beautiful little river steamer built almost entirely out of a dark hardwood that is indigenous to Myanmar. The boat is in excellent repair, well maintained and clean. Because the boat is small, it does not have the amenities of the large cruise ships, but that does not matter to me. I don’t need a pool, gym, separate cocktail lounge or the other amenities of large ships. All of us could socialize out on the deck whenever we wanted to. Cruises on Pandaw are down to earth, which I liked. The ship’s small size and shallow draft enable the captain to take it right up to the river banks and sail it in parts of the river where larger boats cannot go. This was the inaugural cruise for this itinerary and, I think, this boat. Service was excellent. Crew and staff were friendly and went out of their way to accommodate our wishes. Food was ample and very good. Laundry sent out in the morning was back by evening. All excursions were included in the cruise price. Transfers to and from airports or hotels was included too. Gratuities were included, but most of us gave staff cash tips anyway because the service and overall experience was so good. The itinerary was excellent. We were taken to well known historic sites and temples, as well as remote villages and places that I would have never found on my own. This mix of excursions added very much to the enjoyment of the cruise. Our tour guide was excellent. He spoke English and had extensive knowledge about every place we went. We learned a lot about the history and culture of this enchanting country. Because the boat ties up to river banks, your shoes may get a little muddy or dirty and the same with some of the excursions that we went on. No problem. You take off your shoes when entering the boat. Crew clean them off and deliver your shoes to your room. Sandals should be worn. You have to take off shoes and socks to enter the temples anyway. The Irrawaddy River is huge. It is the main economic artery of Myanmar. We were 600 miles north of Yangon (Rangoon) and the river was larger than the Mississippi R. at New Orleans. The Irrawaddy is famous for its sunsets. The river did not disappoint us on this trip. Many of us would sit out on the deck in the evening to watch the sunset. I intend to sail on Pandaw again and recommend this cruise line to other travelers as well.   Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
This was a first class tour of China. I would rate the 4 hotels we stayed in as 5 star. The Viking Emerald was modern and well maintained. The food on board was excellent. We had one guide who accompanied our group of 30 during the entire ... Read More
This was a first class tour of China. I would rate the 4 hotels we stayed in as 5 star. The Viking Emerald was modern and well maintained. The food on board was excellent. We had one guide who accompanied our group of 30 during the entire trip (she was excellent) and local guides joined us at each new city (they were very good and had expert knowledge of the local area). The entire trip was interesting and Tibet was most unusual and enjoyable. We had a wonderful time. Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
First and foremost, Son, our Tour Director was an amazing and diligent guide that met everyone’s needs. He ensured everyone understood the plan, how to eliminate overhead and bureaucracy and the most time was spent on the attractions and ... Read More
First and foremost, Son, our Tour Director was an amazing and diligent guide that met everyone’s needs. He ensured everyone understood the plan, how to eliminate overhead and bureaucracy and the most time was spent on the attractions and not waiting around. We loved how he handled all the passport, visas and customs processes. He made it so easy for everyone. Not a single complaint. The land portion of the Hanoi tour excellent. Good balance and blend of sites. My only criticism is the tour did not include an option for the women’s museum which is a great museum to understand all the ethnicities in Vietnam, nor did it include a visit to the (Army) War Museum in Hanoi. We went to these on our own. Taxis only cost $2-3 each way, so it was no problem for us to do when we arrived a day early before the tour started. The hotels were clearly 4-5 star choices. Could not have been better choices and the Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi was a clear delight. Definitely sign up as soon as you can for the free bomb shelter tour. You will learn a lot of history in 45 minutes that many never hear or see in Hanoi. As everyone will tell you, bring LOTS of $1 bills for tips. You need at least 50 of them. Plan for it, you will need them for many things, like Tuk Tuks, taxis, drinks, etc. Don’t plan on exchanging money in Vietnam for the small bills…you can, but it is a pain in the butt and may not be possible when you need it. Just bring $100 in lots of small bills. You will be happy. The ATMs in Vietnam are plentiful and spit out local currency…most people don’t need more than $50 in local currency. In Cambodia, most people use US dollars and even the ATMs give out US dollars, no local currency needed. In restaurants, taxis and bars, tipping is not needed or expected. From a weather standpoint, it was HOT and HUMID in August. You will sweat your butt off and be prepared to bring lots of clothes that you can wash in your room every day (like EXOffico, REI and Columbia). Most people can and do wear shorts, but for temples and pagodas, you do need long pants and full shirts that cover your shoulders to get into most of them. Outside of that, most places and most people are very casual. It can also rain/downpour at a moment’s notice, so small mobile umbrellas are handy. The tour group is very good with giving ponchos and umbrellas when people were not prepared. Hanoi, Siem Riep, Phnom Penh, the villages are all safe. No threats whatsoever. Very friendly people and no concerns of theft, pickpockets, etc. A true delight that is not experienced in many countries anymore. Never felt or seen any behavior or activities to concern a tourist. One thing that AMA did very nicely is there for approximately 65 people total in our group. They broke it down into 3 groups every day based on a color naming scheme. In general, most groups at 15-20 people max, and each group got their own bus. They never operated with massive group sizes or crowded busses. You actually felt like a smaller tour. This was well done and a definite plus for this tour company. Cruising with AMAWaterways on the AMALOTUS for a week was a delight. The highlights: The staff do have limited English, but it is adequate and they try very hard meet all passenger needs while being in a third world country. They are customer focused and it shows. But, be aware, they are limited and if you have questions that are more than basic things, they will not understand you or be able to help. It is important that people set different expectations on what is possible and what can be done in a third world country. The rooms are very comfortable and clean. We were a little worried that our first room (303) had very poor air conditioning and was going to be hot, but they moved us to a new room (305) and we had a nice ice cold room the entire cruise. One thing people should be aware of: if some of the better rooms are not occupied, they will not upgrade you to the nicer rooms. If you want a nicer room, they will offer the upgrades for a discount ($500 - $800 for the week), but it won’t happen just because you are a frequent guest of AMA Waterways. The food was great every day. Good choices, many options and generous portions available to everyone. Local and western choices. Great flavors and unbelievable presentation every day. The seating times are somewhat fixed though: lunch is at 12:30 and dinner is at 7:30. There is a little flexibility, but not much. Everywhere you, you will be given lots of bottled water to drink and brush your teeth with. Not even locals drink tap water, so you better not try it yourself. Even if you run out, you can buy a bottle for 50 cents in local currency or even a bottle of beer for less than $1 US dollar. Most people felt the Cambodian Angkor beer was the best choice. Drinks are always available: beer, cocktails, soft drinks, juices, water, etc. Wine is only available at lunch and dinner, but it is poured with ease and you can take a full glass when you leave the table. The house wines were not bad and unless you are a connoisseur, the wines will be just fine. The exercise room has 1 bike, 1 treadmill and 1 elliptical with a few free weights and yoga mats. It is not much, but at least they had something on the small ship. I think it would have been nice to have a few more free weights in the heavier levels. Vising the local villages and schools was a wonderful experience as a westerner. We were able to see, smell, and feel how many people in Vietnam and Cambodia live their daily lives. It is so limited and so different, it is hard to explain until you experience first-hand. You learn and understand so much more with tours like this that are not possible in the standard group tours. The people love to meet and see you and it is a delight to interact with them. When you visit these places, the children love the gifts. In Siem Riep, we purchased some small soccer balls to give to children in the villages. This is something they could never afford, but it gave them a toy that many could enjoy that might not be possible without outside visitors bringing these things to them. It was a great reward to play a game with all the kids without saying a word that neither side could understand. If you have one of the mini-suites you get the great benefit of a bathtub (with jets) which is great when you have to do laundry to clean your daily sweaty clothes in the 100% humidity and 100 degree weather in these countries in the summer months. You also get a dedicated Internet hotspot for your room and do not need to share with the entire passenger list which is VERY nice when you want to stay connected along the way.   Read Less
Sail Date August 2014
The cultural experience in China was excellent. The guides and ship staff were pleasant and hard working. English language skills were very good. The Viking Emerald, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Although the on-line information ... Read More
The cultural experience in China was excellent. The guides and ship staff were pleasant and hard working. English language skills were very good. The Viking Emerald, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Although the on-line information states that the ship was built in 2011, it is obviously a much older ship, possibly refurbished several times. The cabin floors were uneven and the bathrooms were very dated. The ship sported several different names on signs on midship and on the bow, so perhaps it is used by different cruise lines simultaneously. Food in the dining room was all right, as long as there were western-style meals served. If the menu was announced as "traditional Chinese dinner" you could count on really cheap cuts of meat, flavorless noodles and sauces and little variety in vegetables. We found it humorous that the chef's biggest claim to fame was the breakfast yogurt--which was good, but hardly something to write home about. The on-board informational talks were all given by the cruise director. While a nice person, he was hardly an expert in all of the topics that he tried to talk about, so the level of each talk was at about a 6th grade level. He was unable to answer most questions that were put to him. The on-board entertainment consisted entirely of different members of the ship's crew (cabin attendants, diningroom staff, security personnel) who had been dressed in different outfit/costumes and then waltzed around the dance floor swinging their arms. Nice effort, but completely amateur. The land portion of the cruise tour was very good. The hotels were excellent 4-5 star. Air travel within China was what you would expect for a tour group, but our main Viking guide facilitated everything very smoothly. The ports were what we came for, and were not disappointed. A lot of walking was required. We greatly enjoyed the huge number of cultural sights included in the tour, and the local guides provided by Viking were appreciated, although their English skills were not as good as the main guide's. The constant tipping took a little getting used to, but the main Viking guide facilitated the passengers acquisition of smaller local currency to make this process easier. It was a trip we will remember for the rest of our lives.   Read Less
Sail Date August 2014
We went on the 12 day vietnam Cambodia tour including 7 nights river cruising. Started in Saigon at Sheraton, had a wonderful Luke Nguyen inspired degustation at Xu, absolutely faultless! Went to the Tunnels which was an eye opener, ... Read More
We went on the 12 day vietnam Cambodia tour including 7 nights river cruising. Started in Saigon at Sheraton, had a wonderful Luke Nguyen inspired degustation at Xu, absolutely faultless! Went to the Tunnels which was an eye opener, especially when one person at the tunnels told us he had lived in the tunnels for 12 years during the vietnam war...unbeleivable!!!!! Did an amazing cookery class in Saigon. Breakfast at Sheraton was brilliant, our guide in Saigon was great. After 2 days we got on the boat, which was in good condition, aparently only a couple of years old, I believe. The staff on the cruise were very good and tried to learn our names and what we liked to have, they tried hard to please. The food was okay, and the steak was excellent although sometimes a little rare. The salads became a bit boring and the menu was a bit limiting. The wine was often off or undrinkable, however each time we complained of this, which was often, they would replace with a slightly better wine that was not off. This was a bit tiresome and would have preferred that APT supply at least bottled wine of a better quality so often we purchased bottles wine. My husband complained, but it still kept happening. Vietnam and Cambodia was an eye opener, as to the amount of poverty, but the people seemed to be happy and clean. We were shocked by how the war had affected so many and cruising along you get to see the poverty which was very sad. The tour guides and cruise director had great sense of humour and spoke pretty good english. Some of the tours were too drawn out and could have been done in half the time, which often made it boring.i.e. In Siem Reap, we got up at 4.00 am to meet at 4.45 to go to Angkor Wat to take photos, which was a few minutes drive away, after getting tickets and after a short walk in, although the day was cloudy I still managed to get some nice shots. We then stood around doing nothing, and some wandered over to have a coffee or champagne and at 7.00 oclock , I was too bored by the waiting and went back to the hotel on a tuk tuk and advised the tour organiser of this. Whilst I was having breakfast I noticed several other people also did the same as me. The bus ride to Siem Reap was supposed to be 5 hrs, and we were told a few days before that they had been working on the bridge for the past couple of years and we could not go upstream any further and the trip could be perhaps 5.5 hrs. It was a very unconfortable 6.5 hrs, the road had been damaged by flooding some time previously and the road was extremely bumpy and dusty. We stopped twice for a toilet stop and were not given any lunch even though we started off at 8.00am but were told to purchase a snack at the WC stop, which consisted of chippies, biscuits etc. We got to the hotel and were told a club sandwhich with beer or softdrink had been organised but at our cost I thought this was not well handled by APT. A 6.5 hr bumpy dusty bus trip should have at least had a meal supplied by APT during the ride, especially when they had known the length of time it would take and what the road was like, as the floods had happened several months ago. .After the long and dusty bus ride some of our luggage was completely covered in dust and when at the hotel we put a back pack on the bed, which left a filthy brown mark, as it did on my clothes. The Sofitel in Siem Reap was very very nice in a beautiful setting. I had a cookery class, except they cancelled, even though there were 8 people wanting to do it and was booked in for a massage as a 2nd choice. APT later arranged a cooking class, at our cost, and we had to cancel the massage as it was at the same time, and could not make another time. The cooking class was nice and we had a lovely meal there. We were unable to get a return flight from Siem Reap and had to stay an extra night so we chose not to take the APT included flights and got a $500 rebate and purchased business class, although we cld not get a connecting flight from Singapore to home and also had to stay extra time there. We had been met at the airport in Saigon by APT, but we were only 1 couple out of 3 couples that were not given a delivery to the airport by APT as were leaving, but fortunately Sofitel,( as we chose to stay in a suite), kindly offered to take us there in their hotel car. Although we are avid small ship cruisers, and had not done any river cruising before, we have thought a lot about the trip since leaving and will probably try a river cruise in Europe at some stage, as we had met a lot of wonderful people on board Amalotus which made for an amazing time.   Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
Sailed with Viking River Cruises (Emerald boat) Imperial Jewels of China. The land portion of the tour in Beijing/Xian/Shanghai were wonderful with fabulous 5 star hotels. The Yangtze River cruise needs some help-maybe 3 stars if I am ... Read More
Sailed with Viking River Cruises (Emerald boat) Imperial Jewels of China. The land portion of the tour in Beijing/Xian/Shanghai were wonderful with fabulous 5 star hotels. The Yangtze River cruise needs some help-maybe 3 stars if I am generous. The ship supposedly is not that old but looks really shabby inside and out. Carpets are worn, floors are warped, room has mold on ceilings due to the high humidity, bathrooms in staterooms are vinyl and tired. The river itself is so polluted and dirty with trash floating down all the time that your balcony will not be used. The embarkation is a dirty side street along the river bank with many steps old stone steps to maneuver down-no modern port-felt bad for older folks trying to carry luggage down. No entertainment on board-some mahjong classes, lectures, staff variety show-very cheesy. Excusions were very good-side trips into the 3 Gorges is breathtaking & prettier than the main river. Navigating the locks were very impressive as well. Overall choose this tour because it gets you to all the major attractions safely and just realize the river cruise is not up to Western big companies such as Celebrity and Norwegian. Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
We travelled on the Viking Imperial Jewels tour/river cruise at the end of July. We havecruised frequently on ocean cruises and are also independent travellers so this was a unique situation for us. Most of my angst was travelling with a ... Read More
We travelled on the Viking Imperial Jewels tour/river cruise at the end of July. We havecruised frequently on ocean cruises and are also independent travellers so this was a unique situation for us. Most of my angst was travelling with a difficult group. Viking is an outstanding company that we will travel with in the future. For those wanting to see China at a more than comfortable level this is a great trip. Eight groups of 34 make up the entire group travelling on the river. You are put into one of those groups and assigned a tour escort for the whole trip. We were blessed with a great group, mostly teachers due to the time of the year. Our tour escort, Iowa, was outstanding. He provided free and open opinions about China, including first hand information about him in Tianemenan Square in 1989. He was organized and professional. The hotels that are used are 5-6 star quality. We stayed at the Ritz Carlton. Portman in Shanghai, the Hilton in Xi'an and the Regent in Beijing. Outstanding in every way! This is NOT a shopping tour although there are chances to spend money, mostly at Viking approved places. Jade, silk embroidery, silk carpets and Xi'an souvenirs are some of the stops. You have to spend your free time going out to the markets as Viking does not encourage this. There is a tailor aboard the ship if you want a custom silk jacket made, as well as a pearl store and Chinese artist. Each day of the cruise provides for a shore excursion, included in the price. We toured the Three Gorges Dam, toured the Lesser Three Gorges by small boat and climbed the Shaobazhai Temple. There is not a lot to do on the ship so be prepared to relax and read. There is no promenade deck to walk around. We travelled in the summer so there was very, very hot and humid weather. All the daily talks were very informative. The food was very good and plentiful - the best thing is the homemade yogurt served in small jars. Delicious. The staff works extremely hard, especially Lois, the bar manager. The premium bar package at 150.00 is great value, especially if you like trying other wines and enjoy drinks other than beer and wine. House wine and beer and no extra charge however the only choice is Chardonnay. That sold me on the package. Don't expect Wifi, it doesn't exist. There are 6 computers, slow but always available. Wifi is available at Ll hotel free of charge. This is a VERY good trip and an excellent way to see China. I would highly recommend it.   Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
This was my first cruise ever, and it was such a positive experience. Amawaterways has done a terrific job of combining different types of on shore experiences on this cruise. This was extremely important to me as I have resisted cruising ... Read More
This was my first cruise ever, and it was such a positive experience. Amawaterways has done a terrific job of combining different types of on shore experiences on this cruise. This was extremely important to me as I have resisted cruising up till now, not wanting to spend my entire time on a ship and needing excursions that are interesting to me. When traveling, my wife and I like to visit historical sites, as well as absorbing the culture of the country through contact with the locals - seeing how they live and enjoying (hopefully!) the local food. This cruise did an exceptional job of that, aided by the knowledgeable guides such as Mao Ponloe in Cambodia, and Khanh in Vietnam. Congratulations to Amawaterways. The staff onboard were very friendly and very efficient. The cruise manager did an exceptional job on this particular voyage. Che Thanh Thoai is a remarkable individual. His attention to detail is astonishing. He was EVERYWHERE we needed him to be, to the extent that we sometimes wondered if he had several identical brothers! He is energetic and friendly, and sympathetic to passengers needs. He goes out of his way to help and please, even when passengers are clearly in the wrong (e.g. missing departure times). He is also quite talented as a musician and vocalist! The entire staff was pleasant and provided great service, but Thoai stood out. With this experience I am now a committed cruiser, and will thoroughly endorse Amawaterways to anyone that asks. The Amalotus is a very well designed ship with minimal engine noise and vibration in the cabins. The only downside on this particular cruise through the Mekong - very spotty internet connections. The exercise area is a bit limited, but there were never any lineups for use. The A/C was not always turned on there, so it was easy to get up a sweat! Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
As with most of our fellow passengers, this was our first visit to China. The trip comprised three land centres punctuated by a five day cruise on the Yangtze. The selected hotels in Shanghai, Xian and Beijing were all of a very high ... Read More
As with most of our fellow passengers, this was our first visit to China. The trip comprised three land centres punctuated by a five day cruise on the Yangtze. The selected hotels in Shanghai, Xian and Beijing were all of a very high quality. Our trip started in Shanghai and ended in Beijing. This to us seemed the best option as it offered the only opportunity to see the pandas. Most of those we spoke to agreed that, with the benefit of hindsight, this was indeed the preferred option as, leaving the Terracotta Army, Forbidden City and Great Wall until the end of the trip diminished any possible feeling of anti-climax. We were fortunate to have an excellent guide, Johanna, who gave us comprehensive background to life in China and an interesting perspective on the changes wrought over the past century. It must be pointed out that we believed we had struck lucky with Johanna but those in other groups were equally enthusiastic about their guides. The specialist city guides too were all of a high quality. The visits were well chosen and informative although those of us staying away from downtown Shanghai would have liked more time on the Bund rather than a cursory drive through. Enrichment activities were organised in several centres, some include, some optional. We enjoyed the evening entertainment in Shanghai and the playing of the ancient instruments in Wuhan. We skipped the circus and duck dinner in Beijing both of which received mixed reviews. We did opt for the afternoon trip to the Summer palace in Beijing and were well rewarded. The transition from land to sea was smoothly handled. Embarkation was swift and welcoming. Services on the Emerald were excellent, a nice touch being that by the end of the first evening the dining room and bar staff had learned our names. The food was uniformly fine with several options for each course in the evening and some interesting choices at lunchtimes for those who were feeling adventurous. We purchased the drinks package which for $150 per head allowed more choice of wine/beer as well as extra drinks outside of mealtimes. Those who did not do so pronounced the complimentary beer and wines perfectly acceptable. The sit as you please dining arrangement allowed us to converse with other guests with whom we would not otherwise have met. The passengers seemed to be split 50-50 in terms of Brits and Americans and we enjoyed some pleasant evenings. Having cruised with Americans in the past we were happy not to meet any who whinged about their taxes and/or tried to convince us that Obama was not an American and should never have been allowed to take his place in the White House. These were truly a different breed! Dining in the cities was usually in the 'Lazy Susan' style allowing the opportunity to sample a number of different dishes. This we enjoyed. Excursions from the boat were well chosen. These included a transfer to smaller boats to sail the Lesser Three Gorges and a visit to the spectacular Shibaozhai pagoda. Entertainment on the boat was limited but the crew put on a couple of shows to showcase their talents. In truth, there was not a lot to do by day except to sit and enjoy the scenery but several informative lectures were provided by the Cruise Director, Paul. Everyone with whom we spoke expressed surprise at the modernisation of China and the speed of progress. Many cities unknown in the west have populations of millions. The memories of vast urban developments, the rush to embrace all things western, and the hugely entertaining interpretation of traffic laws will live long. China is a rapidly changing country with a fascinating past. A visit is enormously rewarding and Viking River Cruises' Imperial Jewels trip offers a value for money introduction to China. Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
If you are contemplating booking this cruise, I would recommend starting in Beijing and doing all the strenuous part of the tour first. Firstly the tour does involve lots of walking and steps, so it is not recommended for people with ... Read More
If you are contemplating booking this cruise, I would recommend starting in Beijing and doing all the strenuous part of the tour first. Firstly the tour does involve lots of walking and steps, so it is not recommended for people with mobility issues. Our tour guide David was excellent, and kept us fully informed of timings and meeting places, and he kept us amused with tales of his childhood experiences and day to day life in China which was extremely interesting, It was also great not to have to worry about lifting heavy suitcases everywhere, as Viking took great care of coordinating and checking in our luggage, so all we had to do was identify it after each internal flight, and it was promptly delivered to our respective hotels. The land tours were well coordinated, taking in Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and Great Wall. For me, the highlight of the trip was flying to Xian to see the Terracotta Warriors. All the hotels we stayed in were equivalent to 4/5 star and of a very high standard. The Kerry Hotel in Beijing had a complimentary mini bar which was stocked daily with beers and soft drinks, and the bathroom was very opulent. The food in all the hotels was buffet style and very good quality and choice. The cabins on the Viking Emerald are spacious, and with a balcony, but unfortunately the river was shrouded in mist/fog and smog which is apparently normal, and the guide in Chonquing told us that they only have about 5 days of sun each , so needless to say, most of the time it was like looking through lace curtains, which was quite disappointing. The trip wasn't very relaxing, as Viking do not plan too much down time, and personally I think they include too many trips to museums. I Think it would be preferential to offer alternatives, if you do not want to go to another museum. The latest time we woke up was 0700, which is very early day in day out, but I guess that we had to avoid the constant queues of traffic, and also to avoid the queues at the other places we were visiting. I did feel at times that we were being 'herded', but with 34 people in the group, this is the only option. The food on the boat was excellent with lots of choices, and wine is included at lunch and dinner, but although the staff are extremely pleasant, they need a few lessons in customer service. I found that we had to keep asking for basic things like condiments, which should automatically be placed on each dining table, and they weren't always proactive in topping up wine glasses. We constantly had to ask for more wine. There was an excellent wine waitress called Lois, who was incredible with attending to us, and she even remembered everyone's name, even though we constantly changed tables. It was always reassuring when Lois was waiting on our table at meal times. She was also extremely polite and personable. I also need to mention that when not eating in hotels, Viking had arranged meals in different restaurants which were obviously geared up for tourists, as there were always numerous coaches parked outside, and all tables were filled with groups of 8. All of these meals were served by using lazy susans, and the food was just 'plonked' on the table. We were only entitled to 1 drink which seemed a bit mean, so if you dared ask for a glass of water with your beer, it was promptly refused! In all the restaurants, the staff are constantly trying to remove your plate, even though you could still be eating! It all seemed very rushed, and that part was not very pleasurable. Most times we were in and out within 1 hour. All in all it was a very enjoyable holiday with some amazing sights, but would I do it again-probably no. It ticked all the boxes of places to see, and I can't fault Viking for that.   Read Less
Sail Date June 2014
Overall the cruise was good and we enjoyed it. No significant problems during the land part of the trip. There are a few gripes however 1) Our stateroom on the Viking Emerald (C315) was cold and clammy, everything we touched was damp. We ... Read More
Overall the cruise was good and we enjoyed it. No significant problems during the land part of the trip. There are a few gripes however 1) Our stateroom on the Viking Emerald (C315) was cold and clammy, everything we touched was damp. We dreaded to crawl into the cold and damp bed at night. While the AC worked fine there was no heat. After 2 days of complaining we were given a dehumidifier and after extracting several gallons of water from the cabin it became liveable. On bonus was the heat generated by the device, going to bed was no longer an ordeal. Sadly we were not the only ones with that complaint, perhaps being more vocal helped us in getting the dehumidifier. 2) During the last night aboard quite a number of passengers including my self came down with diarrhea, not a pleasant affair knowing we had to fly that day. Took about 10 days to totally dispose of that problem. . 3) We paid for transportation to the airport for our return flight. 9 of us spend 90 minutes in a dilapidated minivan with our knees under the chin. For the $120 total we paid we could have gone in a private car or the Maglev and had money left over !! Read Less
Sail Date May 2014
We traveled on Viking River Cruise's Imperial Jewels of China trip in May/June 2014. We chose Viking because of their total package, and because China would be difficult to navigate by ourselves. I'll start with the negative, ... Read More
We traveled on Viking River Cruise's Imperial Jewels of China trip in May/June 2014. We chose Viking because of their total package, and because China would be difficult to navigate by ourselves. I'll start with the negative, but there were many more positives. The negative was that our group of 24 who traveled and ate most meals together included 8 people who were not able to physically keep up with the rest of the group for various reasons. One individual brought a walker and friend to help her, but even that was not adequate for most of the excursions. During our two week time, two people fell, and two went home before the trip ended. Though Viking "warns" travelers about the rigorous nature of the trip, it's really up to the traveler to decide. The Chinese tour guides are not equipped to accommodate large numbers of handicapped/mobility-challenged individuals. Our guide spent many days scurrying to find wheelchairs for this often demanding group. Viking needs to have the flexibility to move these folks into a group of their own the first or second day (in situations like ours); otherwise, it negatively impacts the rest of the tour group. We missed a trip to the Chongqing Zoo (which has natural habitats rather than a traditional zoo) and the famous Dumpling restaurant in the Muslim District in Xian. So please, if you fall into this category and are considering a trip to China, consider the other travelers before booking a trip. On the positive, we enjoyed our time in the major Chinese cities - Shanghai, Xian and Beijing - more than our time on the cruise. The hotels were 5 star - we stayed at the Shanghai Ritz Carlton, the Xian Hilton and the Regent in Beijing. All were well-located and accommodated to our needs. Traveling from Shanghai to Beijing is beneficial because there is time to get over jet lag at the beginning of the trip, and touring the Yuyuan Gardens, the silk factory and the Shanghai Museum can be done at a relaxing pace. The leg from Xian to Beijing is the most interesting and requires the most walking and traveling. The Chinese airlines were all professional, clean and organized, in our experience, and Viking coordinated our flights well. Xian was one of the highlights of the trip, and Viking wisely made it a two-day stop. Beijing was wonderful during our visit - the weather, the people and our time at Tiananmen Square/Forbidden City - walked 5 miles as well as our 2-hour hike up the south side of the Great Wall of China at Badaling. Shopping at the Pearl Market was a great time with many deals. Give yourself a full afternoon for that. Regarding the cruise, the staff on the ship could not have been nicer or more accommodating. It is not as luxurious as some cruises we have done, but we enjoyed the small group (180 people total), and we made friends with many people. This was nice to do at the beginning of the trip so we could spend time together for the remainder of the trip. Most thought that 3 days on the Yangtze would have been enough, but since Viking is a cruise company, that seems unlikely. The Three Gorges Dam and the Lesser Gorges are definitely worth seeing, but much of the coastline as you head east is industrialized. You will learn so much about China and its culture, and we recommend it! Read Less
Sail Date May 2014
This was a combination 5 night cruise and 7 night land tour and it hit pretty much all the things we'd thought about seeing in China. Hotels were all 5 star (Ritz Carlton, Hilton, Shangri La) and the ship is a beautiful 5 star ... Read More
This was a combination 5 night cruise and 7 night land tour and it hit pretty much all the things we'd thought about seeing in China. Hotels were all 5 star (Ritz Carlton, Hilton, Shangri La) and the ship is a beautiful 5 star floating hotel on it's own accord! The Beijing Ritz Carlton provided by far the finest service that we have ever received at ANY hotel - they make you feel like royalty! As with all Viking cruises, local excursions at all stops/ports of call with knowledgeable local guides and they add a lot to the touring experience. Viking has also revamped the menu for a couple of onboard dinners to provide "western meals" and between them and the "western breakfast" available daily at the buffet (onboard and at the hotels) most folks shouldn't get "burnt-out" on Chinese food! I found the food to be generally very good - even though it is a little different from the "Chinese Food" we eat in the US - and beautifully presented Service onboard was also top notch. The crew really hustled to try and make sure everyone was well served and happy and even performed a couple of after dinner shows that were quite enjoyable. You just cannot beat Viking for a fantastic cruise experience. The best in service and facilities without breaking the bank to pay for it!!! Read Less
Sail Date May 2014
We were on the AMA Vietnam/Cambodia tour early April 2014. We started in Hanoi and ended in Ho Chi Minh City. First of all we concur with a prior review which stated that the breath of touring from this trip could not be done on your own. ... Read More
We were on the AMA Vietnam/Cambodia tour early April 2014. We started in Hanoi and ended in Ho Chi Minh City. First of all we concur with a prior review which stated that the breath of touring from this trip could not be done on your own. Our group was in the 50-80 age range with many in their 60s and 70s, retirees, Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Australians overwhelmingly white crowd, a number of Jews and I would guess more Democrats than Republicans. There was one former US army officer who had served in Vietnam who found this to be an emotional experience, all in all an intelligent concerned group That said - this was not a vacation experience but rather a working cultural exchange. Pre-trip suggestions: Get the Cambodia E Visa - it is about $24 on line and will save you time in line in Siam Reap and you do not have to send in your passport. Otherwise get the Vietnam multiple entry visa, easy to obtain about $250 from any Vietnam embassy or consulate. Inchon airport rescreens international transit passengers causing you as much as additional 30 minute delay in airport between changing flights. We ran the last .5 mile to get our Seoul/Hanoi flight. Shots etc - the AMA tour leader was opposed to anti malarials stating that too many folks get serious reactions beyond the risk of malaria. We took the newest drug and had no reactions. Did have one 24 hour period of loose stool as did a number of folks on our trip. There is NO potable water in Vietnam and Cambodia and although AMA goes to great lengths to assure proper food preparation, there is some RISK of stomach upset so prepare accordingly. After my brush in Siam Reap at the Sofitel, I went on the 169 degree program until coming home. It is extreme and you won't get to eat the tasty salads but you are less likely to need imodium or more. Bring DEET - we were in plenty of villages in Vietnam and Cambodia with standing stagnant water - mosquito breeding grounds. That means the possibility of malaria, Japanese encephalitis and dengue fever (It only takes one bite) I regularly sprayed with DEET before going on rural tours and this was in the dry season. Also in the Mekong, the air can be plenty polluted - lots of smoke and haze. If you have respiratory issues - be forewarned you may have problems. It bothered some us on the trip. Also you will be going in and out of air conditioning into very hot and humid conditions. Don't be surprise to catch a cold or upper respiratory infection. Prepare accordingly. That said - noone on our trip got very ill and AMA is prepared to take you to area medical facilities if needed AND you should have adequate medical insurance and trip insurance to PAY - and you should have plenty of cash if needed. Remember - there is no CVS nearby so bring all the stuff that you may need in 16 days. Cash: Bring at least $40 in $1 bills and maybe about $300 total cash. You will use them for tips - guides, staff etc. Dollars are accepted in Vietnam and Cambodia willingly. ATMs are in cities but credit cards are used only in cities and on board the ship at the end to settle bills. Connectivity: Biggest complaint outside the hotels and the cities was internet connectivity. I brought an Ipad which is light, easy to use and can give access to Skype for cheap phoning -but AMA has chosen to have lousy connectivity on the ship. They use the local cell systems which are poor in rural areas. On the other hand the guides used cell as well but a different carrier and often had better connectivity than AMA so ask them to use their hot spots if they have them. AMA could use satellite for internet. There is NO TV on the ship and a very poor movie selection. Again AMA could use satellite for TV but does not. That said, you are pretty tired in evenings and need sleep for the next day's excursions. There is no problem, recharging devices in hotels or the ship. Bring 220 connectors. Most devices have 110/220 volt capability. Hair dryers are available in hotels and the ships. Clothng: Everyone brings too much. I worse shorts everywhere, even to the temples and palaces. Just make sure shorts come BELOW the knees. Cargo styles work well. Some women wore dresses to dinner which is overkill but hey! Take advantage of laundry service in the hotels and ship to keep travel weight down. The Trip The Hotels: All hotels used by AMA are first class, excellent, comfortable. The Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi has the nicest Hotel fitness center I have ever seen. The Sofitel Siam Reap is spectacular - see other comments and the Sheraton in Ho Chi Minh City is a decent first class hotel but could use some updating. The Ship: The AMA Lotus is comfortable, rooms very nice. We had cabin 220 at the front, big king bed, plenty of storage, decent bath. However when the anchor goes up - only happened a couple of times, you will hear it. Public rooms are spacious and comfortable. The pool is a cross between a pool and jacuzzi - nice to use to relax. The small fitness facility has an elliptical and treadmill and gets quite a bit of use early in the AM. The Lotus has laundry service which you will probably need to use - as the weather is 95-100 and I found myself showering and changing as much as 3X a day. Food: There is lots of it, do not understand a previous comment on amount. If you eat everything offered - you may gain weight. Food is western and asian with plenty of buffets - breakfast and lunch and multiple choice menus for dinner. The salads look great but if you have had your stomach upset issue - be careful. It only takes one lapse of sanitation to make you ill. Plenty of folks went to private restaurants in Hanoi, Siam Reap and Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh city and did fine but ask for suggestions. We were surprise that the quality of ingredients was as good as it was. Bottled water is everywhere. Local Vietnamese and Cambodian beer was fine. AMA bulk wines were good and our tour liked them. At the Sofitel Siam Reap, try the home made chocolate ice cream - it is astoundingly good. Tours: You go on this trip for the touring and the AMA program is spectacular. If you take it seriously you will learn much on Vietnamese, Cambodian culture, history as well as multiple forms of Buddhism. Our guides all had local involvement with the places we visited which made this a much better experience than just touring objects - you really get a sense of the people. That said rural Cambodia has stark poverty with rampant pedophilia sex tourism in the the bigger cities. Children are vulnerable to exploitation and families are VERY poor. Touring is a very intense experience with about 30 separate tours during the trip. Ankor complex was VERY crowded with dense crowds, hot/humid miserable conditions - but then you are seeing one of the great wonders of the world. Halong Bay was not much with pleasant scenery. The bay is very polluted and there are no sea birds - few fish in this dying area. There was a bad storm in the morning before we arrived and the guide made a comment on the possible cancellation. Be careful on the bay, it is not place to be in a bad storm. The "luxury" junk was nice but there was a deadly accident in 2011 where a junk sank in the night with some tourists dying. Hanoi is a busy capital, somewhat austere in comparison to bustling Ho Chi Minh City. Urban Phnom Penh has plenty of street crime so be careful wandering at night. Ho Chi Minh city is developing economically and you will see a big difference with the other venues. For us, the Killing Fields was the most amazing tour. It is quite raw, like visiting the death camps in 1946 with many unsettled issues. The Vietnamese have turned the Vietnam war into Disneyland with national parks with caves and tunnels for tourists and school age children. You will see many temples, excellent museums, palaces, city tours and small villages, crafts demonstrations and daily life. You will be thrilled and depressed with the poverty especially in Cambodia. Expect to get plenty of exercise walking and sweating. Going up from the Lotus on newly made steps up the river bank can be arduous for those with mobility issues. People forgo some tours as they tend to tire out later on this trip. End the trip with Ho Chi Minh City. It is a pleasant experience and there is plenty of shopping and good eating. The AMA staff is amazing, excellent hard working tour director and wonderful young ship staff who attend to your needs - they will spoil you. Bottom Line: We found this trip to be a fantastic experience, well put together. The AMA staff, tour director worked hard to ensure we could enjoy this.   Read Less
Sail Date April 2014
My Husband and I have just returned from a wonderful land tour of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia which included an overnight stay on a Junk in Halong Bay and a 7 night cruise down the Mekong on the ‘La Marguerite’ I am a compulsive note ... Read More
My Husband and I have just returned from a wonderful land tour of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia which included an overnight stay on a Junk in Halong Bay and a 7 night cruise down the Mekong on the ‘La Marguerite’ I am a compulsive note taker and write a diary for my own enjoyment but record practical information too for future reference. I have some mobility problems so was not able to access all the activities but I was so grateful to everyone that I met as they were all very helpful and supportive of the fact that I can’t walk very fast. I am posting extracts from my diary here which you may find useful. I am including my entries for our time in Siem Reap and Saigon (Ho Chi Min City) as i would guess that most people who sail the Mekong also visit these 2 cities. SIEM REAP AIRPORT. We arrived in Siem Reap on time and were greeted by musicians, dancers and a small gift box each with some local green tea......a very nice touch. The visa purchase (US$20pp) was completed quickly and fortunately all the luggage from our group arrived too which was a relief after Hoa's warning yesterday. The TravelMarvel local guide, Savon, met us at the arrivals exit and we were all on the bus and ready to go within 35 minutes of landing. The coach was positively luxurious with wide reclining seats and plenty of leg room......hopefully a sign of things to come. I was really surprised by Siem Reap as it appears to be much more 'westernised' in the way the shops etc are laid out than we saw in Vietnam or Laos. There looked to be a lot of very impressive hotels too. SOKHA ANGKOR HOTEL. This has the 'wow' factor from the moment we turned into the drive. The lobby area is huge and beautifully appointed with marble floors and sumptuous seating. We were greeted with ice cold towels and a cold drink while we waited to be given our room keys. Staff members were in the process of decorating the building for the Cambodian New Year celebrations tomorrow ROOM 221 It is a 'deluxe' city view twin room and is spacious and nicely decorated. I love the bathroom with the bath and separate shower. The beds are comfortable and the pillows are soft and fluffy -bliss! The other facilities are: TV with some English language channels Tea/coffee/kettle Mini bar Fridge Dressing table with mirror Several plug sockets with multi pin choices A bucket chair Telephone Alarm clock Toiletries Shaving mirror Dressing gowns Slippers hair drier Air conditioning Free wifi Safe Coffee table We had dinner in the hotel pub - a very nice Cambodian Red Curry and a 'so-so' burger and chips. After dinner we walked across to the supermarket and had a look round. It's amazing to see how familiar lots of the products were. Goods were priced in US$. We ended up buying 2 magnums and 2 cans of soft drinks. We ate the magnums sitting at the table by the supermarket entrance and watched the world go by. Back at the hotel we had our drinks and a game of scrabble before retiring to bed. SATURDAY 12TH APRIL – SIEM REAP. A.M. Very, very hot, high humidity and hazy sunshine. We were awake at 06.30. I had my coffee in bed while Jim got ready to go on is early morning bird hunt. While he was out I showered (bliss in the walk-in shower), shaved my legs, washed my hair and then did a bit of hand washing before going down for breakfast in the main restaurant . There was an extensive range of buffet food, both local and international, and pleasant servers. THE 'OLD' MARKET. We decided to get a US$2 tuk-tuk to the 'old' market. It is walkable but quite a long way and hard going in the heat. The market is under cover with a vast amount of stalls selling all kinds of food, clothing, textiles and souvenirs. We ended up buying quite a few things and bargained reasonably well. I could have bought a lot more but restrained myself! We walked across the river to the 'arts' market but felt they were asking a lot more for the same items so went back to the old market before getting the tuk-tuk back to the hotel. Jim went to the supermarket to get some biscuits and water to tide us over until dinner tonight while I sat in the shade by the pool and typed this up. We had some tea and biscuits in the room before meeting the group at 14.00 for the temple trip. ANGKOR THOM TEMPLE VISIT 14.00 to 16.30 We are now the 'orange group' to distinguish us from the new comers! The trip to the temple complex started with a 10 minute Drive through the suburbs to the 'check point' where we all had our photographs taken for our complex entry ticket ($40 for 3 days unlimited entry). Our guide provided us with a plastic wallet on a lanyard to put the personalised ticket in (if we forget the ticket or lose it we are responsible for purchasing a new one) and also gave us a receiver and head phones so we could hear Savon's commentary while moving around the temple. The temple complex is huge (800km sq) with over 800 temples dating from the 1st century AD. The Thom temple is just one of the many that are being constantly uncovered in the jungle that grew around them after they were abandoned in the 12th century. The most famous of the temples in the complex is Angkor Wat. The bus entered the complex area and passed an enormous lake where families were picnicking before we got to a car park where we had to change from our coach onto a mini bus. The bus then continued the journey past more picnicking groups and food and drink stalls before passing through a huge gateway where we could see the temple. The bridge over the moat by the gate was lined with statues of animal gods and reminded me of Ancient Egyptian temples. We left the mini bus and then Savon explained about the history of the temple before we went over to it. Our passes were examined by an official before we were able to access the temple itself. The ground is very uneven and there are steps up to the 3 different levels so I only did the first level and walked around that to our meeting point. The others went on exploring inside for a further 30 minutes while I found a spot to sit in the shade to wait for them. Once back on the mini bus, we were treated to a 30 minute drive around the countryside so we could get an idea of how people in the farming communities live. Most people seemed relatively prosperous and had sturdy, well kept houses and neat parcels of land. We transferred back to our coach for the 20 minute drive back to the hotel and we were in the room with a coffee at 16.40. LAUNDRY SERVICE. Jim took some dirty clothes to the laundry service recommended by one of our group - $2 per kilo. So we should get that back tomorrow. Our evening finished with a group meal in the restaurant followed by a display of traditional dancing. The buffet meal had a good mixture of Indochinese and international food and the dancing was beautiful. A game of scrabble completed the evening. SUNDAY 13TH APRIL. SIEM REAP. A.M. Boiling hot with clear sky and high humidity. P.M. Very, very, very hot and humid with sunny intervals. ANGKOR WAT. I find it difficult to believe that I am sitting writing this while watching the sunrise over the Angkor Wat Temple complex. Although it is quite crowded it is a magical scene and compares favourably with sunrises seen at the Taj Mahal, Mt Everest and over the River Nile. The adventure started when the alarm went off at 04.00. The group met in the lobby at 04.50 and we left the hotel at 05.00 for the short ride to the ticket station. The new members who had joined the group needed their photos taken for their ticket. We were given torches along with our commentary receiver sets and bottles of water as we left the coach. It was a long walk, for me, to the bridge over the lake and then across the bridge to the Wat wall gate before another longish walk to the cafe area for a drink and biscuits. It was getting lighter as we moved across the bridge and by the time we arrived for the refreshments the crowds were already taking up position for the best photograph as the sun emerged just to the left of the temple itself. As the sun rose higher the shafts of light created reflections of the temple building in the pool in front of the towers........ Just magnificent! DH 'parked' me on a seat overlooking the temple while he went into the complex. NB. There are the usual souvenir stalls at the edge of the main temple area. There are toilets and a cafe. The toilets are signposted behind the cafe and are very basic. There is a charge of 1000Rials. The one western toilet was dirty so I used a squat plate one. There is a concrete trough of water and a saucepan for flushing but no provision for toilet paper. There are a lot of souvenir sellers, some of whom were quite persistent and a lot were children. Inside the temple there are 3 levels to climb. The first 2 are fairly easy I believe but the 3rd one is quite strenuous. You must have shoulders and knees covered to climb the last stage. We walked slowly back to the meeting point back across the bridge, passing a bridal couple having their wedding photographs taken by the complex walls. We were all there at 08.15 and walked back to the bus, getting to the hotel just before 09.00. After breakfast Jim left for his 'quad bike' tour. QUAD BIKE EXCURSION. There were sixteen of us doing the quad bike excursion. We were picked up from the hotel by the quad bike companies own tuk-tuks and arrived at their headquarters after a ride of twelve minutes. We were first given a safety talk, issued with face masks, helmets and then had to complete a circuit to determine if we were competent at driving the bikes. Three of the ladies failed and they had to have a guide each to assist them with their driving. The route took us out into the flat country side which allowed us to see how the farming community worked and lived. The early tarmac roads soon disappeared and we then found ourselves on dirt tracks with undulating surfaces and this at times created quite a dust storm. After about forty minutes we stopped for a ten minute rest break. We then continued for a further 30 minutes before returning back to the starting point. I thought that the experience was good. TA PROHM TEMPLE. We left the hotel at 14.15 for the drive to Ta Prohm. Along the way Savon told us a little of her early life during the Khmer Rouge regime when her family were forcibly relocated from their village near Siem Reap to the forested area 150km north. The family had to carry their allowed belongings on a shared bullock cart. Savon was still a baby so her mother was allowed to ride with her but her father, sisters and brother had to walk. It took 3 nights and 4 days. Once they arrived, her father and older siblings were separated from Savon and her mother for 6 years. Savon's mother was made to work clearing the forest to make paddy fields and while mum worked Savon was kept in a deep hole so she couldn't crawl off. She says they were always hungry! Savon explained that her immediate family felt very fortunate as they all survived and were reunited but they lost many members of their extended family. Savon is grateful for the chance she had to get an education and recognises the value of the tourist trade to modern Cambodia. At the temple there were the usual souvenir sellers outside the walls but they are not allowed into the complex. It was a fairly long walk along a tree lined avenue and over uneven ground. The temple buildings were much more how I'd pictured them with the trees growing through the stonework. This was the temple, along with Angkor Wat, that featured in the 'Tomb Raiders' film and it felt very atmospheric. Our overall time here was 1 hour and we were able to spend about 30 minutes exploring the temple itself. APT SPONSORED ORPHANAGE. This was followed by a 50 minute visit to the APT sponsored orphanage where the children put on a performance and gave a guided tour of the facility. Most people gave donations of either money or school supplies. We were back in the hotel at 17.15 and decided to take a tuk-tuk into the old town. As it was the start of the Cambodian New Year celebrations everywhere was really busy. The roads into the central area had been cordoned off and the barriers were manned by police so the area was traffic free. It was wonderful to see such a vibrant and busy area with the music, market stalls, bars, restaurants and street performers making the most of the warm evening. I bought a couple of tops for $15 and then we had a nice meal at 'The Indian'........chicken samosas, chicken pakoras, light chicken curry, a spicier chicken curry, rice, garlic naan, 2 local beers, 2 fresh lemon drinks and a tip came to £16 and was very tasty. We got a tuk-tuk back to the hotel where I did some packing and we played scrabble before bed. MONDAY 14TH APRIL. SIEM REAP TO THE MEKONG RIVER AND LA MARGUERITE. A.M. Very hot, humid and sunny. MEKONG RIVER TRIP ITINERARY CHANGE. We had been informed before departure that some of the itinerary for the Mekong cruise had been changed as the river level was low and that, together with the bridge works, meant that we would not be able to embark at and sail across Tonle Lake. This was quite disappointing as the excursions there seemed really interesting. We are, however, doing an 'over night' stay in Phnom Penh instead. I was up at 05.00 for a shower and to finish the packing so we could put the cases out for 06.30. After breakfast we checked the room, checked out and got our luggage organised for the coach. DRIVE TO THE MEKONG. We finally left the hotel at 08.15 for the 200km drive to the Mekong to rendezvous with the boat. The total journey was 5 hours but the coach was very comfortable so I caught up on a lot of sleep. The roadway was a mixture of paved highway and rough country road so it was quite bumpy in places. There were 2 stops. The first was at an old stone bridge where the bus left us and we rejoined it by walking over the bridge. There was a western style toilet facility by the bridge which a young lady kept clean. She charged 500rials for use but accepted $1 for 2 people. The second stop was at the half way point and was a form of 'motorway service station' with western style toilets, a shop and a cafe area. It looked a bit daunting on first sight but was actually quite nice inside and several people bought souvenirs there at moderate prices. It was a bit of a shock arriving at the ship as we had to walk over some very rough ground and then up a steep gangway into the 'bowels' of the ship before finally getting into the passenger area. This was forced on us because there are some repairs going on at a bridge near the usual jetty and the ship can't get through to the dock area. Hopefully our other docking points will be less hazardous! LA MARGUERITE RIVER CRUISE SHIP. The ambiance is 'country house' with dark wood and rich fabrics. There are 4 cabin floors and 46 staterooms (2 suites, 6 junior suites, 30 balcony cabins and 8 porthole cabins) with a capacity of 92 guests. The whole ship is given over to 'Travelmarvel' clients for this trip. There is: restaurant 2 Lounges A small library with 2 computers and wifi connections The sun deck with a small plunge pool and bar. CABIN 101. This is located on the Tonle deck near to the restaurant. First impression was that it is smaller than I expected but we have had very large hotel rooms so I'm sure it will be fine. The cabin has: 3 wardrobes with mirrors Safe Hair drier 3 cupboards A large dressing table with e shallow drawer Pad and pen Mirror Angle poise lamp Telephone TV DVD player tissues 2 audio receivers with ear pieces and charger Plug sockets Alarm clock Air conditioning Twin beds with duvets 2 bedside tables Fridge with 4 complimentary bottles of water 2 packets of potato crisps Window seat with bench cushion and 2 small cushions Small balcony with 2 tiny seats (it will be a challenge to sit there!) Room under the bed for suitcases Bedside lamp Waste bin The Bathroom has: Walk in shower Toiletries Toilet Wash basin Cupboard with mirror 2 glasses Soap dish Waste bin We were greeted with fresh mango juice and ice cold hand towels. The ship's manager did a short talk on the safety aspects of the ship and some essential information on dining arrangements before we all went for lunch. Our cabins were available after lunch and our luggage was already there along with: A welcome gift of a 'TravelMarvel' laptop case A lanyard with see-through plastic pocket for tour tickets. A welcome letter. A copy of 'The Daily Cruiser' with information about today's activities and some general information about the ship. DINING All meals are open seating and there are a range of table sizes from 2s to 8s. Breakfast: The breakfast is a buffet. There were a range of international and local dishes plus an egg station, fruit, cereal, pastries etc. Lunch: Buffet appetisers - salads, breads, pasta station, soups. Buffet desserts: fresh fruits, hot pudding (bread and butter the first day), cake, mousse The main course has to be ordered from the server and and there are 3 choices - meat, fish and a vegetarian option. Dinner: You order your meal from a menu with 2 or 3 choices for each course, mostly western style. There is always an 'amuse bouche' on the table as you sit down. There is a choice from: 2 salads 2 soups 3 main dishes 3 desserts Tea/coffee. Drinks. Tea/coffee is available 24 hours in the main lounge. Soft drinks, fruit juices, local beers and spirits are complementary throughout the day. There is a choice of house red and white wine at lunch and dinner. Name brand drinks and cocktails are charged to your on board account. Entertainment There is a pianist who plays popular, for our age group, light music in the main lounge at various times. Films are sometimes shown in the evening. Local artists come aboard to perform on some evenings. We finished our evening having a chat and drinks with Phil and Lynn from King's Lynn in the lounge so finally got to bed around 23.00. TUESDAY 15TH APRIL. MEKONG RIVER - A.M. WAT HANCHEY. P.M. KAMPONG CHAM. A.M. Hot, humid and overcast with some heavy showers. P.M. Sunshine and clear blue skies. Marginally cooler. TOUR PROCEDURE. Pre-tour. In our cabin we had: 2 audio receivers and head phones. 2 water bottle carriers 2 lanyards with plastic pouches attached. Also provided: Rain ponchos and umbrellas Before departure: We went to the main lounge to collect Tour groups badge (orange, green, blue) Cabin number card ( as a check for who is off the ship) We were up early, as usual, so Jim could see if there were any birds around and then he tried fishing from the balcony but the bread fell off. Hoa (our Tour manager) managed to get Jim some prawns to use as bait for later. Wat Hanchey. We had breakfast and then Jim got ready for the walk to the Wat Hanchey which left at 08.30 and returned at 10.45 ready for the ship to sail back down river to Kampong Cham. It was amazing to see the crew members create a walkway and steps up the steep river bank. We are learning that these remote areas along the Mekong are not geared up for tourism yet so few places have jetties. It will be interesting to come back in 10 years to see the changes. I decided not to go this morning as Hoa informed us that there are 500 steps to the top of the temple plus the climb up and down the river bank so I knew there was no chance of me doing it. There were a few others who, for various reasons, chose to remain on the ship. I sat on the top deck and caught up with this epistle, had a chat with a couple of ladies and watched the tour party scramble down the river bank back to the ship. At 11.15 there was a lecture in the lounge given by all 3 guides. The first part was mainly about the geography of Cambodia then Buntha talked about marriage and wedding traditions and the third guide explained some of the 80 uses of the traditional scarf that is carried by almost everyone in country areas. That was particularly fascinating as it is used as: Head covering Shawl Modesty cover when going to the toilet outside (less than 40% of Cambodians have plumbing in their homes) A sling for a baby -on mother's body or slung between the handlebars of a bicycle A child's hammock A vessel for the steaming of rice A sieve A basket A shirt..........the list was endless! The ship then sailed back down river to Kampong Chan where we moored at the same river bank. WAT NOKOR. We set off for the afternoon excursion at 15.00 to yet another Buddhist Temple - Wat Nokor. It was about a 15 minute ride through the city streets to the temple. The thing that has made these last few visits memorable has been the fact that the New Year parties are ongoing for 3 days and most people gather at the temple sites. It is such a noisy, colourful and happy atmosphere that it draws you into the happiness of the locals. Not only are the temples magnificent in their own way but the sight of people dancing, eating, chatting and playing games with their families softens the somber feeling that can sometimes overtake you, especially in Cambodia when our guide, Buntha, is telling us about some of his childhood experiences. He was removed from his family at the age of 8 to be taken to a camp where he and the other children were brainwashed and then taught to be soldiers for the Pol Pot regime. He was orphaned during the Khmer Rouge dictatorship and when Cambodia was liberated the only family he had left was a cousin. He didn't even remember his given name as he was renamed at the camp and he still has no idea when his birthday is so he just chose 07/07/1970 as his day because the number 7 is an auspicious number. The bullet holes in the temple walls were a constant reminder too as we walked round. HOLLY (their spelling) TEMPLE. The second part of the trip was another short drive up to the hill top Holly (their spelling) Temple which was just as busy with party revellers but was a much more modern and complete structure. Some of the group walked down the 300 steps to the 'Buddha Garden' while the rest went in the bus. The garden was full of statues of Buddha in all shapes and sizes and included a huge reclining Buddha too. The 'Bamboo bridge’. The last stop was at the 'bamboo bridge'. This was an amazing structure constructed entirely from bamboo..... Over 1,000,000 bamboo poles were used in the creating of it and it stretches right across the Mekong River. It is used by pedestrians, motor cycles, Tuk-tuks and small cars and it was really busy when we saw it. The group were back aboard for 17.15 so Jim went to the gym while I had a cup of tea on deck and carried on writing this. Hoa gave a briefing about the next 2 days in the lounge before dinner. WEDNESDAY 16TH APRIL. MEKONG RIVER - ANGKOR BAN AND KOH OUKNHA TEY (THE SILK ISLAND). A.M. Hot, sunny, humid with a pleasant breeze. P.M. Very hot, sharp heavy shower, very humid and sunny intervals. The ship started to sail down river at 05.00 so when we woke up at 06.00 we could watch the ever changing activities on the river bank. There were people fishing, swimming, loading goods onto boats, washing etc. At 07.30 we arrived at the temple at Angkor Ban and the crew started the mooring procedure. I've come to the realisation that, at the moment, there are no permanent jetties at most of the places along the river. I'm hoping that it will be a proper jetty in Phnom Penh because climbing up these steep banks, even with help from the crew members isn't easy for me. ANGKOR BAN Fortunately, the temple here is right next to the river so there are no busses with high steps for me to negotiate! The purpose of our temple visit this morning is to receive a blessing from the Buddhist Monks. We left the ship at 08.30 and it was quite a struggle to get up the bank but Jim was a great help. Once at the village we all went straight to the temple where we had to remove shoes and hats. Inside, the building was beautifully decorated with paintings of events from the life of Buddha and an altar with several statues. Mats were arranged on the floor for those who could sit cross legged and chairs were provided for us less supple people. The priest and 3 young novices came and sat in front of us and the guide explained the proceedings. We all put our hands together as the priest chanted the blessing and wafted a bunch of herbs around before scattering lotus petals over us. Once the blessing was finished, people were invited to make a cash donation and receive a blessed 'friendship band’. The next part of the tour was a walk through the village which is one of the few that escaped destruction in the Pol Pot years so it is authentic in the way it is set out and organised. The people were very friendly and welcomed us into the open air ground level of their homes. We saw cooking on open fires, animals wandering at will though the village, people dozing in hammocks and children trying out their English on us. It was a wonderful experience to get so close to the ordinary people of Cambodia. We were back on the boat at 10.30 for the 4 hour sail down the river to the silk island. While we sailed, Jim and I continued our scrabble competition, chatted to people on deck and had lunch. THE SILK ISLAND The boat moored at 14.30 and there was a short climb, this time, up the river bank to the line of tuk-tuks that were going to take us to the silk factory. Group members had been given face masks as the roads were very dusty so we looked a bit like gangsters! We set off in convoy through the countryside and some small villages where people were still celebrating the New Year with parties and dancing. The tuk-tuk ride lasted about 45 minutes. On arrival at the factory, I was surprised to see that it was set in lovely gardens. There were western style toilets and picnic tables. Our guide showed us the various stages of manufacture although there were only 2 weavers working as it was a public holiday day. There was a shop selling the factory products......a scarf was $10. We were lucky enough to witness a group of young people dancing round a shrine constructed on a tree trunk. This was part of a party celebration so there was a DJ and sound system. It has been such a privilege to be part of the New Year events. The return ride was much shorter and we were greeted by a group of souvenir sellers before getting back on board at 16.30 for the short sail into PHNOM PENH city itself. The entertainment for the evening was from a Cambodian dance school. The pupils ranged from 13 to 20 and they performed a series of classical, folk and social dances for us. There control and discipline was remarkable and it was beautiful to watch. Our evening finished with dinner and a chat with others in the lounge. PHNOM PENH The ship docked at a proper jetty and many people went off the ship to walk along the promenade, have dinner out and get a tuk-tuk into the city centre. THURSDAY 17TH APRIL. MEKONG RIVER - PHNOM PENH A.M. Hot and sunny with high humidity P.M. Hot, humid with sunny intervals During breakfast this morning, the ship reversed away from the dock to allow AmaLotus to dock in our place. La Marguerite then pulled in along side so we did a 'walk-through' to get ashore. There were 73 steps from the jetty up to the promenade where tuk-tuks were available for hire. The king’s palace was in walking distance from the ship along the promenade. THE KING'S PALACE. We set off at 08.30 for the palace which was a 10 minute drive along the promenade. We had a short photo stop at the front entrance before driving round to the main visitor entrance. The gardens and the royal buildings are breathtakingly beautiful and it wasn't too crowded when we got there. The 'Silver Pagoda', which gets its name from the solid silver floor (covered with carpets when tourists are inside), was magnificent too. There are western style toilets and shops too. There was the option to visit the national museum which was a 10 minute walk from the Palace and cost $5pp entrance fee. THE CENTRAL MARKET. Most people went for the 1 hour stop at the central market which is a large building with isles radiating from a central rotunda. The stalls on each isle specialised in a particular type of goods - household, shoes, jewellery, electronics, adult clothes, children's clothes etc. - although there were some exceptions. We were quite lucky because, although over half the stalls were still closed for the New Year celebrations, there were enough stalls open to look at and the market area wasn't particularly crowded. The stalls take US$ and bargaining is expected. The tour finished back at the ship at 12ish so there was time for lunch and a bit of a rest before we started again at 14.15. THE KILLING FIELDS. The 40 minute bus ride through Phnom Penh gave us chance to see some of the city and it has a definite 'French colonial' feel although it could do with some sprucing up. The first stop was at one of the 'killing field' sites. The area has become a memorial to those killed during the rule of the Khmer Rouge and it has a magnificent stupa devoted to the 'unknowns'. There are pathways around the sites of the mass graves and the whole area has a very sombre feel to it. Our guide, who had been taken as a child by the Khmer Rouge, made the scene come to life with his reminiscences of that time and the horrors that were committed on this site. There were toilet facilities and a shop selling appropriate goods (is there anything appropriate for the acts that were committed here?) TUOL SLENG GENOCIDE MUSEUM. The second part of the tour was a visit to S21 Detention Centre which is now called the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and it was a 30 minute bus ride back through the city. This is a very stark series of buildings where the people who had been identified as 'enemies of the state' were detained and tortured until they confessed to their so-called crimes after which they were 'disposed of' at the killing fields. The galleries of photographs of some of the men, women and children who were victims of this dreadful place made it more real as you could see the terror in their faces. The full horror of these ordeals was made more personal by the fact that our guide had been at this centre for a short while before being sent to a youth 'training camp'. We had the opportunity to listen to one of the few survivors from this centre and to buy copies of his book and his paintings. It was a very quiet bus load of people on the return trip to the ship! The evening started with a briefing on the 'river day' tomorrow and some information about optional tours in Saigon and flights home before we had dinner, sat in the lounge and then bed. FRIDAY 18TH APRIL – MEKONG RIVER CRUISING -PHNOM PENH TO TAN CHAU (VIETNAM) A.M. Hot, humid and overcast. P.M. Hot, humid with hazy sunshine Wow.........we got a lie-in this morning as it is a river cruising day so we got up at 07.30ish, had breakfast and then watched the 09.00 sail away. We had a very lazy day, dozing, playing scrabble, reading, chatting and watching the activities along the river. The countryside along the river is quite flat and used mainly as agricultural land. There are small villages along the river bank where you can spot the elaborate Buddhist temples and some water villages too. All the way along we could see people hard at work in the fields, fishing or looking after their animals. The river is very wide in places and for long periods we sailed down the middle so it was difficult to make out what was happening on the banks without the aid of binoculars. The ship stopped for 2 hours at the border between Cambodia and Vietnam while immigration officers came on board to inspect our passports and we then sailed for another hour to Tan Chua where we anchored mid-stream ready for the trip ashore tomorrow. At the briefing, Hoa explained that people will be ferried across to the town in small boats that only hold 23 passengers. He told us that the local authorities will not sanction the use of larger tenders, but that might change as more tourists boats visit the area. Hoa also explained about the rickshaws being used to transport the passengers around the island and, because these are small and shallow with no back rest, I decided not to go ashore. After dinner the crew members put on a 'La Marguerite's got talent' show which was a bit of fun and then they put on dance music so it turned into quite a party. SATURDAY 19TH APRIL. MEKONG RIVER - TAN CHAU A.M. Hot, humid and hazy sunshine P.M. Very, very hot, humid and sunny clear sky. Well, back to the early morning alarm today! We went up on the top deck to have coffee before breakfast and to enjoy the relatively cool morning air. The orange group left at 08.30 and I waved them goodbye. I'm quite sad to miss the trip but know my limitations so I'll have to wait for Jim to write up about the experiences. TAN CHAU We took a short tender ride to the shore and boarded individual rickshaws. These were old and your knees were under your chin but a stool was provided to help people mount and dismount. After a short ride we stopped at a silk works before moving onto a rattan producing site. Both of these were interesting and time was allowed for shopping. We then said goodbye to the rickshaws walked through a small fishing village and boarded our tender. After a ride across the lagoon we entered a tributary with fishing houses on the sides. We walked around the fishing village with our guide who explained the day to day life of the families who live there. We were followed by a large group of children in the village and this made me feel a little uncomfortable. We also went to a small temple which was inside a bar/cafe and walked to a small toll bridge. We boarded our tender which then took us back down the tributary, across the lagoon and back to our boat. I spent a quiet morning trying to download some photos of the boys which I managed to do eventually but the internet connection was very slow. The tour returned at midday and after lunch we played scrabble and then relaxed as we watched the passing river traffic as we headed further downstream to our next stop. SUNDAY 20TH APRIL. MEKONG RIVER - SA DEC A.M. Hot, humid and sunny. P.M. Very, very hot, humid and sunny. Yet another early morning but it was beautiful on deck, drinking an early morning coffee and watching the local fishing boats. SA DEC. The tour this morning left at 08.15 when we were tendered by local motor boat across the river to Sa Dec. The boat ride was about 15 minutes each way and we travelled up a tributary of the Mekong with communities on both sides. It was interesting to see the difference between the fishing community on one side with their house boats and wooden stilt homes and the more affluent people on the other side of the river whose homes are quite French in style although a bit run-down by our standards. We were given a guided tour of the market which I thought was fabulous........so much colour, so many sounds, so many smells - some delicious and others a bit off putting, smiling people and a feeling of vibrancy. Our second stop was the original home of the lover of the French writer, Marguerite Duras and is a good example of the excessive love of highly decorated and gilded architecture of the early 1920s. Most of us were back on the ship at 10.00 for the 3 hour sail down to Cai Be. A few intrepid explorers went off to the jungle to see the area used as the Vietnam Cong headquarters during the Vietnam War. XEO QUYT - VIETNAM KONG STRONGHOLD It took roughly one hour to arrive at our destination. It had a water park on the outside which contained lakes with different water lilies, eating areas and music centres. We crossed a bridge into the jungle area. The path was raised above the many small water courses and we had to cross several small and narrow footbridges. There were command posts, hidden gun emplacements and tunnels. There were signposts in English and Vietnamese to explain the individual use of the sights that we saw. We spent about two hours on the site before making the one and a quarter hour drive back to the boat which had travelled down the river to meet us. CAI BE - FLOATING MARKET, COMMUNITY MANUFACTURING AREA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. The afternoon excursion began at 15.00 with another 15 minute tender boat ride along another tributary to the village of Cai Be. To be honest the 'floating market' was a bit of a letdown as there were only a few market boats and nobody buying as most trading is done in the morning. It was interesting to see that the market boats were quite big and their owners live on board unlike the sellers on the boats in Bangkok. After passing the market we pulled in at a community manufacturing area where the workers produce sweets made from local ingredients like coconut and popped rice. By our standards it was very unhygienic but the people were working with pride and enthusiasm. They also had other local items for sale so we had a bit of 'shopping time'! There followed a walk through the village to the Catholic Church where people had gathered for their Easter Sunday Celebrations. It was lovely to see so many youngsters dressed in their Sunday best waiting to go inside for the service. In fact it was quite poignant being there on such a special Christian festival after seeing all the other religious festivities during our tour. We left the church and crossed the road to get the tender back to the ship and were on board for 17.00. The evening began with a packing session. I couldn't believe how much we have acquired but, hopefully, if we can get the washing done in Saigon, I can get a bit more in the cases. After dinner there was a cultural show with musicians and dancers from the local area. It was very different from the ones in Cambodia.......much more folk story telling than the stylised hand movements of the Cambodian dancers. We did the majority of the packing before retiring to bed. MONDAY 21ST APRIL. MEKONG RIVER - MY THO TO SAIGON ( HO CHI MIN CITY) A.M. Very hot, humid and sunny. P.M. Very, very hot, humid and sunny. Yet another early morning with the alarm going at 06.00 again! The cases had to be out at 06.45, the room vacated at 07.30 and we left the ship at 08.00. The drive to HCMC ( I will call it Saigon from now on as that is how most of the residents refer to it) took just over an hour and it was interesting to see the countryside and how it differs agriculturally from Northern Vietnam.......more fruit orchards and vegetables than rice cultivation. SAIGON. It was obvious early on that Saigon is a huge city and it owes a lot architecturally to its time as a bastion of French colonialism. There are some wide boulevards, pretty park areas, narrow streets and a mixture of grand Art Deco buildings mixed in with modern sky scrapers and slum areas. The volume of traffic - motorbikes, scooters, cars, lorries, pedestrians - was daunting especially when trying to cross the road. It seems that you wait for a space to step onto the road and then proceed at a slow but steady pace as vehicles whiz past you in all directions at an alarming rate. So far, so good! We had emphatic warnings about personal safety and protection of property from pick-pockets and bag snatchers. Unfortunately this type of crime is quite prevalent so it is important to only take out what you can afford to lose and not to flaunt expensive jewellery etc. The group arrived at the hotel at 09.30 and we were asked to stow all our carry-ons behind the reception area for safe keeping while we were taken on an orientation walk by our local guide. Hoa hoped that our rooms would be ready by the time everyone returned. I decided not to go and was so pleased that Hoa was able to get access to our room soon after the others left.......he is a sweetheart. The walkers were back in time for the optional excursions (shopping or a pillion ride on a motor bike round the city) at 11.00. THE GRAND HOTEL. The hotel is in a good position - the river, opera house, central market, up-market shopping malls and cafés and restaurants are all within walking distance or, in my case, a $2 taxi ride. The building dated from the 1930s but has recently been refurbished and has an imposing entrance, spa, swimming pool, restaurants and a coffee shop, a rooftop bar with panoramic views over the city. ROOM 503. The room is an unusual shape with an entrance hall with 2 arm chairs and the wardrobe and then a left turn into the bedroom area. Room features: Air conditioning 2 large single beds Soft pillows Telephone Pad and pen Dressing table with drawers Mirror Hair drier Tea/coffee making Fridge with mini bar 2 small bottles of water Fresh fruit basket Safe Slippers Bath robes En-suite with: Bath Over bath shower Toilet Wash basin Toiletries ORIENTATION WALK BY OUR LOCAL GUIDE. The group arrived at the hotel at 09.30 and we were asked to stow all our carry-ons behind the reception area for safe keeping while we were taken on an orientation walk by our local guide. Hoa hoped that our rooms would be ready by the time everyone returned. I decided not to go and was so pleased that Hoa was able to get access to our room soon after the others left.......he is a sweetheart. The walkers were back in time for the optional excursions (shopping or a pillion ride on a motor bike round the city) at 11.00. We sorted our remaining finances and then got a taxi to the market area. THE CENTRAL MARKET. I thought the market was great. There was very little pressure to buy and a huge number of stalls. The market is generally divided into sections.......... clothes, hardware, food, shoes, souvenirs etc. At most stalls it is expected that you will bargain but there are a few 'fixed price' stalls where prices are marked on the goods. There are signs above these stalls announcing that the prices are fixed. We bought a t-shirt for Jim, aeroplanes and football strips (Vietnam) for the boys and tops plus a hat and a silk sleeping bag for me. We got a taxi back to the hotel and then walked to a coffee shop for lunch - 2 Americanos and 2 club sandwiches. We were given complementary iced water and iced green tea. Total cost was around £8. After lunch we braved crossing the street to walk for a while by the riverside and then we took a different route back to the hotel, stopping to buy a camera cap for Jim, some 3D birthday cards from a street vendor and some drinks for the room from the little grocery shop by the hotel. We played scrabble, Jim went to the gym and I tried to do a bit of re-packing but I'm not sure how we are going to get everything in the cases! We ended our evening with a walk to the 'Bier Garten' pub/restaurant for dinner. We has 2 kinds of spring rolls, a beef satay, a hot-rock beef tenderloin, 1 beer and 1 lemon soda. Personally, I thought it was expensive at £26. The last thing was to get 2 Brazil strips for the boys for 250,000dongs = £7.50 TUESDAY 22ND APRIL. SAIGON A.M. very, very hot, very, very humid and sunny P.M. Ditto Yet another 06.00 alarm so I shot out of bed for a shower etc before breakfast. The restaurant is huge and the food stations are spaced out at intervals across the room so it was quite difficult to find the items but the variety, quality and quantity was good. CU CHI TUNNEL TOUR. We left the hotel at 08.00 for the 90 minute drive to the tunnels site. The drive was interesting as it gave us a perspective of Saigon in rush hour and it is organised chaos in its own way. There seem to be no rules for road use but people drive with understanding of their environment.....amazing! It was also interesting to see the suburbs of Saigon and to see that there are many very nice houses and also how clean the people keep the area in front of their property. When we got to the tunnels site there is a large car park and very clean and plentiful western style toilets. Once everyone had used the 'happy room' the tour began with a walk through the souvenir shop to the entrance which is through a high ceilinged tunnel with quite a long steep upward walk. Once inside the compound we were guided through the forest on uneven pathways to various sites where we were shown the ways the Vietnam Cong soldiers lived and fought in this area. We saw the entrance to tunnels, the booby traps set for US troops, the camouflaged tunnel ventilation systems, the ammunition stores and much more. Some of the group went down into one of the tunnels for a 100 yard walk through and said it was very narrow and claustrophobic inside. The tour took approximately 90 minutes. There were bench seats by most of the exhibits. We were back at the hotel around 12.30. We decided to have lunch at the same chain coffee shop but the one at the other side of the hotel and when we got back we had a game of scrabble by the pool before Jim went to the gym and I tried to organise the second case! Thank goodness we have 30kgs each. 'FAREWELL DINNER’. It was the 'Farewell Dinner' so we left the hotel at 06.30 for the short walk to ‘Maxim’s’. The venue is a supper club with music and dancing performance. We were seated at long tables. It was pleasantly decorated in side and reminded me a bit of the club in the Indiana Jones film in Shanghai in the 1930s. The food tasted ok but the portions were minute except for the soup: Starter 1 spring roll, a small portion of a beef salad, Main course sticky rice, garlic broccoli and cauliflower, ginger chicken (1 tiny piece each), catfish and tomato soup. Dessert Crème Caramel We paid for our own drinks. The entertainment consisted of a small group of musicians who played a selection of 1930s tunes and 4 girl dancers who were ok. I have to say that it was probably the most disappointing activity of the whole tour.......what a shame! Jim and I called at the grocery store for a bag of 'Pomsticks' each as we were both hungry. WEDNESDAY 23RD APRIL. SAIGON TO SINGAPORE A.M. very hot, humid and sunny P.M. very hot, humid and sunny. We had a lie-in until 07.00 this morning. It's just a shame the beds are so hard! We had breakfast and finished the majority of the packing before getting a taxi to the market again where we got a couple of the vegetable peelers, a t-shirt for Freddie and a shirt for Jim. Having crammed these into the suitcases, we vacated the room at 12.00 For the next couple of hours we chatted with our tour companions, Jim used the free computer in the hotel business area to look at his e-mails and I chatted to two charming gentlemen from Myanmar who were on business in Saigon attending the international food convention. I also got chance to say goodbye and to thank Hoa before he left at 14.00. JASPER'S RESTAURANT. We had lunch at Jasper's - the restaurant across the road from the hotel's side entrance. It has a very eclectic menu and the portions are good. I had the cheese and ham melt with chips and a tonic water while Jim had a chicken tikka baguette with chips and a diet coke. The total bill was 456,500 dong=£13 approx. We returned to the hotel and played scrabble. By the time we finished it was time to leave. The ride to the airport took about 35 minutes. Minh, our guide from yesterday, was with us to escort us into the terminal. I had the wheelchair assistance which arrived promptly and we were whisked through passport control and security very quickly. It was a two hour wait so we played scrabble again........I know, it gets boring but we enjoy it! SAIGON AIRPORT It is close to the city - 35 minutes drive. It has 1 terminal Check in was quite fast Our luggage was checked through to LHR. I waited a few minutes for the wheelchair after check in Security was relatively lax as Barbara carried a full bottle of water through without being challenged. Airside has the usual supply of shops and food outlets. I could probably have walked from security to the gate as the distance wasn't great. There are plenty of seats at each gate. There are disabled toilet facilities.   Read Less
Sail Date April 2014
Our expectations have been exceeded by far: the RV Mekong Pandaw is an absolute lovely and comfortable boat, ex- and interior fits perfect to Vietnam and Cambodia, without jeopardizing any comfort. The entire vessel has just been complete ... Read More
Our expectations have been exceeded by far: the RV Mekong Pandaw is an absolute lovely and comfortable boat, ex- and interior fits perfect to Vietnam and Cambodia, without jeopardizing any comfort. The entire vessel has just been complete refitted, large rooms in teak wood, comfortable beds, all clean and tidy. If we understood correct, they have reduced the number of cabins (which other cruise line does that?). The almost entire lower deck is a generous public space with a large gym, movie room, a lounge-style library and full equipped massage rooms. On the upper deck the boats has a cozy saloon bar + a huge sundeck (with free ice cream all day). All, meals, beverages (including alcoholic), excursion was included - no hassle or anyone trying to sell you anything during the cruise. While the boat looks like it dates back from French Indochina times, they have WI-Fi in all cabins and provide even programmed Ipads; keeping you always updated on the upcoming excursions, route, program, menus etc and free use of internet We had some concerns, we are in our 30/40s, and feared we might be by far the youngest couple – but no. Fellow travelers of all ages and we counted 7 different nationalities. We all had common interest and so much fun and interesting conversations. During the cruise we had enough opportunities to escape the “crowd”, like a private table for dinner when we requested it (we celebrated our anniversary) and in Phnom Penh you can choose from a variety of excursions (all included in the price). I went to take a lesson in Khmer boxing at a local boxing school (what an experience!), my wife took the cooking classes at a local training center for underprivileged children. But what made this cruise so very special was the service provided! Service, food and the ship managers where outstanding. Nothing was too much, all done with a smile. All a very causal 6 star experience without being stiff and formal. Their Chef is a local master Chef and was always available in the dining room to explain or take special orders. Neville, the ship manager, is a super star! But even their ground staff! We had booked through an agent and had some issue with our onwards journey after the cruise. The Pandaw head office assisted us with all and rerouted our flights and amended our hotel stays. We had the vacation of a lifetime! My advice: Book direct with Pandaw, they are extremely helpful.   Read Less
Sail Date February 2014

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