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142 Asia River Cruise Reviews

I recently returned from the Imperial Jewels trip through Viking River Cruises. This ws our second trip with Viking. We also purchased the extension to Guilin and Hong Kong as well as all flights through Viking. If you a looking for an ... Read More
I recently returned from the Imperial Jewels trip through Viking River Cruises. This ws our second trip with Viking. We also purchased the extension to Guilin and Hong Kong as well as all flights through Viking. If you a looking for an excellent survey course to China, this tour to well worth the cost. With the sites and tours given you will see a great deal that China has to offer. I call it a survey course because each city, each province could be an entire vacation in itself. There are other tours even by Viking that change are a little different but most of them include the same locations. I choose the Beijing to Shanghai route because it gave me an extra day to myself in Beijing. My wife and I used this to use the Beijing subway and visit sites not on the tour. I chose Viking because it is a first class operation. I love the level of the hotels used and of course their ships are always first class. I was exposed to several of the tour escorts and really enjoyed their efforts on my behalf. The tour escort I was assigned to was incredible and really made the trip special. Others I met not in our group swore they had the best tour escort? When you keep hearing this, it says something for the quality of Vikings TE's. If I had one concern about the trip was the number of shopping sites we were taken to. My wife and I are not great shoppers so this may not be a fair statement, but I might have rather seen some other site. The Guilin-Hong Kong extension was very enjoyable. I liked the free time on our own to explore the city as we wished. The hotel was on the harbor which added to the experience. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
This was our first trip to China and Viking provided a great itinerary to give travelers that little taste of the highlights of China. We almost didn't book with Viking because they were so unhelpful and uncooperative. Having ... Read More
This was our first trip to China and Viking provided a great itinerary to give travelers that little taste of the highlights of China. We almost didn't book with Viking because they were so unhelpful and uncooperative. Having completed months of research on the various cruise lines, we decided on Viking and called, ready to set everything up and book. We were met with SO MUCH negativity, resistance and unwillingness to help, that we almost decided to look into another cruiseline. We couldn't believe people could be so unfriendly so my husband and I called separately over a period of a month, hoping to get someone who wanted to book us. If not trying to rush us to make some decision while unwilling to give us information to help us do that, they'd put us on hold on the phone for long lengths of time and always came back to tell us they couldn't do this or that. Being that they were the "travel agent" and I an infrequent traveler, I couldn't believe I knew more about booking and traveling to China than they did. Viking literature promotes their willingness to help you extend your trip and all we wanted to do was arrive in Beijing two days early, but they tried so hard to dissuade us as if they didn't want the extra work. We even called ANOTHER TRAVEL AGENCY to obtain information they should have known and to give them available flights and they couldn't even understand the time difference between China and the USA. We got the feeling that they hated their job and didn't care at all about trying to make this experience a good one for the traveler OR selling any of their tours. Luckily my husband happened upon AFFORDABLE TRAVEL who we highly recommend, who helped us with everything we wanted to do to plan this trip. It was ironic that we had to go through this third party in order to finally book our Viking cruise because Viking travel agents were so unhelpful. Once on the tour, the entire trip was wonderful. My only negative comment was that since we are only seeing a very, teeny bit of China, why so many museum tours? I'd rather be out there seeing the sights of China and the people, than stuck in a museum ... and I believe we had 3-4 museums on our tour. Too many! Other than that, we had an excellant tour guide -- Yang Xu -- who was a fountain of knowledge and very interesting to listen to, who dealt with everything thrown at him with a smile and was always pleasant and entertaining and calm, taking charge of all of our emergencies. He really added to the wonderful experience we had. He had us well organized and always told us where to be and when. The sights they put on the tour was a nice sampling of all the main tourist attractions (good itinerary for a first time visitor) and we enjoyed all the Chinese dinners and lunches they provided. I liked the small Voxes they provided us with and the small, manageable tour groups as we got to know everyone in our group really well by the end of the tour. Accommodations - All the hotels we stayed at were FIRST RATE AWESOME. The ship had really nice staterooms, larger than what we had on our Princess Alaska cruise. Great food, great tours, great guide, awesome tour mates, great ship. I would definitely want to take another Viking cruise as we had such a wonderful time on this well organized tour; however, I would not book my airline through Viking (they flew us from Shanghai across the continental U.S. to Toronto on the east coast and then back to the west coast where we live) and I would forget about calling Viking direct to book and go straight to Affordable Tours who arranged everything for us and always with a smile. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
Cruise accommodations on Viking Emerald excellent. Food was best of any cruise we have taken. Ports of call were poor - visiting a school as the only stop that day was inadequate for those who want to see as much of China as possible in ... Read More
Cruise accommodations on Viking Emerald excellent. Food was best of any cruise we have taken. Ports of call were poor - visiting a school as the only stop that day was inadequate for those who want to see as much of China as possible in this short 12-day excursion Three Gorges Dam was unimpressive, not seeing any of the mechanics of how it operates as we would see in other countries. Meals served off ship were institutional quality, trying to emulate western perception of Chinese food rather than authentic Chinese. Guide was excellent, but why have separate guides for each tour in addition to primary guide? 12 days is too short a time. Staff on board was excellent in every way, a highlight of the cruise along with food and service generally on board. Anxious to try another Viking Cruise without pre and post cruise tours. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
This was our first trip to Asia. After a great deal of research of tour operators, we settled on Viking because of their willingness to deal with dietary needs and conversations with previous travellers on similiar trips. A number of ... Read More
This was our first trip to Asia. After a great deal of research of tour operators, we settled on Viking because of their willingness to deal with dietary needs and conversations with previous travellers on similiar trips. A number of acquaintances had travelled on less expensive excursions that were all fine, but Viking came out ahead on first class hotels, a new ship, meals and organization of tours. From the moment we arrived in Beijing and were met by a Viking representative to the time we were escorted to the check in counter to depart Shanghai, every detail was looked after. Our guide Jimmy was extremely knowledgeable, caring and organized. We were kept on a tight schedule but we saw everything and received a in depth education of the culture, history and understanding of today's dynamics. We stayed at the first class Westin's in Beijing and Shanghai, and the beautiful Crowne Plaza in Xian. The Viking Emerald is a very comfortable ship with good cabins and excellent public spaces. Meals at hotels, restaurants, performances an on the ship were all very good with much choice and accommodated western palates. All the tours and stops had something to offer. The big disappointment though was the Three Gorges Dam Project. Because of the permanent mist you can't see the dam, and do not get to see the inner workings of this massive project. You are limited to the displays, grounds and gift store. For a first glimpse of China, don't hesitate to choose Viking. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
My wife and I have done 5 river cruises so my opinions are more comparison based than usual (forget the stars since my rating is against many similar others). We started by arriving in Shanghai three days before the tour (land + cruise) ... Read More
My wife and I have done 5 river cruises so my opinions are more comparison based than usual (forget the stars since my rating is against many similar others). We started by arriving in Shanghai three days before the tour (land + cruise) started. Obviously after a long flight rest is needed. We got in a little shopping and took one tour on our own. I've got to say that that tour was a significant highlight of our memories. We did the half day Water Village tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. The organized Viking tours are well conducted with both your assigned Viking tour leader (for the duration) + a local guide (superfluous except for political connections). They include much bus travel through extreme traffic to the point where you want to get off and walk. Obvious shopping stops are made at factory outlets which were very interesting to learn how things are made. After a single day of touring it was off to an airport (in the traffic again) to get on a 1-1/2 hour flight saving 7 hours or more on a bus. I've got to say that both the airports experience as well as the plane was a lot better than you would get in the USA. Unfortunately once off the plane it was back on a bus again in heavy traffic to make it to another exhibit and finally to a hotel. That left the days a little hetic and if you booked an optional night tour plan on no time for a shower before getting back on the bus again. The hotels were luxurious beyond expectations (3 story lobby ceilings etc.) Once we got on the cruise ship we could finally get a little more rest. The staterooms were better than average with the bathroom being exceptional. The functional rooms (river boat) were average, which translates to no complaints. The meals were above average with breast and lunch being exceptionally good. Dinner, on the other hand was below average with well presented but sometimes poor western style food (no complaints however for the single Chinese meal or captains farewell dinner). I tend to get by ordering multiple appetisers. The land meals were mostly Chinese with the buffets being good enough for most palates. The only bad meal was a western style plate-of-the-day we had in Beijing. we had opted out of an optional evening tour and ended up with a very poor restaurant choice by Viking. The cruise venue was very good and the stops interesting (long lasting memories). However be forewarned that the Chinese are more fit and able than us westerners. They think nothing of the hills they walk up. The more lasting memories for us were the hills leading up from the river dock to a town. I've got to say that unless you are exceptionally fit, take advantage of the hawkers at the bottom of the gang plank they either carry your bags (Beijing) or have one carry you up the hill on a chair while visiting the Pagoda. Your guide will advise you of the going rate (typically 20-30 Yuan). When the guide advises during a tour to follow him at a leisurely pace that equates to a brisk walk. a highlight video of this trip is available on U-Tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uvEVRKeLdk Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
Viking River Cruises are an incredible experience! Our second cruise with Viking was a land/river cruise in China. Over the top impressive! Every detail was handled with care. Excursions were perfect, food on-board ship was excellent ... Read More
Viking River Cruises are an incredible experience! Our second cruise with Viking was a land/river cruise in China. Over the top impressive! Every detail was handled with care. Excursions were perfect, food on-board ship was excellent and ambiance was very nice. Wait staff was very attentive to our needs. China was not on our "radar" or "bucket list". A friend of ours asked us to travel with them. So glad we did. I highly recommend this cruise. Excursion walking is strenuous. Hotels for the land part were absolutely luxurious. Guides met us at the airport, were with us continuously and dropped us off at the return airport. Our guide was a font of knowledge, answered our every question and was attentive and kind. Loved him. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
The trip that we thought would be the trip of a lifetime turned into the trip from Hell! Viking is not doing anyone a favor by not disclosing the details of this trip. Any one with any medical conditions, ie. difficulty walking, heart ... Read More
The trip that we thought would be the trip of a lifetime turned into the trip from Hell! Viking is not doing anyone a favor by not disclosing the details of this trip. Any one with any medical conditions, ie. difficulty walking, heart condition or respiratory condition, should not even consider this trip. It is very fast paced and there is alot of walking over uneven ground on 2000 year old cobblestones. The first day out we walked 5 miles, which they didn't tell us until we were on the bus going there. The bus drops you off and picks you up at the other end. There is no way to "opt out" once you get off the bus. You spend alot of time flying from one destination to another. Alot of the restaurants they took us to were dirty. Two of them had mangy cats on the table when we arrived. One had dead cockroaches on the floor. Guess we should be glad they weren't alive! Many of them I didn't eat the food they were so dirty. Viking claims in their information that they personally select the restaurants, so I guess someone is not doing their job! My overall impression of China is that it is dirty, the bathrooms (except in the hotels where we stayed) were disgusting. Some of them smelled so bad even the guys wouldn't use them. Most of them only have squat toilets. I'd never heard of them before I went to China. I wish I still hadn't. The people there are rude and very pushy. There is always some trying to sell you something, no matter where you go and they are very aggressive. This trip goes to Tibet which is at 13,000 feet. About 1/3 of our group had altitude sickness so severe that they had to have IV treatments. 2 people were never able to leave the hotel. Our guide was telling people not to take the medication their doctors had given them to take as a precaution. He said we would not need it. Boy was he wrong! I wished I had not listened to him. I think it was totally inappropriate for him to have done that. After Tibet we got on the boat for the "cruise" part of the trip. They claim that the Emerald is a totally remodeled cruise boat. I was not impressed. They tried to hide the uneven floors, ect. but it is a "chinese owned" boat, so there was probably only so much they could do. By the time we got to the boat, people were starting to get sick and it spread thru the ship like wildfire. I spent the entire 5 days in my cabin, other than to go to meals. Overall, I was very disappointed in Viking because they obviously haven't done a very good job of letting people know what the trip entails. They definitely haven't done their homework as far as providing a safe environment for their clients and ensuring them safe food to eat. This would be the perfect trip for "Undercover Boss"! I'd love to see the CEO of Viking eating in the restaurants they took us to. My advice to anyone considering this trip is DON"T DO IT!!!!!! We complained to Viking when we got back and their only response was to offer us a "coupon" toward the next cruise we took with them. Like that is going to happen. They didn't even care what our complaints were. They just send you the coupon and refuse to respond to any more emails. If anyone thinks I was the only one VERY unhappy by the end of the trip, I wasn't. Everyone was pretty upset about the way were were treated and what we were exposed to. I doubt very many of the 200 people on the trip will be repeat cruisers with Viking! Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
We began our land/river cruise in Shanghai but boarded the boat in Nanjing after 2 nights in Shanghai. Viking was top notch from beginning to end. However, we had some issues with the boat. While t was a gorgeous boat only a couple of ... Read More
We began our land/river cruise in Shanghai but boarded the boat in Nanjing after 2 nights in Shanghai. Viking was top notch from beginning to end. However, we had some issues with the boat. While t was a gorgeous boat only a couple of years old there were some negatives. The cabin was large and comfortable with a large plasma flat screen TV on the wall. There was a full floor to ceiling window and door opening to a small balcony. However, it was impossible to regulate the a/c being too cold during the day and too warm at night. The areas of the ship were always too cold. Communication with the housekeeper (cabin attendant) and front desk (Chinese) was a constant problem. I asked the housekeeper for a new battery for the alarm clock and I got a bar of soap. It took 3 Chinese housekeepers to get me a battery. The front desk with the exception of the supervisor had a problem understanding my requests. The dining room food was inconsistent and very seldom hot. The wait staff however were excellent and spoke good English. We were always provided with water and wine at lunch or dinner. The hotels for the land portions were excellent except for the Crown Plaza in Xi'an where the a/c would not go below 78 deg F. This trip is not for persons who as physically challenged. There are steep ramps and steps to get from the boat up to the shore where the buses await passengers for the excursions. We were assigned to the same group and tour guide who was outstanding for the whole 16 days. Again, Viking does an outstanding job as far as never having to worry about anything. There are wheelchairs with local farmers as pushers for nominal amounts at the terra cotta warriors, great wall, and in Beijing at the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. On deck 5 there was a nice lounge with coffee bar where you could get coffee, tea, hot chocolate, cookies, Chinese instant soup at any time. The lounges on deck 5 and deck 6 were very comfortable. To get to deck 6 you had to climb up 2 flights of steps. The elevators only went to deck 5. There were nice decks at the front of deck 5 and 6 and a large deck at the rear of deck 5. There was a small workout room, sauna and salon services. My wife had her hair done twice at the saloon for $20 each time including head, neck and shoulder massage. The gal refused a tip. It was an unbelievable bargain. Read Less
Sail Date April 2012
The Imperial Jewels cruise from Beijing to Shanghai was our second trip with Viking. After cruising with them on the Danube, my expectations were very high. They were exceeded in every way from booking through our return flight home. I ... Read More
The Imperial Jewels cruise from Beijing to Shanghai was our second trip with Viking. After cruising with them on the Danube, my expectations were very high. They were exceeded in every way from booking through our return flight home. I made our reservation direct with Viking including airfare. By using the Viking Air Plus Service, we were able to confirm the direct flights we wanted as soon as they were available from the airline. Even 320 days in advance, Viking's response to my request was 'no problem'. The other advantage of booking airfare through Viking was the included transfers and extra night in Beijing. About 6 months before departure we were notified that our hotels were the Ritz Financial District in Beijing, Westin in Xian, and Portman Ritz in Shanghai. All three were ultra plush with outstanding rooms, food, and concierge services. Checking in and out was seamless. We never had to wait for keys. Luggage always seemed to take a little longer but it was never a big deal. We arrived in Beijing on a rainy Tuesday afternoon and were greeted by Viking as soon as we exited customs. Those scenes of Beijing with thousands of bicycles are long gone. They have been replaced by horrible traffic jams. Since the official tour program didn't start till Thursday morning we had an extra evening and full day to explore on our own -- something we are very comfortable doing. Tuesday's rain led to a beautiful blue sky on Wednesday. We took the subway to the Temple of Heaven complex which is a huge park area with several different ornate temple structures. The temples are spectacular but the added bonus was all the locals doing Tai Chi, playing cards, singing and dancing. They really take advantage of the beautiful park. There were more locals there than tourists. We then took the Subway back to the hotel to meet up with some friends for lunch at the Whampoa Club. It's an old courtyard house in the middle of new office buildings about 3 blocks from the Ritz. The Concierge made us a reservation but none of us was prepared for the 'WOW' factor of this place. We had a huge fancy private room just off the main courtyard. It had a sitting area and a big round table set for only 4. The food was probably the best local food we had on the trip and that's saying a lot. After raving about the clean, efficient, and cheap Subway (about 32 cents one way anywhere in the system) we all headed for the Lama Monastery. It's a huge complex of buildings and courtyards and also very interesting. We were really glad we took the subway because the rush hour traffic was in full swing. We heard from others that it was an hour plus to get back to the hotel. There are only 2 optional tours in this itinerary: Peking Duck & Opera in Beijing; and Tang Dynasty Dinner & Show in Xian. Based on other reviews we decided against the Opera. So Wednesday evening we went to 'Duck de Chine' for Peking Duck. We were going to go someplace else but the Concierge said that this was really the best place. They were roasting the ducks over wood fires which made the restaurant smell really good. It was an older courtyard building that was probably originally someone's house. We ordered a duck and broccoli with Garlic. It was more than plenty for 2. The duck comes with pancakes, little sesame buns, hoisin sauce, and some thinly sliced radish, carrot, and celery. When the duck is presented they bang a gong and announce 'Your Duck has arrived'. The chef then carved it at our table and arranged it on 2 plates with the trimmed meat under the crisp, but still greasy skin. It was a terrific dinner and we were glad we had a chance to try the famous duck. But I also think it's an experience that doesn't need to be repeated. Viking assigns a guide to a group for the entire trip. Thursday morning we met Daniel and the other 26 people in our group. Since you travel together, tour together, and mostly eat together you tend to get pretty attached to your group. Daniel was outstanding and I can't imagine any guide being better. Fortunately we didn't have any problem individuals in our group. Everyone was good about meeting times and moved at a decent pace. Plus the VOX headsets they use make guided tours a pleasure as you don't have to gather around close to hear the guide. All aspects of the tours and meals in Beijing went like clockwork. The sites are amazing, big, and crowded. But timing is everything and we tended to visit the sights early before the crowds of Chinese tourist became overwhelming. This was especially true at the Great Wall where we had the section toward Mongolia almost to ourselves. As we were leaving, hundreds of Chinese School groups were charging toward us. Timing is everything! Our blue skies were long gone as every day the smog got progressively worse. By the time we left Beijing on Saturday you could barely see a few blocks down the street. Our morning Rickshaw ride was really fun and tour of the Hutongs very interesting. It really showed the contrast between the old neighborhoods and the new high rise apartments. We then had an afternoon flight to Xian and the Tang Dynasty show that night. Everyone who attended both shows said the Tang Dinner & Show was ten-times better than the Duck & Opera. We definitely made the right choice. The next morning we headed out early to the Terra Cotta Warriors. Once again, timing is everything and we were in and out before it got really crowded. Even the guides remarked that they expected heavier crowds. We were then off on a flight to Chongqing to meet up with the Viking Emerald. The flights within China were always easy due to both our guide and the Viking staff. Luggage disappeared then reappeared without us having to do anything. Daniel always had our boarding passes so once we got through security all we had to do was walk on the plane. All the flights were about 1.5 hours and wait time was much less than if we'd been on our own. The Viking Emerald was new to Viking in 2011 but was an older ship that was totally refurbished. Everything about the ship was fantastic including the food and wine at dinner. They poured Beringer Chardonnay and Cabernet as their house wine. It flowed freely at both lunch and dinner -- in addition to beer. The breakfast buffet had a huge variety of items and always included Chinese specialties like noodles and dumplings. Eggs, omelets, French toast, and pancakes were prepared in the dining room by 4 or so cooks. The only item ordered from the kitchen was Eggs Benedict, which we had several times. Lunch had 3 entree choices in addition to the soup, salad bar, buffet items and Chinese options. Dinner also had 3 appetizer, entree, and dessert choices. Plus you could always have a steak and Caesar salad if nothing else sounded good. Everything was so outstanding it was hard to abstain. The Beef Tenderloin, Rack of Lamb, and Lobster Thermidor were especially good and cooked perfectly. The staterooms all had balconies, a couch, a desk area, and a good size bathroom with a glass enclosed shower. The only item missing was a refrigerator. You also had to make sure to close the balcony doors correctly so the top sensors matched up, otherwise the air conditioning system thought the doors were open and would not work. We once again had great weather when we went on the small boat tour through the Lesser 3 Gorges. It was a perfect day as we sailed toward the Dam on Tuesday evening. Then the FOG came in. The Chinese authorities stopped all traffic going through the locks and ship traffic backed up quickly. Viking used their connections to jump the Dam lock queue and we managed to go on the Dam tour on Wednesday while waiting for our turn. But the fog came back, the locks shut down, and we didn't get through till early Thursday evening. By then there was no way we could sail to Wuhan so we docked right outside the locks, once again in heavy fog. We ended up missing Xiling Gorge, the stop at the Viking School, and Museum in Wuhan. Viking made alternate arrangements to get us to Wuhan by bus so we could catch our flight to Shanghai. Because of this detour, we saw a different view of the Chinese countryside that we would not have normally seen. Seeing all the farmers in the rice fields plowing with their water buffalos was pretty amazing. Saturday in Shanghai was busy from morning till night. Viking certainly made the most of day there. The grand finale was the Acrobat show which was ideally located adjacent to the Portman Ritz. Only 8 of our group of 28 were headed home. The rest were off to the Guilin and Hong Kong. We would have liked to have gone to Guilin but since we had already been to Hong Kong the additional cost seemed extreme. So we were off to the Airport Sunday morning and even arrived early back in San Francisco. This was probably one of the best trips we've taken. I could not even imagine going to China with any company other than Viking. From start to finish everything was first rate!   Read Less
Sail Date April 2012
We were so delighted with our recent Imperial Jewels of China cruise that, on our return, I actually emailed a review, very similar to the one below, to the Viking office in Beijing and in the UK. The whole trip was magic from start to ... Read More
We were so delighted with our recent Imperial Jewels of China cruise that, on our return, I actually emailed a review, very similar to the one below, to the Viking office in Beijing and in the UK. The whole trip was magic from start to finish. From the first contact 12 months ago to the final goodbye from our tour escort Francis at Shanghai Pudong airport, the organisation, service and product were quite superb. We cannot fault the choice of hotels, the people, the excursions or the entertainment in any way. The ship itself (the Viking Century Emerald) was wonderful, and the food, accommodation, on-board shops, staff and crew all far exceeded our expectations, but with one important criticism: when I was ill and needed help, I pressed the SOS button in our cabin repeatedly, but it failed to elicit any response. Had I been dangerously ill, this could have had serious consequences. However, having said that, the attention I received once I had attracted attention, was excellent and very kind. Our flights to and from China were with BA, and were fine, and the internal flights we took all happened smoothly and according to schedule. All the Viking people we dealt with - admin staff, local guides, coach drivers, and especially our tour escort and the ship's staff and crew - deserve the highest praise. Every aspect of the organisation was superb, and we were particularly impressed with the efficient and apparently seemless way the schedule was reorganised at very short notice and extra entertainments and coaches were laid on, when fog on the Yangtse caused the boat trip to be curtailed unexpectedly. This was our first trip with Viking. We will definitely be travelling with them again, and in fact are now considering booking in the next few weeks for 2013. Read Less
Sail Date April 2012
This took care of a couple of items on my bucket-list specifically the Terra Cotta Warriors and the Great Wall. We are 2 people in our late sixties. Neither of us are the types that want to go out into a city where we don't know ... Read More
This took care of a couple of items on my bucket-list specifically the Terra Cotta Warriors and the Great Wall. We are 2 people in our late sixties. Neither of us are the types that want to go out into a city where we don't know the language and explore. But we want to see and learn as much as is possible. I'm glad we took the Beijing to Shanghai instead of the reverse because Beijing is the most tiring. We aren't very athletic people. I can't say enough about the service provided by Viking. This was truly a care free vacation. I think it is similar in one respect to travelling with your parents when you were a kid. You just show up when and where you are told and everything is taken care of for you. No standing in lines to check-in or to collect your luggage at airports nor to buy tickets for any of the attractions or sites. It's all taken care of by your Viking escort who is with you through the entire trip. Also on the excursions the guide uses a microphone which transmit to a head set that you wear so you can hear everything being said which is great since I'm usually bringing up the rear. There were 2 optional excursions (if you opted out they took you to dinner at a restaurant): The Peking duck dinner with excerpts from the Peking Opera in Beijing and/or Tang Dynasty Dinner show in Xian. Not wanting to miss anything, we went to both of these. Most people went only to the Tang Dynasty show but I enjoyed the Peking Opera more. I found the Tang show rather glitzy. We stayed at the Westin Beijing on Financial Street, The Crowne Plaza Xian and the Westin Bund Center in Shanghai. We like Westin Hotels much better than the Crowne Plaza. FOOD: The breakfasts in the hotels and on the boat were the best because there was such variety. I loved the shipboard-made yogurt with fresh fruit. The rest of the meals were average. When Chinese food was served I believe it was "dumbed down" because I found it bland in comparison to what you can get in San Francisco. But you did get wine or beer with lunch and dinner. The three flights within China were short and sweet. I was pleasantly surprised. We booked the air through Viking so even though our flight was delayed we were met by their representatives who collected our luggage and got us settled at the hotel. They suggested we go to the Lama Temple or to the zoo on the next day which was free time. We went to the Lama Temple which was beautiful but very smoky (incense). Great pictures. When the tour part actually began we were kept moving. There are a lot of places to see and a limited amount of time. In Beijing, there's Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs , all involve a great deal of walking on the flat. In the case of the Wall we're also climbing, those "I climbed the Great Wall" tee shirts aren't lying. It is very strenuous. The wall has steps on it. Very steep steps. Xian -- The Terra-cotta warriors was the biggest thrill for me. I have wanted to see them since they were first discovered. Chonqing is where we actually boarded the Viking Emerald. When we arrived I was amazed to see what we had to do to board the vessel. There were steep stairs (no railing) to go down and then there was what looked like a jury-rigged long floating walkway that led to the boat. Everyone had their carry-ons with them but there were men who would carry your stuff for you for a small fee. I carried my own. I wish I had taken pictures. Once on the boat the cabin was great. First stop on the boat was the Shibaozhai Temple. It was beautiful and worth the 12 story climb to the top. But to get to it there was a very steep hill to climb. You could get someone with to pull you up in a rickshaw. I passed on this. The next day was an excursion in a smaller boat to the Lesser Three Gorges. There we saw some great scenery including the hanging coffins. We didn't enter the locks for the Dam until around 11:00PM and I missed it but I awoke around 3:00AM and was able to watch the boat go through the final lock. This was nice. I was alone on deck and got some very good pictures. The Three Gorges Dam itself wasn't interesting to me. They don't allow anyone to enter the dam so there's not a lot to see. There are displays about it and there was a lot of technical information but that leaves me cold. The next day we cruised through the Gezhou Dam Shiplock. This was one lock in the afternoon so we got to see everything from start to finish and take pictures in the daylight. They jam as many boats as they can into the lock. The whole procedure took less than an hour. We disembarked at Wuhan and flew to Shanghai. The Yuyuan Garden tour was the highlight here for me. Read Less
Sail Date April 2012
I was not sure about this trip....once we got into our embarkation point - we were told that Mekong river was too low and we had to take a bus to another point on the river...3 hrs later our bus gets a mechanical....it is hot, we are tired ... Read More
I was not sure about this trip....once we got into our embarkation point - we were told that Mekong river was too low and we had to take a bus to another point on the river...3 hrs later our bus gets a mechanical....it is hot, we are tired and no place to go....but after using a hammer in the most effective way, the bus driver got on its way. Necessity is the mother of invention! La Margarite is a lovely boat, we had a super spacious two room, two bathroom suite with all the amenities possible. Cambodia and Vietnam were just beautiful - the tours touched in some rural areas where the children were not allow to beg. The river is just so very interesting along with the locals that make of the river their home - either to fish, to wash clothes or to wash their hair. The locals are just beautiful. I like the service of the staff, always friendly and with a willingness to assist. The choice and quality of food was very good and I loved that fact that everyday there was an "asian" choice - in the buffet or the menu.   Read Less
Sail Date April 2012
My wife and I took the full 16 night tour starting in Hanoi and finishing in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) with an extra on our own at either end (March 5 to 22, 2012). We flew from Vancouver to Hanoi with China Airlines. Just one word of ... Read More
My wife and I took the full 16 night tour starting in Hanoi and finishing in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) with an extra on our own at either end (March 5 to 22, 2012). We flew from Vancouver to Hanoi with China Airlines. Just one word of warning: bring your own food! Just think solid like a rock blue scrambled eggs - and they were probably among the better food. I will not go into any detail about all the things we did and all the excursions because they have been very well described elsewhere. I'd rather concentrate on the aspects of the trip that reflect AMA Waterways. Hanoi is a fabulous city and well worth the visit and if nothing else, you will learn how to cross the most uncrossable street: nobody gives an inch, and neither should you! Sofitel Hotels in Hanoi, Siem Riep and Saigon were first class. OK, one minor draw back: after having had a lovely dinner and entertainment on our first night in Siem Reap, close to half of our group came down with an illness which caused fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. Well, one explanation offered was that people may have drank too much cold water on such a hot day. Another was that people must have been carrying this form a flu and that it just happened to break out at that point in our trip. Great miracle that Brits, Aussies, Cannucks and Yanks can synchronize their illness so well. And no, it could not have been food poisoning; shouldn't have that affected all of us? This also meant that my wife and I had to cancel our dinner reservation in Siem Reap which we had been looking forward to. Yes, that's the risk you take travelling to exotic countries. We spent two full days seeing all the temples and holy sites of Anchor. On the third day we took off on a five hour bus ride to meet the ship because the water level in the Tonle Sap Lake was too shallow for the AMALotus. We expected that to be the case, although we would have preferred to embark at Siem Reap. Can't blame anyone here. Can't blame AMA either for the fact that we had to drive almost to Phnom Penh to meet the boat for lack of roads to a point further up-river. The docking location was a sight to behold: the bow of the ship rammed into the river bank and the stern tied onto a bush. Two planks were laid out to meet the bank to form a gangway adorned with rope rails on either side. We were welcomed by half the ship's crew with big smiles on their faces, received our keys and went to our staterooms. There was a strong smell of creosote (the smell of railway ties or power poles, the wooden ones). The staterooms were spacious and the bed was comfortable, even the bath room, especially the shower, was bigger than I had seen on other ships. However, there was no place to put anything. One wardrobe is all - and that is shared with the safe and the water heater (which I had to turn on first incidentally - I know I could have called to have that done but I figured it out myself). There is a small balcony with one chair screwed onto the floor and a little side table. There was room for a second chair which would have been nice. The air conditioning worked non-stop which means it was inadequate. There is a card slot by the entrance which controls power, including air conditioning for the stateroom. You do not need to have a room key in that slot; your Airmiles card will work just fine. And before I g=forget: someone mentioned that the stateroom is tastefully all clad in wood. That is true for the floor. The rest is cheap laminate. Try and get a stateroom as far forward on the boat as you can get because engine, shaft and propeller make an enormous racket while the boat is in motion, the further back, the worse. All that disturbs you up front is the raising and lowering of the anchor (don't worry, the boat is not breaking apart, although it does sound like it). Lets get to the ship: Someone mentioned tasteful artwork adorns the walls - you know who you are and if you took it, please bring it back! Anyway, we had nothing but bare walls. So, at our orientation we were warned again to use sanitizers since some of our group were obviously infectious with (food borne) illness. Also, we were proudly told that there is a guest to crew ratio of 2:1. That means since there are 124 guests there have to be 62 crew, right? Now lets count: two at reception, two bartenders in the lounge, one bartender at the sundeck, approximately 8 servers at dinner, the purser and of course, Sigi, the hotel manager. Add to that six for housekeeping (two per floor). Yes, and we need cooks, say six, and one spa lady. That leaves That leaves 34 people to operate the boat - WOW!!! Sigi, the hotel manager used to work on the big ocean going ships. That has become too much work for him. He prefers the small boats now. I call it semi-retirement. I don't think he worked more than an hour a day, though he was always the first one having his meal in the restaurant, guess quality assurance. Anyway, with such a favorable guest to crew ratio, you would expect stellar service, you would, wouldn't you? OK, let's try something easy like phoning for some ice. Sorry, there is no room service - and no ice bucket in your room either even if you occupy suite. Yes, and we need to eat too. For lunch you have a buffet for starters, salads and dessert (choices don't change throughout the cruise - unless they run out of something, of course). You also have the activity station where you can get the stir fry or pho of the day. The main course is a la carte: one meat dish (mostly western) one fish dish (local) and one vegetarian dish and for lunch there you can also have a choice of burger and two other fast food things I don't remember. Dinner is fully a la carte with the same plethora of menu choices, except no fast food. Thanks, AMA for making the choice so easy, any more and I would never be able to make up my mind. The service at meal time is best described as totally disorganized. While the staff are very friendly and very willing to please, they would surely benefit from a bit of supervision, direction and training. The most noticeable were staff searching for empty plates to take away of which there weren't any while they could have been serving coffee or drinks. It was like everybody was doing the same things at the same time and other things had to wait their turn. Did I tell you there is wine with lunch and dinner, totally free, not a penny. Needless to say, it isn't worth any more than that. Please, AMA, pour it into the river and charge us a bit extra but give us palatable wine. Is that too much to ask for? The local beer is reasonably good and the free gin and tonics are fine too. be careful with the local rum, though, it takes a bit of getting used to. Best deal: mimosa for breakfast, made with Russian sparkling wine which is not bad at all - and it's free. Should have swiped the occasional bottle, just never occurred to me. Entertainment: OK, there you are, floating down the Mekong, you can't afford to have a six piece band travel along together with a few dancers and a string quartet. So what you get is a piano player/crooner and a spot the lie game put on by the some cruise staff. On two nights local groups perform and they are, indeed, very good. One last thing about tipping. We all know that wages in Vietnam, and especially Cambodia are extremely low, and make no mistake, that also applies to the AMALotus. The payroll on the Mekong is quite different from the payroll on the Rhine. So we are asked to tip everywhere and yes, you do need to bring at least $75 in singles per person. Incidentally, half the ship was occupied by Australians who had booked their cruise through APT (no idea how they are related to AMA Waterways) and they had all their tips included. What's so difficult to do that for the rest of the group, even with the option to prepay your tips? So, AMA Waterways, yes, this was an amazing trip, but not because of AMALotus but because of the fabulous countries, and the fabulous people. And yes, the cruise offers a great way to see and experience the country and the people which would be a lot harder to do through any other way of travel. But please, on your ship live up to the reputation your company has in Europe. Sorry, this turned out to be quite a bit longer than intended. Read Less
Sail Date March 2012
This being our first trip to China, we had no idea what to expect. I strongly suggest anyone that is a novice cruiser to read reviews, comments and hints via Cruise Critic. It was so helpful for us with all the questions we had. It was ... Read More
This being our first trip to China, we had no idea what to expect. I strongly suggest anyone that is a novice cruiser to read reviews, comments and hints via Cruise Critic. It was so helpful for us with all the questions we had. It was a very fast paced tour//criuise with so much to see and do. We did not get much sleep and were always up early. (Our choice, did not want to miss a thing). The most challenging for us was my slow walking and some limitations. However, our tour guide was always watching out for me, and getting me a wheelchair or access to elevators whenever possible. The embarkation onto the Emerald at Chongqing was a nightmare! Narrow crumbling 100+ small steps with no railings. I had a porter under each arm and carrying my carry-on luggage down those steps. We were quoted a price and then the porters held us "hostage" for 10 times that amount. Viking needs to make sure that the guests that need this assistance keep them honest! The Viking Emerald was a very nice ship - liked having our own balcony. There was a nice variety of foods - the waitresses were very attentive and quick to get you anything special that you might need. The staterooms were a comfortable size. Seems that everyone on the ship was getting colds - after being told to leave the door to the balcony open rather than using the air conditioner - guess spreading bugs around, would help. A little late for us, we had to visit the ship's doctor - which our tour guide helped translate our illnesses for the doctor. I loved walking on the Great Wall with snow on the ground! Slippery, but what a site. We saw so much, too many to mention. Our guide was adept at getting us to the tour locations early, to avoid the long lines and crowds of people. The local food was good, lots of variety - just need to watch out for the very small bones in a lot of their local fish. Not a lot of activities on board the ship, but a nice selection - from Chinese lessons to a wonderful performance by the staff! It was definitely a trip of a life time for us - glad we were able to see so much of China and the extended trip to Guilin and Hong Kong. Read Less
Sail Date March 2012
The Amalotus was new so no excuses in most areas of comment. The ships hold approx 126 people however for the second time this season there was only 26. What an absolute blessing, when it is full the restaurants and lounge areas would have ... Read More
The Amalotus was new so no excuses in most areas of comment. The ships hold approx 126 people however for the second time this season there was only 26. What an absolute blessing, when it is full the restaurants and lounge areas would have been extremely uncomfortable. You would think with so few people on board that there might have been a friendly atmosphere for travelling however stubborn, older people of any nationality always makes for a challenge. The company APT has many strict rules about how to board the ship and disembark for excursions etc, however the old people we travelled with arrogantly and dangerously refused to wear their life jackets because "I have a boat at home and never wear one "etc etc what they failed to realise with all their wisdom and life experience that they then place others at risk and would in an emergency expect other to come to their safety in a risk situation. Not acceptable the rules are their for everyone know and accept this before you go or don't go! APT also sells these cruises to any one over the age of 40, this is a myth, if you are under 55 you will feel like you have made a huge mistake and also you will not be made to feel welcome, old people are bullies and treat other adults as children to get their own way -- it's a sad fact that left us wondering at what age do old people become so nasty and manipulative The ship looks new as it still should, the first lunch on arrival was a buffet and a la carte, salads, fruit feature as the best options, the desserts as mentioned in some other reviews are not worth looking forward to, small selection, unimaginative there was obviously no pastry chef on board, fresh fruit and poor quality pastries are the best you can hope for kind of like cheap supermarket fare. Knowing this we took chocolate and our own goodies for deserts The lobby shop is a waste of time, loads of rubbish that you can pick up anywhere at markets, nothing to provide a memory of your trip and nothing of any value APT has failed on the sundeck, it is furnished with old crabby cane furniture, it is already mouldy, there is no music no atmosphere and bad decor and the bar area is not what they presented in their brochure photographs -- misleading but that's the way that operate! We had a suite, very dark they have not incorporated the colours and fabrics of the Vietnam/ Cambodian culture, a missed opportunity there The bar has a drink each night for everyone that is complimentary, it was about 50/50 as to whether this is drinkable, mostly very strong made of local spirits, however drinks were cheap anyway approx $6-$8 for a cocktail The aircon in our suite was terrific and much needed, due to their being less people on board getting access to the DVD library and the interest was not too much of a problem The balcony area had 2 chairs in the suite but only one for other cabins- what a stupid thing to do, a romantic cruise down the Mekong and only one of you and sit outside for the view- another example of cost cutting and bad planning, the amenities in the suites were cheap rubbish, in an effort to appear ECO friendly the 5 star extras you are paying for have been sacrificed. The bathroom was great wood panelling a huge bath with jets and spacious shower the linen was good quality the bed comfortable The chefs are Indonesian and from the Philippines, so no flair to food simple only. Breakfast is also a simple meal so special choices here pretty much less than you would have in your own home, the restaurant has no atmosphere no music just a silent room - another missed opportunity The floors in the rooms are fake wood and due to the extreme heat are already starting to warp and buckle, every small every simple hut along the Mekong has cable TV and satellite service however APT cannot get an antenna or dish to provide this service We did our own thing on excursions which made it possible to fit in more and get a better feel for where ever we were, if you are capable of only shuffling along stay with the guide, again this was not a trip for people who were not physically active, but again like so many of these trips old sick people with less mobility provide challenges and delays for staff and other travellers- please do not do this, some trips state that you need to be mobile for a reason and climbing off and on small rocky boats is precarious. The evacuation procedure was not done until the afternoon of the second day so just lucky we did not sink on the first?? What is with cruise ships their first priority should always be safety -- you are on your own anyway as only a handful of staff speak any English The breakfast buffet has kid's cereals on it -- why? There were no kids on board thank goodness -- please cruise companies cater to the adults who are paying 5 star prices The sheets in your cabin are not changed daily you would need to request this- and don't forget this cruise is sold as a 5 star experience, if this is what you want you will have to ask for it They ran out of tea bags lucky that I had brought some of my own????? Again great planning- who is thinking of what the guests need We bought bunches of flowers at the local markets and put them in our cabin as the cruise will not do this for you even though you are in a suite, and you will have to fight to get a vase to put them in- good luck The seafood was for the most part excellent and all of the fresh fruit- no rich food at all so great for a diet plan when you remember the absence of dessert temptations. Because most of the places you are visiting both in Vietnam and Cambodia have no differences in terms of attractions and scenery you will visit 3 silk weaving places and several identical markets and 3 floating villages, - hard to maintain the same enthusiasm but that's where you are in the world and that is all there is to see , the small villages are a massive step back in time, no electricity some of them and horse and cart for transport but all the people are friendly and there is a percentage that want a piece of you -- you are a wealthy tourist right? The guides provide an Ok service, they really need to be able to communicate properly one of ours would tell different groups of people different times for departure so some would be stressed out and some relaxed- they would sometimes change the times for breakfast and not tell you- hopeless, if you question these confusing practices you could be accused of being racist and well we know how defensive that response is and how unnecessary The ship docks midstream every night except at phom penh The Cambodian guide straight out lied about his countries history in an attempt to hide his kings' actions during their very famous genocide, now why would a guide do that you have to ask yourself, the guides have their hands out for tips frequently and they don't always deserve it Despite all being poor they have a university education are well travelled and would be quite happy for you to sponsor them. Because you are travelling with geriatrics you will miss out on the most special places for example, Oudong one of the ancient capital city in Cambodia, we decided to go here and give a miss the visit to yet another newly built temple What a great decision thanks to our own research a special amazing place don't miss it if you have the chance we walked around as much as we could -- beautiful APT changed our free choice dinners in both destinations to inferior restaurant options leaving us very disappointed -- no explanation of course just suck it up The ship may be new but is badly built in Vietnam and they are famous for their poor quality build and it is furnished with dated examples of Asian furniture sale stock, it will age and deteriorate quickly The scenery remains unchanged for the whole trip so I guess the idea of doing this trip is to enjoy the cruise which you will have trouble doing when it is full, the public areas like many river cruise ships do not cater for all on board so your cabin takes on a higher importance. Also having seen hours and hours and hours of Cambodia by bus I can tell you that there is nothing of any interest there, bad roads, no facilities, no infrastructure you are better off spending a week in Siem reap and doing day trips around there and also spend a few days at least in phnon penh it's a great fun city with easy access to museums and the killing fields and do a Mekong river cruise from there for the day -- its easy, plenty of good quality, affordable river cruise ships, they provide meals and then you have seen all there is to see. This cruise is touted as the thing you must do after European river cruising however -- think very hard about what you expect and measure that against what you are going to get, you do your cruising mostly at night anyway when its pitch black and there are no views. Honestly if I had my time over I would do what I have suggested above.   Read Less
Sail Date March 2012
Our visit to China --- traveling with a group of 8 --- was an excellent travel experience. We booked our flight through Viking, connected (from DCA) to a Continental flight from Newark nonstop to Shanghai. We flew business class and ... Read More
Our visit to China --- traveling with a group of 8 --- was an excellent travel experience. We booked our flight through Viking, connected (from DCA) to a Continental flight from Newark nonstop to Shanghai. We flew business class and enjoyed the benefit of a terrific cabin crew. Viking booked our land portion into mostly Shangri La Hotels, which were top notch (Five star quality). The Regent in Beijing matched the others. Shanghai and Beijing are not to be missed cities. The cruise portion on the Yangtze provided full and fulfilling days in several ports. This was our first experience with a tour guide who accompanied us the entire trip. The guide's name is Jessie Xu, and she was a winner. All of the shore excursions were learning experiences, though fewer shopping experiences would have pleased me. The local guides were very good except in Chongquin and Mt. Jiu Hua, but here Jessie, recognizing the problem, filled in the gaps. A different and refreshing stop was Jingzhou, where we visited third graders in one of the elementary schools that Viking supports. The Viking Emerald was well-configured, and the staff were terrific. Many of the wait staff were lined up on the ramp to shore to bid us good day as we departed on excursions and again to welcome us back on board. In fact, the wait staff probably was the hardest working wait staff I've encountered in nearly 25 cruises. Several of them, together with other employees, not only performed various cultural dances and songs in addition to their regular duties but did so at near professional caliber. Our stateroom was ample in size and comfortable. Shipboard entertainment was quite enjoyable, and the Cruise Director's talks on the Chinese culture and history were well prepared, well delivered and well received. The one deficiency of this cruise was the dining room. Too many passengers; too much hubbub; wait staff stretched thin (corrected somewhat after a conversation with the maitre' d). Overall, the food was not up to Viking standards. The breakfast buffet was fine, and lunches were acceptable. Dinners, however, were another story. We had to send items back to the kitchen on more than one occasion, and this was the first time I was forced to order off the fixed menu (steak, salmon, etc.) rather the daily menus. Even the Chinese food failed the taste test. We added a post cruise visit to Guilin and Hong Kong. Guilin is a city that warranted additional time, but in any event was an enjoyable stop that inclued a cruise on the Li River. As we expected, Hong Kong had changed markedly since our visit there 40+ years ago. The trip extension included about a six-hour tour of Hong Kong, which really showed these changes. We were booked into Shangri La Hotels in both cities. Here, also Jessie was everpresent with guidance and advice. This is not a relaxing trip but is definitely a worthwhile one. Read Less
Sail Date March 2012
The cruise started with a busstransfer from Yangon to Prome where we boarded the Pandaw II. From the very first minute the crew took care of us in a wonderful way. We was served a drink, our shoes where cleaned and they took our bagage to ... Read More
The cruise started with a busstransfer from Yangon to Prome where we boarded the Pandaw II. From the very first minute the crew took care of us in a wonderful way. We was served a drink, our shoes where cleaned and they took our bagage to our cabin. This high level of service was maintained during the whole cruise. As we was just 45 passengers the service was very personalized and the style onboard was very informel, no such things as captains dinner etc. The Pandaw II is a wonderful boat made as a replica of the paddlewheel steamer that once cruise the Irrawaddy river. It´s all made of teak and brass but perfectly modern with AC etc. Most of the days we made two stops and visit remote villages up along the Irrawaddy river. Most of those places can only be reached by boat and every one of them had something special, unique, to show us. The Burmese guide, which followed us during the cruise, was very good and had great knowledge of the historic and culture of Burma/Myanmar. Every night there were arrangement on the ship, it could be a lecture of buddism, a cooking lesson or some documentary video about WW2 in Burma. Of course all of the excursions were complimentary and you were free to join them or not. The food was excellent with a large variety tho chose from. All beverage, even beer and liqure are complimentary. All together this cruise was an experience for life and we´ll return in august this year for a new Pandawcruise, this time for the even more remote parts of Myanmar, the Chindwin river. Read Less
Sail Date March 2012
Others have already given detailed descriptions of cruising the Sap and Mekong Rivers on the Amalotus; what I want to do here is provide my amateur assessment. First, some background. We did the full package: two nights in Hanoi at ... Read More
Others have already given detailed descriptions of cruising the Sap and Mekong Rivers on the Amalotus; what I want to do here is provide my amateur assessment. First, some background. We did the full package: two nights in Hanoi at the Sofitel Legend; one night on a junk in Ha Long Bay; three nights at the Sofitel in Siem Reap; seven nights on the Tonle level of the Amalotus; and two nights at the Sofitel Saigon Plaza in Ho Chi Minh City. What works well: The hotels were all gorgeous and luxurious, and the accommodations on the junk and the Amalotus were first class and beautiful. Both ships had rich, dark wood paneling and the facilities were excellent. We couldn't be happier with the rooms we had. The excursions were well-thought out and well organized. We really got a feel both for rural life in Cambodia and Vietnam, and for the urban life in cities such as Hanoi, Saigon, and Phnom Penh. The guides and tour director were all very helpful and informative. They spoke clearly enough that my father, who has trouble with accents, was still able to understand them. What doesn't work so well: Tipping. We were advised to bring plenty of small bills. We thought we brought enough, but we were wrong. Most of the American guests were unprepared for the number of small tips ($1s and $2s) they needed to make (I emphasize American, since the Australians traveling with APT had their tips included in their price). We were tipping so many people, so many times a day, that by the time we reached Siem Reap, we broke $60 in twenties into singles. It still wasn't enough. So what should you do? I would strongly recommend that anyone doing this cruise bring $100 in singles and $150 in fives. The tip for the ship's crew (recommended: $10 a day for 8 days) can be put on your bill, but I think they would prefer cash, so plan ahead. Food on the ship. Do not expect the same quality and variety of food that you would find on a European river cruise. At least part of the problem may be the availability of high-quality, hygienic food. If the choice is between variety of offerings and the health of the passengers, the cruise line has understandably chosen to emphasize the latter. I also suspect, but don't know for sure, that they may also have a legal obligation to use locally produced food rather than imported (e.g., Cambodian-produced ice cream rather than imported). I found the best food on the ship to be the fresh fruit and the fish. The meat tended to be tough. The worst, in my opinion, were the desserts (with the exception of the fruit). Another problem was the cruise line's policy of dividing the passengers into defined and permanent groups. This policy seems to be driven by the issue of tipping: 1) since guides may serve for a number of days and only be tipped at the end, it was important that each guide receive the proper amount of tips to reflect the work; and 2) since the Australians already had tips included in their price, they needed to stay with their already-tipped guides. So why was this a problem? Well, in our group alone, there were at least three people with mobility issues. Since the cruise line couldn't offer a "slow-walkers group," their only options were to either choose not to go on an excursion or to try to keep up at the best of their ability, which was sometimes difficult. Some people made friends with people in other groups, but they were not permitted to do excursions together, since any movement of people from one group to another would throw off the balance of tips. Finally, and I'll have to put this delicately, there were some strong personalities on our cruise. By being kept together for the length of the trip, one might be trapped for 15 days with someone who one didn't merely dislike but was unable to stand. What I would recommend to AMAWaterways is that they can solve many of these problems by making most tips inclusive in the price. This would diminish the need to bring a small suitcase of ones and fives and permit them to tailor excursions by ability. Please do not take these criticisms and suggestions as unhappiness with our cruise experience; my father and I greatly enjoyed our cruise experience and do not regret our decision to go. I would only suggest that future passengers adjust their expectations to the reality of the experience on the ground. Cambodia is still a relatively new tourist destination and one shouldn't go expecting the Danube. One last issue: this really isn't a solvable problem, but some guests were annoyed that due to lower water in the Tonle Sap lake, our transfer to the boat involved a 5.5 hour bus ride. This is what happens when one sails in the dry season, but it came as a surprise to some guests. Read Less
Sail Date January 2012
We are an Australian retired couple who in recent years have travelled extensively in Europe including a number of ocean and river cruises. Our standards and expectations are high. In selecting a trip we are looking for good food, ... Read More
We are an Australian retired couple who in recent years have travelled extensively in Europe including a number of ocean and river cruises. Our standards and expectations are high. In selecting a trip we are looking for good food, stylish cabin and a port/tour intensive itinerary .. we rarely use on board ship facilities such as spa, pool or go to entertainment. The trip on Amalotus exceeded our expectations and is more highly rated than our two recent luxury river cruises in Europe. All aspects of the tour were exceptionally well organised and executed from embarkation in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to dis-embarkation for Siem Reap. Tours ran like clock work. Dining on Amalotus was very good. Travel in Asia is an opportunity to explore new things. There was a wide variety of western and asian selections. At lunch there was an 'activity station' where meals were cooked on order ...this provided an opportunity to try new noodle dishes and other local specialities. The only area where there was mild disappointment was deserts where pastries and tarts tended to be a little dry. The included beer and wines are perfectly acceptable (like an Australian table/cask wine) and there is a small varied wine list. Only a small number of people on our trip seemed to be using the wine list. Cabins are well appointed. There is no satellite TV but a comprehensive DVD movie collection is available. Critically the air conditioning worked really well. The most outstanding aspect of the trip is the tours. The variety is really good with just the right amount of time being spent in each place. Other reviews of Amalotus and the sister ship La Margeurite describe the tours in detail so I will not repeat the same information. The tour guides English was excellent and they very much engaged with their groups with a great sense of humour and fun. Passengers were divided into groups at check in for embarkation and these were the tour groups. However unlike a previous reviewer we did not find these groups were rigid and saw some people changing groups without any issues. Many unique experiences were available from ox cart rides thru a small village and the paddy fields to visiting markets, seeing Buddhist monks seeking alms , a Buddhist blessing and understanding some of the terrible conflicts people have endured. Aside from the actual tours on most days there was exceptional sight seeing from the boat as it moved along. Technology .. there is free wifi in the lounge(no option for cabin). We found this worked really well in general with only a couple of black spots. TIPS .. Take something for the children but not sweets (dentists are expensive) ...school items, pens, paper and toiletries such as toothpaste, toothbrushes are very welcome. Travel from Saigon to Siem Reap if there is a choice ...in this direction the river sight seeing just gets better and better each day. If you plan to travel extensively it is worth investing in some secure luggage such as a back pack, camera strap, ladies carry bag and wallet. This will ensure you feel secure in markets and crowded areas as your personal possessions will not be easily slashed or pick pocketed. Take some insect repellent for the room .... there were one or two bugs that found their way in at night. Also take personal insect repellent including a small spray for the backpack on outings. Read Less
Sail Date January 2012
We booked a private tour of China through an Internet Agency. Spent a year setting the tour up emailing on a regular basis back and forth with the agent in Guilin, China. Got it exactly they way we wanted it starting with several days in ... Read More
We booked a private tour of China through an Internet Agency. Spent a year setting the tour up emailing on a regular basis back and forth with the agent in Guilin, China. Got it exactly they way we wanted it starting with several days in Singapore, then moving on to the Yellow Mountains and Tunxi for a few more days, a 4 day cruise on the Yangtze River and finally a flight out to Lijiang and a several day tour of the wonders of that area. Just before we left the boat that we were to take on the Yangtze canceled it's last December run leaving us with "high and dry". The travel agent in Guilin suggested that maybe we could do something else with those 4 days and do the River Cruise on another trip. I told her no river cruise.....no trip (as I had not made the final payment) so she scrambled around and got us on another ship, changed the dates and the orders of the places we were visiting but assured us we would have our cruise. The night we got on the boat it was late, we were tired and 90% of the other guests were Chinese nationals and we weren't sure what was going on but finally we were led down a long hall way by the Cabin Steward and we kept walking and walking (I whispered to my husband that we were probably going to be in steerage.) When the last door in the hall was opened and we were shown into our cabin we couldn't believe our eyes. It was the Presidential Suite which took up the whole right front of the boat. You can imagine our amazement with fresh flowers, and a living room bigger than most Suites......not to mention the king size bedroom, gold plated bath tub and deck that covered the front bow of the ship. We just looked at each other and said "lets, not unpack because there has to be a mistake." So we sat down on one of the couches and waited for them to come throw us out. After a 1/2 hour (about 11pm)....we put out the "Do Not Disturb" sign and went to bed, the suite was ours and had if the temperature in it had ever got above 60 degrees it would have been PERFECT, as it was it was still Sweet! Pictures at the following link. http://www.flickr.com/photos/quiltsalad/3198182382/in/set-72157603894651320 Now a little about the actual cruise. I must say if you can cruise in December you are in for a treat. On our boat with probably 250 passengers there was a couple from Ireland, a lady from Mexico City and a Chinese couple from Oakland, the rest of the passengers were all Chinese Nationals. Dinner every night was traditional Chinese 9 course dinners with the big lazy Susan in the middle filled with delicious authentic dishes. Breakfast buffet offered the usual American type fare plus a large selection of traditional Chinese breakfast items. Same at lunch. The announcements were the funniest because first they were in Mandarin and then Cantonese finally a much shortened version in English. We really enjoyed being in the minority. Made us feel much more like we were in China for sure. The wait staff were marvelous, so accommodating and would ask my husband every night if he would rather have a steak than the Chinese dinners (not on your life!) but it was so nice for them to inquire. We have also done a Viking Cruise in Russia and found it top notch as well. Even if you don't get the Presidential Suite, it's still a wonderful experience. Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
Though the cruise did not start out well, it got better. We were staying at the Sofitel Siem Reap because that is where AMA pick up the pax and take them to the ship. We were told two different times that as "the river was low, we ... Read More
Though the cruise did not start out well, it got better. We were staying at the Sofitel Siem Reap because that is where AMA pick up the pax and take them to the ship. We were told two different times that as "the river was low, we would be taken by bus on a 5 hour drive, to the place where the ship was waiting for us. Check-in would be at 07:30am." So, that morning we got up at 6am to be ready by 7:30am. We then discovered that instead of a 5 hour bus ride it would only be 1.5 hours and so check-in was at 11am. No one had let us know even though we had told AMA that we were staying at the hotel. No apology either! At 12:30 we finally on bus to get ferry to AMAlotus. The other people on the cruise were part of a tour and had booked the hotel through AMA. They take care of their own, that is for sure! Moral of story? If you book the hotel separately, call AMA and remind them you are part of the cruise too. OK, end of annoyance part of the review! All the people on the cruise were very, very helpful. In the Cambodian part, most of the staff were Cambodian. They left the ship at the boarder and Vietnamese people joined the ship. Breakfast and lunch are buffets with a wide variety of food. I love Chinese style breakfasts and must recommend the congee which they have every morning. Try the one with pork. Excellent. Lots of fruit too. Lunch was hot and cold food with excellent salads. Dinner was a full service meal with a menu. Usually three choices for the main part: a European style meat dish, a Cambodian/Vietnamese Fish option, or a vegetarian option. They wanted everyone to sit down at 7pm together. One could sit anywhere. We soon learned that it would be OK to eat later. We are English and like to eat later. The pax were Australian, UK, Israelis, Turkish and American. It is not a tour for children though there were two children on board. They must have been bored as there are no facilities for children. Half the ship came down with a 24 hour stomach virus. The first half of the cruise, one of the managers was on holiday and I believe that because of that, sanitising ones hands was lax. As soon as he rejoined I noticed an improvement in that as one walked into the restaurant, one was handed the sanitizing liquid. Cabin: smallish but nice looking. White walls with teak. Very poorly laid out in that there is no bureau, no chest of drawers. Cannot get the suitcase under the bed. Toilet: signs telling you not to put toilet paper in toilet. Very hard to get used to that! Surely in such a modern ship the toilets could have been better designed? They claim the ship is 5 Star! Every day there is a lecture on the excursions for the following day. Also, a very good lecture on Cambodian history and a not so interesting one on Vietnamese history. A comfortable sun lounge with good lounge chairs. Tea and coffee available. Though it is supposed to be "all inclusive" they charge $1.50 for sparkling water! The house wine was not drinkable. The tour director was excellent and very helpful. Phnom Penh is not to be missed. The disembarkation was very easy. They take you to the Sofitel Ho Chi Minh City (which I have reviewed on Trip Advisor). It is just over an hour's drive from the ship. Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
This is a rather long journal of our AMA Waterways land/cruise to Vietnam and Cambodia. The trip was taken in November 2011. Within the daily entries are some dining suggestions, travel hints and information about the sites that were ... Read More
This is a rather long journal of our AMA Waterways land/cruise to Vietnam and Cambodia. The trip was taken in November 2011. Within the daily entries are some dining suggestions, travel hints and information about the sites that were visited. Friday, October 28 We left from San Francisco (SFO) as this airport, even though 90 minutes away, permitted us to use our Oneworld frequent flier miles for business class travel. We arrived at the airport around 10pm and checked in at the EVA counter. We were a bit apprehensive about our luggage moving through different airlines and airports with a final arrival in Hanoi. The EVA counter staff indicated that the bags should arrive with our plane in Hanoi as there was sufficient time between flights. Our flights would take us from SFO to Taipei to Hong Kong and, finally, to Hanoi. With our business class tickets, we were able to use the EVA platinum lounge. The lounge is a nice way to kill time while waiting for your flight. The lounge served drinks and a number of Chinese food selections -â€" soup, sandwiches and was relatively full of travelers waiting for the 1:30am flight. Sunday, October 30 Disembarking in Taipei was a breeze. We had a couple of hours to wait and then it was off on flight #2, to Hong Kong. The flight duration was a little over an hour. In Hong Kong, we had a four hour layover before our final flight to Hanoi. The air quality was very hazy and smoggy and reminded us of Shanghai. You couldn't see the hills surrounding the airport -â€" each disappeared in a foggy haze. We hoped that the air quality would be better in Vietnam. We finally arrived in Hanoi around 4pm. A bus took us from the plane to the terminal. At the terminal, we quickly passed through a visa check and to the luggage carousel. With bags in hand, we found an ATM to withdraw Dong . There are several bank ATMs at the Hanoi airport. We used the formal taxi stand near Vietnam Airlines for our transfer to the Sofitel. Be aware of taxi driver approaches from inside the terminal or at the information desk. The taxi stand near Vietnam Airlines was $16 one-way compared to $30 one-way for independent taxi drivers for a downtown trip. The Sofitel will provide a limo pick-up but the fee is even higher. The roads from the airport to hotel were filled with scooters, cars and trucks, each of which weaving in and out of lanes to move forward. It was surprising that we didn't see more accidents. We arrived at our hotel after a 30 minute drive. At the Sofitel, a receptionist met us at the taxi door and checked us in -â€" no need to wait at the counter. On our way to our room, we were given a brief tour through the old and new hotel sections. Our room was in the newer wing. The hotel had very plush décor and the service was very good, right from the start. We ended our long day of travel with drinks and bowls of Pho from the hotel's Bamboo Bar, near the pool, and then headed in to take showers, read a bit and get some sleep. Monday, October 31 Despite being tired and going to sleep early, we found ourselves up at 4am. We reviewed plans for our day tour during the early hours. We walked a few blocks around the Metropole before breakfast to check the weather and see what was around our hotel. At 7:30, we had breakfast at the buffet in Spices, an on-site restaurant. It was a great breakfast, combining western and Asian foods with particularly sweet local watermelon, papayas and mangos. After breakfast, we returned to our room to get ready for our day of touring. We met Kien and Yien, from Hanoikids, in the Sofitel lobby and started our walk to the Old Quarter. The first site we viewed was the Hanoi Opera House. Along the walk, we observed a growing number of scooters zooming along the city surface streets. Crossing the streets in the Old Quarter was an exercise of both caution and confidence. We stopped at several stores and temples in the Old Quarter and at a communal house at Ma May Street. We also stopped for egg coffee (that is, whipped eggs in the coffee) at an obscure second floor location in the Quarter, likely only known by local city residents. Our guides said that the recipe is a secret and only two stores in the Quarter serve this drink. Leaving the Old Quarter, our guides called for a taxi to Hao Lo Prison, or the Hanoi Hilton. This was a bleak prison, run first by the French to incarcerate and torture Vietnamese political detainees. The fate of American prisoners was perhaps only slightly better. In contrast, the prison's history displays reflected humane treatment for the American prisoners. For lunch, we stopped at Quan An Ngon, a local #2 rated restaurant in Tripadvisor, for traditional Vietnamese food. Our guides selected the dishes and they were very tasty but it is hard to recall the names of any of the dishes we ate. With lunch and beverages for five, it cost us about $15. After lunch, we decided to call it a day -â€" it was around 3:30pm. After a five minute taxi ride back to the hotel, we separated from our guides. Dinner was at the Green Tangerine. We considered walking to the restaurant but, upon advice from the hotel, took a cab. It was a good suggestion and we're glad we took it. The walk looked short on paper but was seemed longer. However, the taxi ride was only $1. The restaurant was on a 'shoe' street on the edge of the Old Quarter. A two-story building, it was nicely furnished and appeared to attract tourists, rather than locals. The price, although moderate for us, could have been the reason. We ate at the first floor table and quickly read through a menu that reflected a French influenced creative menu. I ordered the boneless chicken legs stuffed with currants, almonds and black mushrooms, served with artichoke and lotus root. My wife ordered the duck breast covered with roasted mushrooms, cep and tamarind sauce, with a tartlet of asparagus, crème patisserie of cardamom and ricard. Our traveling companion ordered the rack of lamb in spicy couscous broth, with surprise balls, and a polenta made with tiny lotus seeds and raisins. Quite creative dinner dishes were available. We shared a dessert of mango cake and ended the day with a cab ride back to the hotel. Dinner was about $75 for the three of us. Tuesday, November 1 We were joined by Lin, from Hanoikids, and jumped into a taxi to see the Ho Chi Minh residence and HCM museum. The first stop was Ba Dinh Square, where we viewed the external of the HCM mausoleum building. It was large and built to be very imposing. Unfortunately, it was still closed -â€" opens after 11/5 - so we continued our walk to the Presidential Palace. Built by the French government, it too was imposing and painted a royal yellow. This building is used for offices currently. We continued our walk past HCM's vehicles towards his more humble wooden residence. Built for his birthday, the residence is constructed from stained wood planks. Underneath the structure is a meeting table, fish tank and resting chair. Above this area, were a small study and a bedroom. We learned that as HCM became unable to climb the stairs, he moved to a one-story concrete building. It was there he died in 1969. We continued our walk towards the HCM museum. The first floor of the museum contained numerous photographs of HCM and his peers. Walking up the stairs to the second floor, were more contemporary displays. After leaving the museum, we caught a taxi to the National Museum of Fine Arts. There, we toured several floors of early to current paintings and sculptures. One interesting observation was how war time experiences affected many of the more current art paintings. There were so many paintings, we soon were walking a bit faster -â€" the amount of art works was overwhelming. Exiting the art museum, we decided to have lunch. We were taken to a restaurant, Quon Chim Sao, that is known for countryside cooking. There we took off our shoes and headed upstairs to the second floor. The square tables were about three inches off the floor and there were cushions for us to sit down on the floor. With creaking limbs, we edged down. Lunch included a soup dish with rice and noodles, pork pieces, papaya salad and rice paper wrapped cold spring rolls. After lunch, we took a taxi to the hotel and there we remained for the afternoon. The lunch (about $22) for four was more expensive than the yesterday's lunch. We also agreed that the food was tastier the day before at Quan An Ngon -â€" perhaps we enjoy more of the city street food selections. Overall, we recommend engaging Hanoikids for guide services and learning about life in Hanoi. As there were no fees for the assistance (other than snacks, lunch and entry fees), we purchased t-shirts from the research university where I work to give to the student guides. With an earlier return to the Sofitel, I visited the hotel gym. Later at the Bamboo Bar, we learned that a bunker was found under the Bamboo Bar and two wine bottles were pulled up. While sitting at the bar, hotel and news representatives were going into a hole in the ground. Two news teams were present to interview a Sofitel executive. Interesting find -â€" we later learned that the bunker was used in the Vietnam War but the exact location was unclear over the past 30 years. This evening we headed out to The Verticale for dinner via a short taxi ride to the Old Quarter. The Verticale is located in a side alley, not far from the Metropole, in the Hoa Kiem District. We noticed that many of the restaurants are located amidst other retail offerings, many of them offering moderate to low priced goods, such as shoes, clothing items, bike parts and plumbing goods. For visitors, it would be hard to find a restaurant without a taxi as street names were hard to find and, when found, difficult for us to read. Master Chef Didier Corlou, the Sofitel chef for many years, owns and operates The Verticale. Our table was located on the first floor, a short walk up the exterior stairs. We were the first diners, arriving at 6:30. Soon, more customers trickled and all the tables on the first floor were occupied. We started with a small plate with a small container of liquid tasting a bit like rice vinegar and celery pieces. Next were small soup servings, our appetizer, sorbet and our main entrees (I had the seabass wrapped in banana leaves). We pre-ordered an apple dessert so that it would be done after we completed our dinner. For the three of us, the bill, with wine and dessert ran about $125. Try this restaurant for wonderful food selections, beautiful presentation and good service. Wednesday, November 2 We joined our AMALotus fellow passengers for an 8:30am orientation briefing in the morning and, shortly afterwards (around 9:30am), started our morning city tour. We loaded onto a bus and stopped at Ba Dinh Square and toured the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum area, Presidential Palace and HCM residence. Afterwards, we stopped at the One Pillar Pagoda and Temple of Literature. There were several high school graduates at the Temple, celebrating their graduation. Some of these stops were duplicates of our previous tour with Hanoikids. This occurred as reading the AMA brochure we were unsure of actual AMA stops versus a bus drive-by view. We returned back to the Sofitel for lunch. We decided that we would rejoin the tour group at the water puppet show, at 4:50pm, and miss the Old Quarter walking tour and rickshaw ride since we had already visited the Old Quarter. This made the afternoon more relaxed. We arrived at the puppet show a bit early and met our tour group as they were walking through the quarter. It was an interesting sight to see such a large group move through the crowded Old Quarter streets. After the puppet show, we had a light dinner on our own at the Bamboo Bar and returned to our room to complete our packing for the motor coach ride to Ha Long Bay. Thursday, November 3, 2011 We were up at 5am, showered and completed the packing of our larger bags. We placed them outside our door at 6:45am, for the bellman, and then went down to breakfast. On the bus at 8am, we were on our way to Ha Long Bay. The bus trip was part way on a highway, but much of the time was spent driving through small towns, on a two lane road. Faster vehicles periodically passed us with a honk. We stopped half-way for a bathroom break after two hours. The stop was a large retail operation that appeared to cater to tourist and travelers. We purchased a number of lacquer plates for gifts and boarded the bus after a 45 minute stop. (Note the tour stops at a high-quality lacquer shop in Saigon). The remainder of the drive took about 90 minutes and we arrived at Ha Long Bay at 12:30. We grabbed our carry-on luggage and walked onto a small tender that brought us to the larger junk. The interior of our junk cabin was quite nice. A moderate sized room, with marble shower and bathroom. After a short briefing, we dropped our luggage in the cabin and had lunch. Although described as a buffet, the lunch was actually served by wait staff. Lunch was several courses, starting with a pumpkin soup, papaya salad, cooked vegetables, sea bass and rice. Dessert was fresh fruit with yogurt. Right after lunch, the junk stopped at Ti Top island for a short, but steep hike, to a look-out point. It was a bit warm and humid, and resulted in a bit of deep breaths and perspiration to reach the top. As we only had 45 minutes for this stop, we rested for a few minutes, took a few pictures and then headed back down. The tender met us within ten minutes and we were shortly back on the junk. We were pleased to see some blue sky during our bay cruise and hike. We now had about an hour to rest before our next activity, a sampan visit to a floating village. We transferred from a ship tender to a sampan in groups of four. A woman manned the sampan oars and guided us through her village. We were able to view fishing platforms, a school, fishing boats and floating houses. There were electric generators for the floating houses and we were told that fresh water is delivered to each house on a daily basis. We wondered what the village thought of us -â€" 80 or so visitors with cameras in hand. Regardless, we realized that our visit was helping the economy of the village. Remember to bring a few $1 bills for if you would like to tip the sampan guide. The buffet dinner offered a number of Vietnamese dishes. During dinner, a ship director stopped by and chatted for a few minutes. It seems that Indochina Sails, a private company, owns the junk service and also owns/leases the AMALotus and AMAMarguerite to AMA. He mentioned that some of the Ha Long Bay fishing village members are now working as Indochina Sails staff. In particular, these local employees are very familiar with the Ha Long Bay waterways. Friday, November 4 Coffee and pastries were available at 6:30am in the junk, with full breakfast at 9:30am, after a visit to the Surprise Cave. After breakfast, we will be departing Ha Long Bay by bus to the airport. This could very well be a multiple shower day -â€" after our cave visit and this evening. The warmth and humidity seems to encourage showering -â€" plus the use of insecticide also is a factor. Note that during our trip we never saw any mosquitoes but still applied deet before many stops -â€" particularly near still water. We went up to the third deck at 6:30am for coffee and breakfast pastries. The junk pulled up its anchor around 7am and we enjoyed our slow cruise through the limestone islands. At 8am, we boarded a tender with about 22 fellow passengers to visit the Surprise Cave. The ride took about ten minutes and soon we were mesmerized by each of the three large caves, each one leading to a larger cave and each separated by narrow passageways. The guides pointed out rock structures that appeared to resemble animals and religious icons. At 9am, we were exiting the caves and back on the tender. Upon arriving at the junk, we quickly showered (the caves were warm/humid). We had about 30 minutes to shower, complete packing our hand-carry luggage and meet for breakfast at 9:45am. (Note that our check-in luggage remained locked overnight on the bus). Breakfast was a typical buffet with Vietnamese and western fare. After brunch, we had time to relax and settle our drink bill -â€" only $18. We vacated our cabin before breakfast so that the crew could start preparing for the next group of junk cruisers. At 11:30am, we departed the junk on a tender. Upon landing we quickly boarded the bus and were on our way to the Hanoi airport. About two hours into the drive, we stopped at a large private golf course for lunch. There was a large restaurant at the course and this provided a good opportunity for serving the approximately 100 individuals traveling with AMA. After lunch, we boarded the bus and finally arrived at the airport at 4pm. There we quickly passed through immigration and the airport security check. The flight was delayed a few minutes and experienced one gate change. With only an hour flight, Vietnam Airlines still found time to serve drinks and a meal. AMA collected our passports during the flight to Siem Reap. AMA used the passports to arrange a quick entry into Cambodia, so we didn't need to stop at immigration. We simply picked up our luggage and headed for the bus that would take us to the Sofitel hotel in Siem Reap. During the bus ride, we received some basic information from Savon, our local guide. When we arrived at the hotel, we were met by musicians, cold towels, and a ginger drink. We also received our keys and dropped off our hand-carry luggage in our room before dinner. Dinner was a large buffet, with local dishes. Despite the food selections, we weren't too hungry after snacking on the plane. With the return to our room, we showered and did a few hand wash items. In general, we rarely wore any of the long-sleeved shirts or long pants we packed during this trip. Wearing light weight clothes that could dry overnight was a big advantage. Saturday, November 5 We had an early breakfast and headed out to the buses at 8:30am. The hotel is located close to the Angkor Wat area, so the ride was about 15 minutes long. As the road that continues to Angkor Thom passes through narrow gates, we transferred from our larger bus to two smaller vans. At this transfer location, we were able to walk up and view the gates, wall and river surrounding the road into the city of Angkor Thom. Shortly arriving at Angkor Thom, we saw a large city structure, with remnants of several tall towers with faces. At the highest tower was what was left of a lotus flower. We were told that several of the pieces were stolen over time and the structures were originally covered with gold and silver leaf. The tour of the city area required climbing over several steps. It was quite warm in the areas unprotected from the sun. Every so often, we passed through an area in which cool breezes could be felt. Many of the wall carvings could still be seen quite clearly. The tour lasted about 45 minutes and we found ourselves on the van to Te Prohm. During our van ride, Savon mentioned that about half of the 4 million land mines have been cleared from Cambodia. These mines placed as defensive measures have been found in areas long forgotten. In fact, some of the individuals reportedly forget where they placed their mines and, ironically, lost their lives from their own mines. Mines were found/removed near the checkpoint area where we received our temple visit badge. The Te Prohm temple is often known as the "Tomb Raider" temple. It was the site of the filming of this movie. The buses parked in an area with small souvenir stands. After departing from the vans, we walked along a dusty path to the temple. The first sight was a small moat or pond and the first external wall. We entered a small courtyard and soon could see areas where the roots of the trees extended to become part of the building structures. We couldn't determine if the roots strengthened the wall with support or were destructive. As we walked through the temple, paths were cleared but there were crumbled fragments of the structure in jumbled formations. Again, the temperature was warm and shady areas were popular as well as the stops where a cool breeze could be experienced. With our tour completed, we walked back to the vans along the same path we used to enter the temple area. There we boarded our buses to return back to the hotel for lunch and a short rest. We stopped for an a la carte lunch at the hotel bar. Meal service at the Sofitel was extremely slow and we were glad we decided to have lunch first and then return back to our hotel room. At 2:30, we boarded a bus to Banteay Srei, a smaller temple about 20 miles outsite of Siem Reap. Along the ride, we saw rice fields and small villages with houses raised on stilts. We were told that the raised housing protected the inhabitants from wild animals. The tigers and wild pigs were more prevalent before loss of the dense forest. At Banteay Srei we could see surrounding reconstructed pieces of temple walls but less formed that the previous larger structures at Te Prohm or Angkor Thom. The entrances into BS were intricately carved. It was surprising to us that the carvings were so clear. The temple walkway led us through three (as I recall) areas. Small, shallow pools were seen along the pathways. Towards the rear, we could see smaller building structures. Exiting the temple area, we walked along the path that led us to the parking lot and small stalls selling food and crafts. We purchased some silk scarves and a young boy offered to run and purchase a cold beer ($2 each, regular price $1) for us. This offer was welcome and taken. On our return to the hotel, we stopped by a small orphanage that helped about 25 young boys and girls to acquire life skills and learn English reading and writing. Given the relatively young age that adults live to (52 men and 55 for women) and the large number of children each couple may have, you could see that there is a strong need for this type of social service. This particular school is financed without public dollars and only with support from some of the larger tour companies and visitors to the school. We watched a short dance presentation by the girls and boys and then visited the gift area, where student artwork was offered for sale. We purchased some hand painted postcards and delivered some writing supplies we brought from the US. The bus returned us to the hotel at 6pm. We had about an hour to clean up and rest before a fixed course dinner, hosted by AMA. The dinner service was extremely slow and we finished at 9:45pm. A very long time for a hotel dinner with fixed menu items. Sunday, November 6 Today it's off to Angkor Wat and then back to the hotel by 12noon. We will then have the afternoon to ourselves in Siem Reap. We were looking forward to going into town for an unstructured visit. It was a familiar bus ride to Angkor Wat as we had passed this temple yesterday on our drive to Angkor Thom. We started our tour along the walkway over the moat surrounding the outer walls of the temple. Angkor Wat has three levels and we visited each. The first level was surrounded by a moat, which served as a cleansing area for the public to wash before entering the temple. At the higher levels, there were pools, but these pools were reserved for the monks and high officials. The last level was reached by a number of steep wooden stairs. These stairs, unlike many others, had a handrail which helped ensure steady footing. At the top level, there was a broad area in which visitors could walk and see the view from several window areas. With the heat and humidity, our clothes and bodies were sticky. At the base of the first level, there were many local villagers selling scarves, shirts and other tourist items. We purchased several additional scarves for office gifts. It was almost walking through a gauntlet of local sellers as we returned to our group meeting location. We returned to the hotel at 11:30. This permitted us to grab a quick shower and change into some dry/clean clothes. We also met with our cruise manager to pick-up luggage tags for the morning. During our free afternoon, we took a tuk-tuk ride from the Sofitel to town. We stopped for lunch at the Blue Pumpkin and explored Pub Street, Old Market, FCC stores, and the McDermott gallery. At the gallery, we purchased a photograph of five faces at Bayon, Angkor Thom. As it was close to 3:30pm and our travel companion had a helicopter ride planned (about $100), we returned via tuk-tuk back to the hotel. At the market areas we visited during the trip, you can purchase jewelry and stones at 'bargain' prices. Some vendors will use some type of meter to confirm the authenticity of the stone. One of our local guides mentioned that these meters should not be trusted. I also saw several watches (marked as Omega, Rolex, Piguet, etc) at these open-air markets. In regards to shopping for locally produced items, we purchased lacquer ware, silk scarves and silk table-runners to bring back as gifts. We also purchased a few silk clothing items for ourselves. Before our 7pm dinner, we stopped at Garden of Desire, a downtown jewelry store, where my wife purchased a ring and earrings. Dinner reservations were next door at the AHA Bar and Restaurant. I ordered a taro based soup that had a split pea flavor, salmon encrusted with jasmine rice and we shared three desserts -â€" a chocolate cake with raspberry sorbet, ginger ice cream and a banana fritter with palm ice cream. After dinner, we looked around local shops and the night market. My wife purchased purse along the way. Ending our evening out, we flagged a tuk-tuk to take us back to the Sofitel ($1 per person). We returned to hotel at 9:30pm to finish our luggage packing. Monday, November 7 A morning bus ride was necessary as the high water levels prevented the AMALotus from picking us up in Siem Reap. The bus ride took about 4.5 hours, with a bathroom break two hours later around 10:30. Along the way our local guide shared his knowledge of the sights we could see from the road and life in Cambodia. We could see that life along the drive was hard - aged wood houses on stilts and transit largely limited to scooter and pedal bicycles. Often times, dirt from the sides of the road covered the center of the road, giving the appearance of a dirt road. The break area was wet and required walking over several feet of narrow wood planks. The planks took some careful steps, though the mud below the planks wasn't very deep. A few individuals walked carefully through a packed muddy path. Once we arrived at the structure, the rest area had a large bathroom area and a small gift store. Apparently, there weren't too many bathroom break areas along the road to Kamchong as there were many buses that pulled over at this stop. As we drove through Kamchong Cham town, the AMALotus soon appeared in sight. Although the boat has stopped at this port previously, it is hard to imagine the thoughts of the local town residents about the luxury boat appointments and the passengers on the boat. Lunch was served after we boarded and we received cabin keys thereafter. The standard cabin was a bit larger than the junk cabin and nicely accented with dark woods. Storage space within the cabin was sufficient. The cabin storage area included a safe. The stateroom balcony was small and contained a single chair and table. The public lounges and sundeck were nicely decorated and there was a small fitness room with one treadmill and one elliptical. The cabins were well-insulated from noises generated within adjoining units. A brief introductory safety and itinerary discussion was held at 4:30pm. With dinner at 7pm, we had a quiet evening. Dinner selections included a pineapple -â€" shrimp salad, broccoli cream soup, swordfish and a cheese plate for dessert. Dinner was similar to other river/cruise ships -â€" hotel quality food selections. Local wines and well drinks were provided without additional fees. What was intended for a quiet evening didn't quite turn out that way. I must have picked up some intestinal bacteria that didn't agree with me. I ended up taking four Pepto Bismal tablets, spaced through the evening, which seemed to help. Although I had Azithromycin in my bag of packed drugs, I decided the issue wasn't severe enough to use it. On a side note, I was aware of several people on the tour that became afflicted with some gastric distress during the trip. Where the problem was picked up was completely unknown as bottled water was used throughout the trip. We were alerted not to drink the cabin tap or shower water. At the end of the trip, one of the travelers in our group was brought to a local hospital ($75) for a check-up due to a continuing bout of intestinal upset -â€" I heard it was possibly a parasite infection. AMA was very helpful in providing assistance and support for this passenger health issue. Tuesday, November 8 I decided to stay in this morning rather than take the short walking tour excursion at 8:30am. I asked my wife take pictures and fill me in on the sights. At 9am, my wife disembarked to take a walking tour of Peam Chi Kang, a river village. I hung out in the lounge and checked email and browsed the Internet. After an hour, the walking tour group returned to the ship. The weather this morning was hot and humid and the returning travelers looked a bit wilted. Regardless, within minutes we gathered for a safety drill and then a presentation on Cambodia from the tour guides. Lunch was at 12:30pm and included salad, a "hot item action station" item (sweet and sour prawns with rice), main course and dessert selections. At 3pm, the next stop was a walking tour of Chong Koh. I was feeling better and participated in the activity. Part way through the walking tour, a heavy rain fell, making the mud slippery. Nonetheless, we waited under cover for the downpour to stop and then continued where the mud was less dangerous for walking. The side benefit of the rain was that the weather became cloudy and cooler as we were protected from the sun. We watched a couple of silk weavers and saw sights around the village. This had to be a previous stop along the river, as children and their mothers were pressing for visitors to purchase scarves and cloths. We purchased a couple to help the families out as we could see that life is hard and tourist dollars really assist these families with their lives. We returned to the ship at 4:30pm, swapping our muddy shoes for slippers at the gangway, and decided to take showers and clean up for dinner. These afternoon showers have been a good way to remove the daily dose of deet spray, as well. Our cleaned shoes were later returned to us at the registration desk. Wednesday, November 9 Today it's off to visit the Royal Palace at Phenom Penh, Cambodia and,later, a killing field and prison of the Khmer Rouge. The bus departed the port and within 15 minutes, we arrived at the Royal Palace for a photo opportunity. There was an issue with the schedule, so we moved to the National Museum as our first formal stop. At the museum, a guide discussed a number of major exhibit pieces. The visit was somewhat rushed to permit us to visit the Royal Palace. Apparently, the King is in residence and this alters the time when the palace grounds are open. The grounds were beautiful and we stopped to visit the interiors of the throne room and silver pagoda. Our afternoon trip was to a killing field and, a Khmer Rouge prison, known as S21. Both were rather gruesome to visit and it was difficult to grasp how such atrocities could occur and what happened to the high-ranking Khmer Rouge officials. We started to read "First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers," during the trip to learn more about this time in Cambodia. We returned back to the ship by 5:45pm, which left us enough time to shower up and catch up on some Internet updates. Thursday, November 10 We decided to stay in rather than take the organized morning tour to a pagoda and oxcart ride. This made for a leisurely breakfast and time to catch-up on email and Internet browsing. During the morning, we took a short walk on our own to Wat Phnom. We couldn't always find the street name signs, so following the ship provided map was not easy. A few tuk-tuk drivers followed us around, hoping to get a fare. We stayed in after lunch for the rest of the afternoon. Friday, November 11 Today was our rest day as we cruised the Mekong River and were not making any port stops. We got up a little later and went down to breakfast at 7am. There were fewer passengers at breakfast as they were likely sleeping in. We watched our departure from Phnom Penh from the upper deck and then moved to the lounge to read and use the Internet service. During the morning, we used Skype to make a family call. The connection was pretty good. For about 10 minutes of conversation, the Skype charge was only $0.32. Before we knew it, lunch time arrived. After lunch, my wife read on the sundeck and I read in the room (much cooler there). At 3pm, we gathered in the lounge to watch the cooking demonstration. There, we learned how to make pho soup and cold rice rolls. An ice cream social in the lounge followed afterwards. Saturday, November 12 We arrived at Tan Chau this morning and we had a bicycle rickshaw ride into town, with stops at a mechanized silk factory and rattan factory. Departing at 8:30, we got our excursion cards and entered a tender to go to shore. On the shore, we were met by our Xe Loi drivers. On the ride through town, on roads too narrow for cars or buses, we were able to view the town and residential life. We saw a broad range of residences -â€" from shelters to very well maintained houses. The silk factory was an interesting site. The equipment seemed almost historic but was fully functional and provided the town residents with needed commercial industry. The second stop at a rattan mat factory that gave a similar feeling -â€" almost historic machinery with manual reed dyeing but fully functional and successful. After the rattan factory stop, we transferred to the pier, where we boarded a small tender to floating fish farm and walking tour of the village. We returned to the boat for lunch by 12noon. This afternoon we cruised 90 km to Sa Dec. This part of the cruise took take the better part of the afternoon, so we had a relaxing afternoon to read and use the Internet for messaging. Sunday, November 13 This was a busy day with a tour in the morning at Sa Dec and in Cai Be in the late afternoon. However, the tour start times were pushed back 30 minutes to 9am and 3pm, respectively. We started our tour with a stop at the Sa Dec market via a tender to shore. During the tender ride, we could see a brick factory along the shore. After disembarking the tender, it was a short walk to visit a Chinese temple. We backtracked a bit and stopped at Huynh Thuy Le's house. This was a small house amid the busy water front area. We returned to the boat by walking through an open-air whole sale market. At the market, we saw fruits, vegetables, seafood, poultry, snakes and rat. After lunch, we disembarked the ship via a tender for our Cai Be visit, at 3pm. Along the way, we saw the floating markets. In this area, individual boats display their wholesale item on a long bamboo pole in the front of the ship. Shoppers negotiate their wholesale purchase ship to ship. We didn't linger in this area of the river and continued to dock near a food preparation factory. At the factory, we watched popped rice candy, rice sheets, rice wine, a local toffee and salt being manufactured for retail sale. We walked along a river pathway and found ourselves at the oldest Catholic Church in Vietnam. Service had just completed so we could peek in a see the interior. After returning to the AMALotus, we cleaned up and starting packing for our departure from the ship the following day. Reaching a packing point for which we couldn't proceed much further, we retired to the lounge to relax, have a drink and use the Internet. For dinner, we joined our travel companion and new friends for our farewell ship dinner. It was interesting to learn about their experiences and reflections on board, as well as everyone's past travel activities. We shared many common recent observations. It was a fun evening and a great was to end the river cruise with newly made travel acquaintances. Note that your bill is settled on this last cruise date. You can add a gratuity for the ship crew and/or cruise manager to this bill -â€" which is helpful if you wanted to pay tips via your credit card. You can also settle your bill with cash. Monday, November 14 The ship pulled anchor from Cai Be at 5am, started its engine and made its way to the Saigon port. The anchor pulling is a noisy activity and the diesel engines tend to vibrate the ship. Thus, we were awake at 5am and finished packing our check-in luggage. At 6:30am, we placed our luggage out the door and went to an early breakfast (breakfast is usually starts at 7am, but on departure day opens at 6:30am). Once our luggage was placed in the hall, we felt that this portion of the trip was really over and ready to move to Saigon. We had a light breakfast, packed our carry-on and gathered in the Saigon Lounge to be called to our bus, at 8:30am. The bus ride provided familiar views of rural farms and countryside and took about two hours to reach town. We stopped at a Chinese pagoda, Reunification Palace, lacquer manufacture/store and reached the Indochine Restaurant, by 1pm, for lunch. We shared a table again with our previous dinner companions and had an enjoyable time discussing travel. Our cruise manager gave us our Sofitel room keys at the restaurant and the bus ride from the restaurant to the hotel was only about five minutes. After a brief rest, we walked over to the Hard Rock Cafe and returned to the lacquer store for purchases. Both were within a couple of blocks from the Sofitel. We bought a large 22-inch contemporary plate at the workshop and hand carried it on our return flights. Dinner was on our own and, with the late lunch, we decided to eat dinner at the Sofitel's casual restaurant. Tuesday, November 15 This morning, we met Zoom in the lobby at 8:30am for our first city tour of Saigon. This was a busy day with over a dozen stops. We started our tour with a stop at the Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral. The cathedral was rather simple in decorations. Both buildings were constructed in the early 1800s. Our next stop required a drive to Chinatown to visit the Giac Lam Pagoda, the oldest pagoda in Saigon. Established in the 1700s, we visited the exterior gardens and then entered the temple. The interior was ornately carved and contained funerary displays. From the pagoda, we drove to the Chinatown market, where Zoom assisted our travel companion to purchase a suitcase ($60 down to $20) and we toured the large wholesale market area. We continued our drive back to the downtown area and had lunch at Pho2000 and, afterwards visited, Ben Thanh market. We really didn't need anything, but purchased a small bottle of snake wine (very touristy). We then drove by Westmoreland's and Ambassador Cabot-Lodge's residences on our way to Dong Choi Street, the Opera House and the Khai Silk store. We shopped for about an hour, acquiring a shirt and sweater and then drove to the Rex Hotel. At the Rex Hotel, we refreshed ourselves with coffee, iced coffee and a glass of wine on the rooftop lounge. It was in this lounge that the 5pm daily US armed forces briefings were held. Zoom mentioned that the Rex, Majestic, Caravelle and Continental Hotels (historic properties) are government owned. The iced coffee was terrific at the Rex and is recommended. Our next stop was at the Trung Nguyen coffee store to purchase Vietnamese coffee beans for gifts to bring home. These roasted coffee beans are grown in the central highlands ($35 for 2,000 grams of whole beans). Note that weasel coffee is available in Vietnam but the cost remains prohibitive. We learned that the weasel coffee sold in the local markets is likely chemically treated at best. Our final tour stop was at the War Remnants Museum, with displays and photos largely from the Vietnam War, but a few exhibits from the war leading to Vietnam's independence from France. The photos were hard to view, at times grisly and raised questions about the advance knowledge about the danger from dioxin. Given our understanding of the hot, humid, swampy rural landscape, it is hard to imagine fighting and survival in such a harsh environment. The photo journalist entries in the museum reflected a pictorial history of the Vietnam War. After the last stop, it was now 5pm and time to wind down. We returned to the hotel for showers and a dinner at Cuc Gach Quan, at 7pm. The cab ride was about $2 and it was hard to determine where exactly we were. Regardless, the traditional Vietnamese dinner was very good, with menu selections by the waiter. We had family style servings of pork in claypot, crispy sea bass in passion fruit sauce, stir-fried zucchini buds, fried soft-shelled crabs, steamed rice and fried tofu. We also tried a mango juice with honey drink. This was definitely not a purely tourist restaurant as we could tell it was popular with local residents. Dinner for three, with drinks, ran about $50. With dinner complete, we returned to the hotel for the evening. Wednesday, November 16 The 8:30am drive out to the C? Chi tunnels with Zoom seemed to hit morning traffic and took about 90 minutes. The trip started on city roads and shifted to a single lane country road through several small farming villages. The tunnel parking lot contained several buses but the site was not crowded. We saw demonstrations of lethal traps, B52 bomb craters, lookout spots, cooking areas and techniques to permit air to the tunnels. My wife and our travel companion walked through a small section of the tunnels. Afterwards, we watched a short video that discussed the 'crazy American devils' and the havoc they wrought on the Cu Chi village area and the valiant fight waged by young village women and men. Most surprising to me was the close proximity of a former US base to the tunnel system. The bus ride back found less traffic and took about 70 minutes to return to the hotel. We had a light lunch at the hotel at 2pm. Since our room still needed a housekeeping visit, we walked down Dong Choi to view a few retail shops and peek into the Continental and Caravelle Hotels. By 3:45pm, we returned to the hotel and our room was ready. I jumped in the pool for about 30 minutes to cool off and talk with some folks from our AMA trip that were out on the 18th floor pool deck. For our last evening dinner, we went to Quan An Ngon for dinner. The menu contained photos of many of the dishes. The food was great but a little different that the food we had in Hanoi (at a similar restaurant). The shrimp and sweet potato pancakes weren't served with rice paper -â€" not sure if this was due to our ordering. We also ordered water spinach with garlic, beef in five spices, spring rolls, steamed rice, beer and a coconut drink. The entire dinner for two, with small tip, ran $17. The cab fare each way cost about $1. After dinner, we met our travel companion for a drink on the Sofitel pool deck (18th floor) overlooking the city and then finished packing for our flight the next day at 11:30am. Thursday, November 17 This day was a long day of travel, starting with a cab ride to the Ho Chi Minh International airport and ending at LAX for today and a short flight to northern California on Friday. We had breakfast at the hotel and departed for the airport at 8am. My wife was concerned about the traffic and wanted to start off early. Surprisingly, traffic was light and only took about 20 minutes (the ride was estimated at 30 to 40 minutes, depending on traffic). The taxi from the hotel was $10, which was considerably lower than reserving a Sofitel car, at $50. Starting the final return from our travels to Vietnam and Cambodia, we felt that the trip was over despite the need to complete three flights. We'll have great memories of this Asia visit. Of all the hotels we stayed in, the most memorable were the Metropole and Siem Reap Sofitels. The Sofitel Saigon Plaza was more of a business hotel and somewhat indistinguishable from the many hotels that I use for domestic business travel. The junk and AMALotus accommodations were fine. AMA did a great job at organizing the overall trip and daily activities and supporting travelers in the group. We also recommend contacting Zoom if you'd like to use a knowledgeable local guide with vehicle support in Saigon as well as contacting Hanoikids when visiting Hanoi. Read Less
Sail Date November 2011
While the cruise portion of the entire trip was only 5 days of the whole 11 or so day trip, my review will touch on the land portion in addition to the river portion. This is our 4th cruise on Viking, and we have also done 5 ... Read More
While the cruise portion of the entire trip was only 5 days of the whole 11 or so day trip, my review will touch on the land portion in addition to the river portion. This is our 4th cruise on Viking, and we have also done 5 "ocean" cruises with other companies (Oceania being our favorite). The Viking Century Emerald is a new ship, and the largest and nicest of the ones we've been on with Viking. The cabin we had (standard, 2nd deck) was spacious, with plenty of room for our clothes, a very nice bathroom, and a small balcony. The public rooms are beautiful, and there is a small fitness center, a couple stores with various things to buy, and a computer room with 8 computers (hard-wired and wifi). Wifi is available around the computer area. I believe there was a small beauty shop, too, but I didn't check that out, and an infirmary. I really didn't use anything but the restaurant, computer room, and outside areas (for photography) so I can't really comment on all areas or services. However, my husband got a foot massage and was very happy with it, including the price. You can have clothes cleaned and/or pressed, and my husband had 2 golf shirts washed. The price was reasonable. The food was reasonably good - sometimes great, sometimes only so-so, but overall good but not fantastic. If you don't like the choices offered for lunch (buffet and menu offerings) or dinner (menu offerings) you can order one of the "always available" items. My husband had the steak, which he found good but not fantastic, and I had the salmon, which was excellent. For breakfast, there is a variety of stuff - made to order omelets, French Toast, oatmeal, etc. The staff is wonderful, and they greet you by name, even if you've only sat at their station once before. You can sit wherever you want, with whomever you want. Dinner is served at an announced time - usually 7 or 7:30, and the same is true for lunch (usually noon); however, if you come a little late, they are very accommodating about that. Staff members, from person who cleans your cabin, to program director, to ship's captain, are fantastic - very personable, eager to please, and yes, they speak English, except for the Captain, anyway! If you're a past Viking cruiser, you'll be invited to a special cocktail party to meet the bigwigs. The passengers were a nice mix of mostly Americans, with some Europeans and at least one New Zealander. The average age was probably 55 or 60, but there WAS a smattering of younger folks as well as a smattering of 70'ish folks. One very minor complaint we had about the ship was that the dining room was quite noisy compared to the dining rooms we had been on in previous Viking ships. This ship is a big one, with more pax than we had traveled with when on Viking, and so we found the noise level a little bothersome. However, given all the plusses for this ship, and the whole Viking experience, the noise level was a minor thing. Another minor complaint was that the computers in the computer room (8) tended to be a bit quirky and slow - but given that we were on a river in the middle of the Yangtze, that was understandable. If you wanted to be alone on the ship, that was certainly possible, with a couple outdoor areas as well as indoor that were lightly populated. There is not a lot of entertainment at night, but we didn't feel that was needed, as we were pretty tired by the end of the day! There were lectures and some entertainment during the day - the things I participated in were quite good, especially the lectures. There were TV programs and movies on the TV in the cabin. I didn't watch much, but my husband did. I'm not a drinker or shopper, so can't comment on the bar or store areas. I didn't use the fitness center, but boy, with all the walking on the Imperial Jewels trip, I felt no need to use it in the first place! Embarkation and disembarkation were easy and smooth, including disembarkation for the trips ashore. As to the trip itself (Shanghai to Beijing on the Imperial Jewels trip), it was great. You see and do a lot, and get pretty tired doing it! The first few days were a little disappointing, as Shanghai is basically not as charming as Beijing, and the jet lag was killing us. Also, the Yangtze in the eastern part of the trip (Wuhan going west to Chongqing) is very commercial, and after cruising more alluring rivers like the Rhine and Mosel, a bit of a letdown. Beijing and Xi'an were fantastic, and I personally loved the day at the Shiboazhai (spelling?) temple. The 3 internal flights were perfectly adequate, and the food provided off-ship was quite good, although I have to admit I got tired of Chinese food! The organization of the tour was truly ten star, as were the hotels used. Our tour escort (Shan Shan) proved to be a national treasure, arranging everything perfectly, and looking out for us in very crowded cities and environments. Viking divides you into groups of about 30 or 35, with one tour escort assigned to you for the whole trip. You meet the tour escort in Shanghai and then travel with him/her to all of the cities/places you visit, including the days on the Emerald. I would highly recommend Viking, and this tour, to just about anyone. It is more escorted and orchestrated than the other Viking cruises we've been on, with little free time, but in a country like China, that is probably a very good thing. Few people speak English, the traffic is awful, and many things are completely unfamiliar, making traveling on your own a daunting task. The Emerald is top notch, especially for a river ship, and the combination of land and river touring, while a bit exhausting, is a nice combination. Read Less
Sail Date October 2011
This was a land and river escorted tour beginning in Shanghai for 2 nights and flying to Wuhan to board the ship, sailing for 5 nights on the Yangtze, disembarking in Chongqing, flying to Xian for an overnight and then flying to Beijing ... Read More
This was a land and river escorted tour beginning in Shanghai for 2 nights and flying to Wuhan to board the ship, sailing for 5 nights on the Yangtze, disembarking in Chongqing, flying to Xian for an overnight and then flying to Beijing for 3 nights. Accommodations: In Shanghai, the Pudong Shangri-La was superior. 5 star rooms, 5 star service. The riverboat was surprisingly excellent for a riverboat. Clean, superb staff catering to the needs of passengers. All cabins had balconies. Crew members at two occasions performed for the guests and did a better job than some of the paid performances attended on the tour. In Xian, the Golden Flower Hotel was excellent. Not quite as nice as Shanghai 4 star, but service was 5 star. In Beijing, Westin Chaoyan was the worst experienced in a long time. 5 star rooms, 1 star service. The tour guides were not allowed by the hotel to pick up room keys forcing all guests to register. 5 bus loads of guests arrived being forced to enter from the rear making a poor impression from the start. The one receptionist had difficulty registering guests and was finally joined by others to move the process along. Many elderly guests had to stand in line to register, for there were no chairs in the lobby for them. Once the room key card was given, there was a problem accessing the elevator to the upper floors. Above the 17th floor, the key card was required to punch in the floor. The elevator assistant had to enter the elevator to use his master card in order to get to the floor. The key did work for the room. The key card had to be returned to the desk for a new one, provided with no apology for the inconvenience of the guest. The staff at the Westin appeared to care less about guests' requests. A request for Chinese coins was met with frowns and "your bothering me, boy" attitude. Meals at the hotel were very good. The tour escort: The guide assigned to the group of 36 had an excellent command of the English language and culture. He was able to understand and answer questions with ease, some quite difficult questions about culture. He appeared to treat each guest as a friend and took care to ensure our trip was pleasurable. On the river cruise, one couple experienced medical problems. The gentleman was seen by the doctor on board and referred ashore for treatment. The escort departed the ship with the couple, acted as translator and assistant. He worked with the US Embassy to arrange medical treatment and accommodations. The seriousness of the medical problem prevented the couple from rejoining the tour. The guide rejoined the tour after about 2 days. The fellow tour guides filled in for him during his absence and were good to us. The guide provided us daily reports of the status of the gentleman. The fear that he had a 50-50 chance of living resulted in the cruise line flying their son to China. [As a note: he did recover and flew back to the States about 2 weeks after the tour was over.] Excursions: All were included in the tour except two. They were very exciting and informative. Being able to really see the rural aspect of China was limited and was mostly tourist spots and large cities. The cruise line does support one local school along the river in Yueyang. This was about a close to seeing the "real" China as we got. Half of the school children came to school on a Saturday, a day off for them, to greet us, give us a performance, and then join us in their classroom. This was very nice. Of course, the Terra Cotta soldiers in Xian and the Great Wall & Forbidden City were the reasons for going to China. The side trip to the Summer Palace was dull. The two optional excursions were the Tang Dynasty Dinner & Show in Xian and the Peking Duck Dinner & Peking Opera in Beijing. The Tang Dynasty event was excellent and well worth the cost. It is highly recommended. On the other hand, the Peking Duck Dinner was the worst meal had in China. Having had Peking duck dinners before, this one was a joke. Each guest was given a few slivers of duck breast along with lots of common dishes that were poorly presented and lacked the quality of even street food. The Peking Opera was not to my liking but if one likes opera, it would be of interest. We were ushered into the opera after the dinner and seated at the "VIP" tables instead of in seats with the rest of the audience. Snacks were provided along with tea. Only the tangerine were worth eating. Being bored by the opera and not having anything to do caused more boredom. It was not the way to end one's trip to China. If one were to collect coins from countries visited, in China one must start trying to obtain them upon arrival. They are not worth much and are not used in the main hotels. There is little free time to find an open bank either. My effort resulted in only about 2/3 of the types of coins used and took the entire tour to get 4 of the 6 coins. Viking River Cruises read my critique of the tour. I was refunded the price for the Peking Duck Dinner [if one had the nerve to call it that]. This was unexpected and appreciated. Since I collect coins and many in our group had young ones back home that would be thrilled to get Chinese coins, I suggested that the company give each guest some coins as a gift. One of each coin would cost them less than $0.30 and would be something the kids would appreciate back home. Read Less
Sail Date October 2011
Starting in Shanghai, the hotel was excellent, Pudong Shangri-La. A little on the expensive side, e.g. a martini, a Bailey's and coffee, and a small dessert was $55 where as dinner near by was only $35 for two including drinks. The ... Read More
Starting in Shanghai, the hotel was excellent, Pudong Shangri-La. A little on the expensive side, e.g. a martini, a Bailey's and coffee, and a small dessert was $55 where as dinner near by was only $35 for two including drinks. The guide was superior, excellent command of the English language and a very good understanding of American customs. In all, there were 3 flights in China. The guide demonstrated his expertise in managing the group of 36 with ease. Flights were nothing special but clean and well organized. Upon boarding the ship, the crew welcomed us with smiles and energy. Staterooms all had balconies and were well taken care of by the staff. Food on board was generally fine, family style was generally done with a big lazy susan for the 10/table. The waiters and waitresses were very good in paying attention to the guests and seeing to the needs. The bar had an exceptional variety of liquors, wines, and beers. I would suggest buying the beverage package if you would drink the equivalent of 2 martinis/day. Entertainment on board was good. On two nights we were treated with the crew performing for us and this was a real treat. Not only did we know our crew but marvelled in how well they performed on stage, nothing short of amazing. During the cruise, we visited the school supported by Viking River Cruises. I wished someone had informed us of this, for we would have brought some little gifts for the students. We arrived at the school on a Saturday and about half the student body come to school on their day off to perform for us and join us in their classrooms. It was fun seeing them. Disembarking from the ship, we went to the zoo in Chongqing. Of course, seeing pandas was the treat. At the end of the zoo tour, we visited an art shop on the zoo grounds and there were some fantastic pieces to buy. Not particularly inexpensive but very well done. Upon arrival in Xian, the hotel, Golden Flower by Shangri-La, was nice, not quite as nice as in Shanghai but clean. Visiting the Terra Cotta Warriors was the next treat. It was amazing how our guide was able to herd cats wandering about, but with skill he managed that feat. Following Xian, we arrived in Beijing. Our arrival at the hotel, Westin Chaoyang, was not a pleasant experience. To put it bluntly, if they offered me a suite for as long as I wished, I would not stay there again. It was a 5 star room with 2 star service. To begin with, the large number of guests arriving had to enter the hotel from the rear. Instead of the guides being allowed to pick up our room keys and hand them out to us, the hotel insisted each of us check in individually. Long lines, with initially only one clerk, and no seats in the lobby. A number of the guests were elderly and standing in a line was not something they would want to do. When we finally got our room key, we were on a floor requiring the room key to be placed in the elevator so to access our floor. It didn't work! A person from the hotel had to use his pass key to allow us to punch in our floor. The key did work in the room door but not the elevator which required a second trip to the front desk to be ignored for a while by staff. Like I said, I would find it difficult to accept even a free room at this hotel. One of the optional thing in Beijing was the Peking Duck Dinner. Forget that. If you have ever had Peking Duck before you will find this is like going to a burger joint and ordering Kobe steak. The dinner was the absolute worse on the whole trip. I will mention though that I was asked by Viking River Cruises how I like my trip and if I had any comments. I mentioned the poor dinner and they refunded me the charge. The trip to the Forbidden City was amazing. Again, the guide was able to keep us all in check and help us maneuver this large place. The trip to the Summer Palace was a little disappointing and would not have been missed by anyone if we hadn't gone. The trip to the Great Wall was yet another marvel. I cannot say enough good things about our guide who helped us in every way possible. One small thing on a personal note, we collect coins from countries we visit to be mounted. Going to China proved to be a place where we thought this hobby would be easily completed. It wasn't. Finding coins proved to be a very difficult task. Finding a bank to manage this was also difficult. Our guide did help with finding coins but I did not get all of them. Overall, the cruise was a surprise for us who were first time Viking guests. The guide made our stay in China feel like we were welcome. We did have an event while on the river cruise portion of the trip. A man became ill and the guide escorted him and his wife ashore to the hospital. There was an issue with the small hospital and dealing with Americans. The guide made contact with the Embassy and worked with them to get the man moved to a larger city with better facilities. At one point, we thought they would rejoin us, but as we neared the end of the tour, we were told on our daily briefings on them that he may not survive. Viking flew their son to China. The good news is that he recovered and was well enough to fly back to the States 2 weeks later. The guide took personal charge of seeing to their needs allowing other guides to manage his group for him. This personal service was well appreciated. The crew on the ship was equally wonderful. There were only two things to avoid, the Peking Duck dinner and the Westin Chaoyang Hotel. Read Less
Sail Date October 2011

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