1. Home
  2. Cruise Destinations
  3. Asia Cruises
  4. Asia Cruise Reviews

142 Asia River Cruise Reviews

Victoria Queen By Jim Thornton China November 10, 2009 This was our sixth river cruise in contrast to our 13 ocean cruises. Our cabin was a deluxe cabin, called the Shangri-La Suite, on the port side of the second deck near the bow of ... Read More
Victoria Queen By Jim Thornton China November 10, 2009 This was our sixth river cruise in contrast to our 13 ocean cruises. Our cabin was a deluxe cabin, called the Shangri-La Suite, on the port side of the second deck near the bow of the ship and close to the bow stairway. We sailed on a four-day about 500-mile Yangtze River cruise from Yichang upstream (towards the west) to Chongqing. Each day there was something new to see like the controversial Three Gorges Dam, which is more than three and a half miles wide, and created a 20-mile long lake displacing over one million people and submerging their 13 cities, 140 towns, and 1,352 villages. Ship: Is one of the larger ships on the river. It and its identical Victoria Cruise ship (the Victoria Prince) were originally built in 1995, rebuilt in 2003, and refurbished in 2008. The ship has four passenger decks without elevators and carries 206 passengers with a crew of 121. Cabin: Our room was larger (622 square feet) than on the previous river cruises that we sailed on. There are two of these deluxe suites each consisting of a bedroom with king size bed with two nightstands and large outside windows on two sides of the cabin on the entire port and bow sides; a large private balcony over looking the bow, a couch, a small table, a small desk and chair, a TV set with two English language channels - CNN and HBO and lots of Chinese language channels and DVD player, two small clothes closets, a small refrigerator and mini-bar, and a large bathroom with a western toilet, two sinks, shower, and a bathtub. The ship has 93 standard cabins (211 square feet) with two single beds on the second deck; six junior suites (294 square feet) with two single beds on the second, third, and fourth decks, and two deluxe suites (458 square feet) with king size beds on the second deck. All cabins have and private bathrooms with separate showers, and balconies. The ship's electrical voltage is the same as the country's 220 volts at 50 Hertz. Laundry: A fee-based same day laundry service is available. Dining Room: There is a single dining room where breakfast and lunch is a serve yourself buffet and the buffet lines get very long and the food in mainly Chinese with a little western. At dinnertime, the individual Chinese courses are brought to your table and placed on a large common circular plate that rotates so that you may serve yourself. Chopsticks are always provided but so are forks. Tips: A suggested $10 (US) per passenger per day is suggested for the entire ship's crew, plus a separate $4 for the "River Guide". Evening Entertainment: Varies as the crew provides live music, dances, and acrobatics. Internet: There are several for-a-fee computers for passenger use to access their e-mail accounts, the Internet, etc. Bars: There is a bar on the fourth deck and it is a full bar. Meeting Room: Is on the fourth deck in the same large room as the bar. Tours: Visiting and seeing the Three Gorges, the relocated villages, the Three Gorges dam, the large ship locks, and the Xiling Gorge. These tours are included in the overall price of the cruise. Doctor: A Chinese trained medical doctor is onboard. Overall Opinion: This was our second Yangtze River cruise. The previous non-Victoria Queen cruise was on the Princess Sheena, a German built ship that contained a working German-standard water purification and sterilization system meaning that you could drink the water from the cabin's sink. On the Victoria Queen all your drinking water came from small commercial plastic water bottles. Each day in your cabin, one bottle was provided per passenger. In the dining room, you could order only a single small glass of water but there are no refills. Thus I could often take my bottle of water from my cabin to the dinning room. Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
We have taken many cruises all over the world, but we particularly like river cruises, and we LOVE cruising with Pandaw. We have taken 3 Asian river cruises with Pandaw in the past 5 years, and have thoroughly enjoyed each one. The Mekong ... Read More
We have taken many cruises all over the world, but we particularly like river cruises, and we LOVE cruising with Pandaw. We have taken 3 Asian river cruises with Pandaw in the past 5 years, and have thoroughly enjoyed each one. The Mekong River was our first experience with Pandaw, and it got us hooked. Everything about this trip was wonderful: the fabulous, personable, ever-attentive staff, the casual atmosphere on board, the very comfortable cabins, the leisurely pace. All of our creature comforts were met, the food was creative and delicious, and we especially liked the all-inclusive arrangement for cocktails. It was a spectacularly scenic cruise, and guides took groups on 2 daily excursions into local villages. The Killing Fields in Cambodia were heart-breaking but a must-see, and Siem Reap was a lovely end to the cruise. We highly recommend that everyone stay longer and tour the magnificent Angkor Wat. All-in-all, this cruise exceeded our expectations, and we look forward to taking more with Pandaw. Read Less
Sail Date March 2010
I am an American who have lived in China for many years, and a frequent cruiser. I finally got around to taking a trip in my own backyard - the Yangtze River. I booked online through one of the government owned travel agents and the price ... Read More
I am an American who have lived in China for many years, and a frequent cruiser. I finally got around to taking a trip in my own backyard - the Yangtze River. I booked online through one of the government owned travel agents and the price was excellent, and the travel service was good. I speak the language so getting to and from the boat was easy - albeit expensive by Chinese standards. In Yichang the boats dock outside of town in a scenic area and there are few taxis. Outside the gate and a few hundred yards up the hill is a pretty canyon with restaurants dug into the cliffs, and some outstanding food. Some others on the ship complained of the places their travel agents took them. The night we arrived we were told to board before 8, which we dutifully did, only to be told the boat would not leave until the next morning. We then left the boat, after signing a waiver, and went into town. They asked us not to return too late - before midnight. No problem. The boat is sizable and comfortable. The staterooms are of typical size for a cruise ship, with two single beds, and the public rooms are clean and simple. The air conditioning in the stateroom was too strong and even at the highest setting was freezing. The passengers were about half Chinese and half foreign (although many of Chinese were from Hong Kong and Taiwan, but there was at least one group from a textile company in Shanghai). It was a holiday weekend in China and that might have attracted more Chinese guests than usual. The foreign group included a fair number of expatriates living in China and the typical geriatric set on the cruise as part of a longer tour of China. It was a good combination of people and they mixed well. Dining tables were mostly assigned by tour group, while I think most people would have preferred to have mixed things up a bit. Tours were well organized, interesting, and mostly included in the cruise price. There were two add-on tours with a modest charge, but only one ran and it was worthwhile. Passengers were divided by language into tour groups and the local guides spoke English well. The dam tour was most interesting as was going through the five locks. Meals were in the main dining room. The separate menu dining mentioned on this site seems to have stopped. The food was well prepared, but the quantity was barely enough - plates were scrapped pretty clean. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style, and you needed to hit the line early or you would miss out. Although they said they ran breakfast from 7:30 to 8:30, we came down the first morning at 8:15 only to find them hauling off the last of the food. We asked for coffee, only to be told there was none. A complaint to the front desk resulted in quick action, with apologies all around and a fruit basket to the room, and great service from that point forward. The crew is all Chinese, most everyone you come into contact with speaks good English. I need to put a word in for the pastry chef - this guy could work at Crystal Lines. The cooking was good - a mix of Chinese and Western that went together well. They are not spending enough money on quality and quantity of ingredients, however. I felt like a poor kid whose mother knows how to make the best of very little - it was quaint, but not what I expected. China has come a long ways in service in the last decade. This line is not keeping up. The experience was very much like a 3 star hotel in most major cities. It is comfortable, but not up to the standard that modern Chinese and foreign tourists have come to expect from someone advertising a five star experience. There really is a niche here for a more upmarket offering. Read Less
Sail Date May 2010
Somewhat seasoned travellers, my wife and I are in our late 50's and residents of a small village in Eastern Canada. We wanted to visit Asia while our health still permitted it. We decided on an extended 8-night cruise on the Yangtze ... Read More
Somewhat seasoned travellers, my wife and I are in our late 50's and residents of a small village in Eastern Canada. We wanted to visit Asia while our health still permitted it. We decided on an extended 8-night cruise on the Yangtze River from Shanghai to Chongqing with a few days in Shanghai at the beginning and some time in Hong Kong to end a 16-day trip. We had experienced river cruising in Europe in 2007 with Uniworld from Basel Switzerland to Amsterdam and we absolutely loved that cruise. Aboard the River Ambassador, we had a small but very comfortable stateroom, excellent meals, visits to scenic sports and nice scenery along the way. We were then confident of receiving the same type of quality service since Victoria Cruises is used by Uniworld for their China river cruises. Also, if one looks at their promotional advertisement on U-Tube, Victoria Cruises appears like a vacation of luxury, relaxation and gastronomy. They tell you about executive chef Walter Stade preparing their gastronomic adventure and about the mixture of Chinese and western food to please all palates. They talk of great wine, of personnel trained to meet your every need, etc. Lovely indeed... We boarded the Victoria Prince leaving Shanghai on May 2, 2010 and arriving in Chongqing on May 10th. The ship is relatively well maintained. The staterooms are small but comfortable. The beds and linen are good. We had a mini fridge and a small balcony with 2 chairs that we enjoyed a lot. Each cabin had a HDTV with HBO and CNN. The public rooms were well appointed and quite comfortable. It was very acceptable if not quite the same quality and good taste as the Uniworld European fleet. The first very unpleasant experience was morning coffee followed quickly by food. I generally go to bed early and get up early, around 5 a.m. When I get up, in a comatose state, I need 2-3 coffees to become human again and help me wait for breakfast. Cruise Ships (including Uniworld) and hotels usually have coffee available around the clock. I never had problems before anywhere. On the Victoria Prince, it was impossible to get a coffee before "coffee hour" which varied every morning according to their precisely managed daily schedule, generally around 7 a.m. I tried everything to get coffee. I got myself a thermos of hot water delivered to my cabin at 11 p.m. at night but could not get a thermos of hot coffee delivered the same way, even by begging or bribing. For some unknown reason, this small need could not be accommodated. I then tried to buy some instant coffee from the ship store but they had none (as a matter of fact, the food section of the ship store consisted of only a few chocolate bars such as M&M or Snickers - no chips, no peanuts, nothing unless you wanted to eat a t-shirt!). I was not the only coffee hound on the ship. A smart Australian oman found a supermarket in Nanjing and was kind enough to let me have a third of a Nescafe jar. I am forever grateful and in debt. With that, I managed to get a small cup of milk from the bar every day that I kept in my mini-fridge. With my hot water delivered at night, I could make myself some very bad coffee every morning but that made me happy. The food was also a sorry affair. Far from the promised adventure in gastronomy, as described in the publicity, it was below par and could not be compared with anything I had in the past. Generally, I am not a fussy eater if I can manage to get some decent proteins and a bit a carbohydrates. ON large cruise ships, I rarely visit the dining room and I am quite satisfied with cafeteria-style food. And I have had many mals in very good Chinese restaurants, mostly to m y liking and often to my delight. I lost a lot of weight on that trip because the food was simply lousy. The first morning, I was pleased to see that they had scrambled eggs and bacon, my saviour food when I don't like what is served at other meals. The following day, the bacon was gone, replaced by a milky white tube they called a port sausage. Certainly did not taste like pork or anything I have ever tasted. And I did not see bacon for another 4 days, then sporadically only. When there were potatoes, they were fried in very old dark oil, leaving an overcooked burnt oily taste in the mouth. The soup was a corn starch base with finely cut vegetables in it. It tasted like glue, cold and repulsive. Their designer chef Walter Stade must be quite pleased with this new gastronomic wonder! For meals, we were assigned to a table of 9. Our table companions were 4 Australians, 2 Americans and one German gentleman and they were all very pleasant. We used to re-order 5 to 6 baskets of bread and butter per meal. The bread was good and so was the butter. We tried the 10 different plates served family-style at every meal. Ate a little of this, a little of that, in an attempt to feed ourselves. Most of it was vegetables covered with thick bland starch thickening agent or what was called marinated vegetables, which was basically just lumpy and tasteless. The quality of the meat was also very poor, chewy and nerdy. No fish, Small breaded shrimps once. They had good fresh green salad with what they called ranch dressing. Once during the trip, we had small slices of beef in a pepper gravy with mashed potatoes. That emptied in seconds and everybody was smiling for a day. Once we had one spring roll each, very oily and not very good but to us, it was better than the usual fare, so we emptied it. Most of the food went back to the kitchen at every meal but nobody every asked us why. So I guess they knew why... And with poor food on a cruise, you start feeling like a prisoner in a camp very quickly. You look for possible alternatives but there are none. You wonder why you have a mini fridge in each room with nothing in it. Daily excursions bring you to museums, temples, mountaintops, not to a store where you can buy something to eat. Contrary to Europe, there is very little free time to mix with the Chinese or try local restaurants. You are in and out of buses and back on the ship. Everyday you always hope that things will improve but they never do. At the end of the trip, you have no appetite left. You feel like a zombie. Thank God the last day has come,Fengdu temple, the temple of the dead, how fitting! But there were some positive things on this trip. The ship hotel staff, all young and willing, are impressive in their funny way. They are more than willing to please but they don't know how and the management is drilling them into little patterns like military personnel. When you shop up for morning coffee, for example, there are 3 of them standing around the coffee machine, white shirts and black suits. One welcomes you, the other one give you a coffee or a tea, the third one wishes you good day. Every morning, same routine, same personnel, same method. When you get off the ship for an excursion, there are 10 to 20 young employees in uniform, every 25 feet or so, everyone taking turn in wishing you a good day. The same is true when you come back. They are all lined up, everyone in turn welcoming you back. I guess this is what their management tell them is good customer service. This line up is important but still no coffee in the early morning just the same. On each floor on of the ship, in front of the stairs, there is one of those young employees sitting behind a desk 24-7. As you go by, he or she gets up and says hello. Strange again. There is a pone in each cabin but no room service. If you need ice, they say you should ask the attendant on your floor. When you ask your attendant, he/she does not understand. If you say "bing kwai tchii" or "ice please" in mandarin, he/she does not understand because of your poor pronunciation. You then make a little ice cube with your hand and then shiver, they get it and literally run to get you ice. They are bored but quite willing to be of service and somebody should teach them what ice means, or a few simple words, like towel, or sop, basic things like that. But what they know how to do, they do extremely well. Our stateroom was made up the minute we stepped out of it in the morning and again during supper and was kept spotless. Just as the hotel management of the ship leaves to be desired, the junior attendants to wonders. I figures that after months or years in the corridor, when they have enough English, they graduate to the dining room. We had 2 attendants in the dining room that we could have basic conversation with. They also taught us some Chinese sentences and it was very enjoyable. They serve 3 meals a day, then do floor shows cabaret style during the evenings. They really have full days and work hard but are always smiling. Like I said, great staff, very poor hotel management. I still can't believe this company is owned by Americans. There were some interesting excursions on this cruise but everything in China seems to come with a lot of stairs in it Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum 392 steps, Huangshan mountain 380 steps, Fendu 700 steps (thank God there is a chair lift that solves that one by 80%). The highlights are definitely the 3-Gorge and the Dam, very beautiful and impressive. The low point is that you meet so few Chinese people outside the government appointed guides giving you the official story. You always seem to be kept away, isolated, in tourist land. We had to use the ship doctor, also the tai chi instructor. My wife developed a bronchitis, due to uncontrolled air conditioning, high level of humidity and constant diesel fumes. The doctor identified a small throat infection and suggested administering antibiotics through an IV. She flatly refused so he gave her some throat losanges. He did not have any syrup or anything to make her sleep and she kept coughing all night which added to the lack of sleep. The problem got easily fixed in Hong Kong a week later. Do not count on the ship doctor, bring lots of medicines for various ailments as some of the other passengers did. They can be useful. Finally, let me say that it was an interesting trip but not a pleasant one. We thought the cruise would be the highlight of our trip to Asia. It was not. We enjoyed Shanghai a lot at the beginning and the cruise was quickly washed away in Hong Kong, where I had possible the best meal of my life or so it seemed after a week on the Victoria Prince. If you choose to do a cruise on the Yangtze, choose a short cruise (3 or 4 nights) to visit the 3 Gorges and the Dam. Stay away from the long 8-night cruise. Read Less
Sail Date May 2010
We found it difficult to locate any reviews of La Marguerite cruises prior to our cruise, so hope this will help future travellers. This was our first river cruise and was mid-November from Siem Reap to Saigon. Although you can book ... Read More
We found it difficult to locate any reviews of La Marguerite cruises prior to our cruise, so hope this will help future travellers. This was our first river cruise and was mid-November from Siem Reap to Saigon. Although you can book travel to/from embarkation/disembarkation and can also book add-on packages, we chose to make our own travel arrangements. We flew to Siem Reap from Bangkok, easily obtained visas at the entry airport and stayed 3 nights in Siem Reap visiting many temples and seeing the local sights - this is not to be missed. Most cruisers had already done associated tours of varying lengths and stayed at Le Meridien in Siem Reap but we stayed at a really good small hotel called Pavillon d'Orient where the local staff were really friendly and helpful. There was some confusion for us about exactly where we would embark and neither AMA Waterways nor Fred Olsen Travel (the UK Agents) distinguished themselves in this regard. Apparently, just after the rainy season and for a couple of months thereafter, embarkation takes place on the Tonle Sap Lake about 20 mins drive from Le Meridien. At other times there is not enough water in the lake and you have to be bussed to a more distant embarkation point downstream which can be up to 5 hours away. We received several letters from AMA/FOT advising us of a change of departure point and time but never one with the actual ones. It was left to us to discover this in Siem Reap! We were located on Tonle deck and there seems little difference between this and the one above (Saigon) apart from price. Both were identically sized and have a large picture window and a smallish balcony which houses the next cabin's a/c so is not very suitable for standing on - not enough room to sit! Our cabin was surprisingly spacious, particularly the bathroom (larger than Princess for example) although storage space was a little limited. It was a little on the dark side due to the wood inlay but was tastefully decorated. The rooms were quiet with little noise from the corridor - the doors were quite thick. Beds were comfortable if a little on the firm side. Double or twin could be requested prior to the cruise although our request was not fulfilled. However, it was soon altered once on board. Towels were changed rather unnecessarily frequently even if you hung them up. Our fellow passengers were mainly from N America, Australia, Switzerland, France and the UK. The ship can take ca. 90 passengers but on this occasion there were about 80. There are about 25 sunbeds and 20 assorted chairs on the sundeck which surprisingly seemed to be adequate. The service on board was excellent. The restaurant staff were very attentive and helpful. The dining room did tend to be somewhat noisy, depending on where you were seated (free seating arrangement) and the a/c could be quite a cool breeze. The food was first class with plenty of choice (International and local cuisine). There was a good supply of free beer and soft drinks, although spirits were limited to local rum and brandy. Other brands could be purchased. House wine was provided at meal times although the quality seemed to be a bit variable (one night the red was almost undrinkable). Wine could also be purchased by the glass or bottle (20USD upwards). Bottled water in a handy carrier was provided on all excursions. A nice feature was the provision of an International newspaper several times during the week. Wi-Fi was free in the library and there were 2 PCs for general use, although one or two individuals did tend to over-use them. There was no booking system. Connection speed was variable depending on the position of the ship but remember you are in the middle of the country most of the time. There was a very small exercise room which seemed little used on this cruise. The Cruise Director made a presentation about the next day's programme each evening and often sang (badly) to round things off. He was a much better (Vietnamese) guide than a cruise director. The guides were very knowledgeable and made all the shore excursions very interesting. All excursions were voluntary. However, the Itinerary was a good mix of visiting small towns, floating villages, markets, craft workshops, local industry and temples. There were also a couple of interesting talks about the history of Cambodia and Vietnam. Whilst we realised the extreme significance of the Killing Fields and associated history, it was a bit laboured at times. You do need visas for both Cambodia and Vietnam - an important point not communicated to us by AMA till it was almost too late. As mentioned previously you can easily obtain one for Cambodia at the airport - much cheaper than using an agent prior to the cruise. Vietnamese visas need to be obtained at the relevant embassy prior to leaving home. Be careful to check that the arrival date on the visa is correct. We didn't and ours had the departure date instead and we had to pay 30USD each to have this amended on board at the border. Apparently this is not an uncommon experience! The disembarkation was smooth in spite of the fact that people had flights or onward travel at different times. Disembarkation takes place at My Tho port from where it is about a 1 hour 45 mins coach trip to the centre of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon is the name of the city centre). All in all this cruise was well organised and the itinerary should provide something for everyone. Despite some of the frustrations experienced we would thoroughly recommend it. Read Less
Sail Date November 2010
My husband and I just returned from Cambodia and Vietnam -cruise portion was from Jan 23. Unfortunately I had fallen several days previous and was in pain so had to forgo some of the shore excursions. Have to note that people with some ... Read More
My husband and I just returned from Cambodia and Vietnam -cruise portion was from Jan 23. Unfortunately I had fallen several days previous and was in pain so had to forgo some of the shore excursions. Have to note that people with some mobility problems will have difficulty making some excursions. Often there is no dock, the ship just pulls up to river bank and you clamber up the dirt bank. But the excursions we both or my husband went on were all worth the effort and are all included in the one price for the cruise. Bring some balloons to charm the children. By some school supplies while you are there as you will visit at least one school which was so pleased by our gifts. Cabin was comfortable and public areas quite adequate. There was free Internet when reception allowed. Meals were excellent with a mix of Western and regional food. Breakfast and lunch were bountiful buffets with stations for making omelets, noodles soup, etc. Soft drinks were included but wine and beer extra. We had 76 on the cruise and were divided into 3 groups each with a tour guide. They all spoke good enough English and were delightful. This isn't a trip for entertainment so evening programs were low key. Crew put on a show - they love to sing. It was wonderful to just sit and watch river life happening. You think about the history of the Vietnam war and are amazed that now we are friendly tourists enjoying these lovely countries. If you are going to Cambodia and Vietnam, would recommend doing a land tour from Saigon up to Hanoi, fly to Siem Reip and then take the cruise back down to Saigon. Read Less
Sail Date January 2011
We took this tour in January 2011 which is during the dry and cool season. Most of the comments that others have left are quite accurate, but I will add some additional emphasis to some issues. This was our sixth river cruise and second ... Read More
We took this tour in January 2011 which is during the dry and cool season. Most of the comments that others have left are quite accurate, but I will add some additional emphasis to some issues. This was our sixth river cruise and second with AMA Waterways. The AMALotus is a new ship, but perhaps the worst river cruiser we have ever been on. This includes river cruises we have taken in China and Egypt, as well as Europe. Staterooms are comfortably sized, but the selection of furniture was not very functional. Other than a closet with hangers, there was literally no place to put your things. The bathroom was excellent, but we consistently had a major problem with the shower water temperature. It varied repeatedly from scalding hot to icy cold regardless of the faucet settings. Rooms had a nice HD flat screen TV, but no satellite reception. Wireless was limited to the lounge and was good when we were moored or in port. One reviewer stated their air conditioning was excellent. Our's was not. Our room was over 90 degrees for the first two days. The situation only got better when it became cloudy and cooled off outside. The air conditioners are individual to each room and only run when you have your room key card in the key slot on the wall that turns on the lights. OK for saving energy, but IMHO the air conditioners were undersized for the job and not able to do the rapid cool-down required if they were being turned on and off in this manner. Many people got an extra key card from the staff so they could have the a/c run all the time. That helped a little, but not completely. Meals were good but not great. The only complaints we had was that the free local wine at meals was really bad, and the freshly baked breads pretty much amounted to the same bland white and rye each day. Someone mentioned the QuietVoxs were junk. Ours worked OK (as they have on many other cruises we have taken). But there was a major problem with the batteries constantly wearing out after a few hours of use. I noticed that AMA was using a cheap Chinese battery; perhaps rechargeables or quality batteries would have been better. Out land tours varied. Most were really great, but somewhat similar (tours of local villages). For most excursions we needed to use tenders. A few of them were very difficult to board and we considered unsafe (life vests were rotten, seats were not attached to the tender, tender was overcrowded). In a number of places where we disembarked from the AMALotus directly to shore, we literally had to walk a plank to get off or on. In conjunction with the cruise, we had land tours and hotel stays in Hanoi, Siem Reap, and Saigon. All which were well done. We also had a tour to HaLong Bay and spent a night on a Junk. The trip out to HaLong Bay and back could have been arranged a little better. We were rushed in places to hit departure times or meals, yet had other times when we basically just sat and waited on the bus or at a rest stop. Overall, I think the timelines and activities on the trip could be better optimized. Our local guides were all knowledgeable and had an excellent English vocabulary. However, a few had difficulties with pronunciation and we could hardly understand them. Last, let me second the reviewer who commented on excessive tips. I have never been on a land cruise or river cruise where the staff and guides reminded us so often to tip--to the point of it becoming an annoyance. AMA Waterways needs to pay decent wages to their guides, bundle the tips into their own fees, discourage begging for tips, or take whatever other steps are necessary to end this annoyance. Bottom Line: Vietnam and Cambodia were great. The AMALotus was only OK. AMA Waterways needs to get this trip better organized. Read Less
Sail Date January 2011
HANOIWe arrived in Hanoi from Tokyo on Sunday evening having planned on a full day of independent touring before the start of the AMA organized part of the trip with the rest of the group. We booked the extra night at the Sofitel Legend ... Read More
HANOIWe arrived in Hanoi from Tokyo on Sunday evening having planned on a full day of independent touring before the start of the AMA organized part of the trip with the rest of the group. We booked the extra night at the Sofitel Legend Metropole directly through AMA since we wanted to be certain that we did not have to change rooms for the other two nights covered by the tour. We arranged directly with the hotel for a private car transfer since we didn't want to deal with a taxi at 10:30PM after traveling for so long. We were met immediately outside customs and were in our car in 10 minutes. The ride to the hotel was about 40 minutes (normally up to an hour during the day with traffic). There was not alot to see other than what was visible along the side of the road. It was about 5-times the price of a taxi but the hotel staff was waiting for us when we arrived and we were in our room in the Opera Wing (newer wing) in less than 15 minutes on the 2nd floor (actually the 3rd since the ground floor is considered the 1st floor). The room was lovely and we faced the pool area so there was no concern about noise. There was bottled water, chocolates and plenty of space. The next morning we went to the restaurant for our included buffet breakfast which was as expansive as it was delicious. The restaurant overlooked the courtyard and pool area. A basket of croissants and pastries was brought to our table as well as the French press coffee and tea we requested. There was a made to order omelet station, yogurts, fresh fruits, cereals, breads, juices, eggs, dim sum, Vietnamese dishes, bacon, sausage, potatoes, grilled tomatoes and other dishes too numerous to mention. After breakfast we walked to the main lobby (it's a weird configuration to get from the Opera Wing to the original historic part of the hotel but not really a problem). We were met in the lobby by our Hanoikids guide, Phanh, a 21 year old finance major in university. For anyone that doesn't know about Hanoikids, I found out about them on Cruise Critic. They are university students paired with tourists who speak English strictly for the opportunity to practice their English. The only thing you pay for is their entrance fees, taxis to sights and lunch. There is no other charge. We decided to bring some English language novels and a box of See's chocolates from home which she was surprised and delighted to receive. Since we wanted to hear about Phanh's Vietnam and we had compared our AMA itinerary for the next day with the suggested itinerary on the Hanoikids website, we worked out a tour that would not overlap too much and provide us with the greatest exposure to Hanoi. Since the rubber sole on DH's shoe had come apart while we were in Japan for 3 days, our first stop was for shoe repair on Shoe Street in the Old Quarter, just 3 blocks from the hotel. We walked to Shoe Street, evidenced by blocks of stores selling shoes. Phanh helped us navigate the streets and deal with the amazing sea of motorbikes whizzing by constantly. The key is to step into the street when there is a small break in traffic and slowly but methodically WITHOUT STOPPING walk across. The drivers can gauge your stride and behavior and maneuver around you as long as you don't stop or make any sudden movements. Harrowingly, it works every time. It also helps to have a local lead the charge. After the shoe repair, we visited a communal (tube) house on Ma May Street in the Old Quarter known as Huong Tuong Communal House. Make sure you have Dong but, in a pinch, they will accept dollars. If you do use dollars, be prepared to actually pay more since they don't always know how to convert and they have little understanding of how to provide change, if any, in Dong. Not yet having been to the ATM, we paid with a $1 bill and actually overpaid because in Dong it would have been less than $.75 for the 3 of us. It may seem inconsequential and it is easier but you can run out of dollars very quickly if you don't have local currency. (On that subject, we brought 50-ones, 30-fives, 20-tens and 5-twenties. We found that we needed at least 100-ones and 50-fives and luckily the ship was able to change a couple of 20's into fives and someone on the trip brought so many ones that they were able to change them for us.) Next was a trip to an ATM on the street in the Old Quarter. In Vietnam, there are buttons for English but the currency dispensed is Dong. The conversion when we were there was approximately 21,500 Dong to $1 USD (it had just been devalued a few days before). For ease, we just rounded it to 20,000 Dong. We had no difficulty using the ATM's in Vietnam or Cambodia (more about that in the Cambodia section) but make sure that you have a 4-digit PIN. We told Phanh that we wanted to walk around Hoan Kiem Lake, first stopping for coffee and a bathroom break at Highland's Coffee on the 6th floor of a building opposite the NE corner of the lake on Shark Square (Dinh Tien Hoang St.) with a great view of the lake (good photo op). We walked over the red bridge (Bridge of the Rising Sun) into the Ngoc Son pagoda where Phanh said students go to pray before their university entrance exams (this was also a stop on the AMA tour the next day but we appreciated seeing it earlier after the walk around the lake). After a complete walk around the lake and the pagoda visit we were ready for lunch. We told Phanh that we wanted to eat lunch at Cha Ca La Vong which was a great experience (Cha Ca means Fish in Vietnamese and it is on Cha Ca Street in the Old Quarter but make sure you go to the right one as there are copycats on the same street using the exact same name so check the address carefully. If you are walking from the lake it is on the left side in a run-down looking building with 2 floors). There is only one thing on the menu-seasoned fish filet pieces fried in oil on a burner on the table with herbs, rice noodles and sauces. It is delicious and about 115,000 Dong per person (less than $6). We left and took a taxi to Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton). This was very interesting and I recommend going. It is not on the AMA tour but they recommend it during the lunch break on the tour day. Whether you have extra time in Hanoi or just the day scheduled with AMA, definitely see it. It will take about 45 minutes to tour the whole site. From there we took a taxi to the Cathedral area where Phanh introduced us to cold lemon tea and the art of sitting on tiny plastic stools with hundreds of others, mostly university students-she even ran into some girlfriends. We then walked to Silk Street to do some shopping. I ended up at Khai Silk (again there are copycats so you need to make certain you are at the right shop). The products are beautiful-very highly styled and reasonably priced by western standards but high end for Vietnam. They sell scarves, shawls, purses, dresses, blouses but I wound up with a lovely scarf (one of many of varying quality that I bought throughout the trip). It was now nearing 5 PM and we walked back to the hotel and said goodbye to Phanh, having spent a lovely day with a very nice and intelligent young lady. It was her first tour without a companion and she did a great job. I highly recommend Hanoikids. We were ready to recharge our batteries so we sat down in the outdoor bar for a drink. It was chilly-Hanoi experiencing its coldest winter in 30 years, but there were outdoor heaters and my hot chocolate and Grand Marnier drink hit the spot. Our friends, who took the pre-trip week starting in Saigon, arrived at the hotel at 7PM and we went to dinner at an Italian restaurant recommended by the Italian concierge-Luna d'Autuno. Much is said about taxis in Vietnam & Cambodia. The way to get where you want to go and not get ripped off is to have the hotel call a taxi for you, have your destination written on the hotel business card, have the doorman tell the taxi driver where you are going and show him the card, then give it back to you, ask the driver how much it will cost and to turn on the meter-don't leave until it is turned on. Same for the return. We had every restaurant and even stores get us a taxi and go through the same procedure. We never had any problem with any taxi. Taxis are cheap and you can get caught up in paying in dollars, overpay and still wind up paying only $2. After awhile you start feeling a little guilty because it is so cheap. This is one of the reasons for all of those dollar bills.The next morning we had our orientation from 8:30-9:15AM. I cannot say enough about Thinh, our tour manager. He started with the pre-tour group for the week from Saigon and was with us until he took the group to the airport the final day in Saigon. He knew everyone, facilitated everything and always had a smile on his face. He was concerned about the health and well-being of every tour participant and handled everything with grace. His tip at the end was worth every penny and more. He was a gem! We were organized by color, each color representing a bus-green, orange and blue. Each bus had a separate tour guide-one in Hanoi & Ha Long Bay, one in Siem Reap, one in the rest of Cambodia and one in the Vietnam Mekong and Saigon. All of the guides were stellar. The buses were first class, always with cold water, wipes, a/c, a mike for the guide. You could leave valuables on the bus as the driver kept it locked and stayed with it. If that wasn't the case in certain situations the guide would tell you to take your things. Tours were paced allowing time for independent lunches and time for rest before the afternoon tour would begin. Everything was very well communicated and everyone was always on time which was amazing. The buses were not filled to capacity. There was usually enough space for everyone to have their own seat with a few exceptions. We had a radio transmitter and earphones so we could listen to the guides on most excursions.Our guide for Hanoi and Ha Long Bay was Mango. Our tour of Hanoi included Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum but we did not go inside (I still don't know why), his residence, the Temple of Literature, One-Pillar Pagoda, a break for lunch (we went to the Club de L'Oriental 2 blocks from the hotel recommended by Mango- a lovely old building and a delicious upscale Vietnamese lunch with enough time to take a taxi 10 minutes away to an antique gallery and back to the hotel for the afternoon tour). We went to Ngoc Son pagoda (a repeat for us), followed by a cyclo (pedicab) tour of the Old Quarter for 30 minutes and then the Water Puppet Show. We were back at the hotel by 6PM and then we had an independent dinner at Green Tangerine (Vietnamese French).HA LONG BAY The next morning our bags were outside our rooms by 7AM and we had breakfast. We met in the lobby by 8AM for departure to Ha Long Bay. Our bags were checked by us to be certain they were there and put on our bus. We were told to pack an overnight bag just for the overnight on the junk and that we would have an opportunity the following day before we went to the airport to repack our bags. The trip to Ha Long Bay took about 3.5 hours with a stop for restrooms and to shop at a very large store selling embroidered silk & cotton thread pictures (made on-site), souvenirs, gifts, jewelry, etc. The prices were not cheap but you could negotiate. I purchased a hand embroidered silk picture-others purchased lacquerware, gifts, clothing. We arrived at Ha Long Bay around noon and boarded our junk. There were 3 junks for our group since each one could only accommodate about 22 people. The cabins were randomly assigned once onboard and we had a buffet lunch in the dining room which also doubled as the bar and lounge area. Unfortunately it was overcast and cold so we did not have the opportunity to sit on the sun deck. The junk was well-appointed with a public bathroom on the second deck, the same deck as the dining room/bar/lounge. There were cabins on the first and second decks and the sun deck was on deck 3. The buffet lunch was good. Our cabin,on deck 2, was on the small side but was very well-appointed- nice size bathroom, individual a/c and heat, a safe, nightstands, lamps and 2 picture windows (all cabins are the same-only the deck location is different). After lunch we were taken by a smaller boat to see a floating fishing village which was an eye-opener. This was one of the many such villages we would see throughout our trip. This particular one had about 700 people who lived here year round. After this excursion (we stayed on the boat the entire time as there is no place to disembark and walk around), we went back to our junk for some down-time. Before dinner there was a fruit and vegetable carving demonstration. We ate dinner around 7 PM which was buffet but with some wait staff service, socialized a bit and then turned in after a very full day. The next morning was Tai Chi on the sun deck at 7AM. The weather was cold and misty but a few of us braved the elements for 30 minutes of Tai Chi which was most enjoyable. There was coffee and some pastries from 7-9AM and there was an optional 1-hour tour to the caves until 9AM. My DH went but I opted to stay behind with some others and enjoy my morning coffee and read. When they returned from the tour a full brunch (it was 10AM) was served. We had already checked out of our cabin before breakfast and left the junk at 11:30AM to board the bus. We stopped on the way to the airport at a golf resort for lunch at which time we took our luggage off the bus to repack if we wanted to. We were told that we would not see our checked luggage again until we went to our hotel room in Siem Reap as we were being checked-in for our flight and our luggage put on the plane by Thinh and his assistants. Lunch at the golf club was uneventful-a buffet with some unusually matched appetizers including French fries (apparently for western tastes) and a choice of sandwiches or Pho (pronounced Pha-a) which we chose while on the bus the day before. It was served to us at communal tables with plenty of beer, soft drinks and bottled water included with the lunch. After about an hour we were back on the bus to the Hanoi airport. There were some duty free shops, some with decent prices, but not so for any western goods such as perfumes. We were given our boarding passes with our passports (passports were given to Thinh the day before). A word now about the Cambodian visas: I opted to obtain mine through the Cambodian evisa website before I left home for $25. I wanted to save the hassle of waiting on line in the Siem Reap airport for it to be issued for $20. I heard that it was no big deal but I like to be prepared so I did it all in advance and printed out 2 copies of the evisa and stapled one in each of our passports and kept one each in our passport case for the exit from Cambodia (but it was never collected). At our initial orientation in Hanoi, Thinh told us that he would handle the Cambodian visa for anyone who didn't have one-give him one passport photo, $20USD and your passport when he asked for it and he would take care of the whole thing. So had I known this I obviously would have done it differently BUT there is no way to know that the tour manager on your tour will also handle it this way. I know that on a tour in November 2010 the individual passengers had to get their own visas upon arrival. We said goodbye to Mango at the airport in Hanoi. The flight from Hanoi to Siem Reap was approximately 1.5 hours and a full meal was served in flight (didn't touch it but some did). SIEM REAP-ANGKOR TEMPLESWe arrived in Siem Reap after sunset to a full moon (very revered as it was the first full moon of the new year) as we walked down from the plane, across the tarmac and into the luggage area. Thinh had expedited our arrival in Siem Reap with the customs agents. Once we retrieved our bags from the luggage belt we were able to walk right through to the bus where they were taken from us to be put in our rooms at the hotel. There was some confusion since we thought we did not have to touch our bags at all and would have them in our rooms after dinner but there must have been some communication error. We arrived at our hotel, Le Meridien, and went straight to dinner in the main dining room. Our room keys were given to us at dinner, again the rooms were randomly assigned. Dinner was very good and served buffet style with many stations and a large selection. All of the food was fresh and delicious and we were told that we could drink the water and ice. After dinner we went up to our room which was large and comfortable. DH's bag was not there but was recovered from another room in 20 minutes. We decided to check our emails and use our Skype account (the hotel charges $8 per 24 hours for internet access). That's when we found out that our office was frantically trying to reach us to find out about the junk that sunk on Ha Long Bay the same night we were there. After emails assuring them that it wasn't us, we went to sleep. Luckily, our junk trip was not cancelled. Had it been scheduled for the following night we would not have been able to do it as the Vietnamese government cancelled all junk trips for a few days to inspect all of the junks. The next morning we had the included lavish buffet breakfast in the hotel and boarded the green bus with our Cambodian guide, Chantha, at 8:30 AM. Our first stop was to get our 3-day pass for the temple sites for which we had to have our pictures taken and wear it around our necks at all of the sights. The first stop was Angkor Thom where we visited the South Gate, Bayon, Terrace of the Elephants and the Leper King. The complex is incredible as you approach and just beautifully carved with intricate designs that are more than 800 years old. The bus had cold water bottles all the time and it was important to wear sunscreen and drink alot during the days as the humidity was high, the sun hot and there was little, if any, shade. There is alot of walking involved and some steep climbing. For those that did not want to climb, one of the other guides stayed with that group and walked around the base area with them and we met up later. We had to leave our bus and take a smaller shuttle bus to and from the entrance so on the return it was very hot-drink lots of water! It is also advised to wear a hat and bring an umbrella for shade which many people did. We went back to the hotel at 11:30 for a lunch break for 3 hours. We opted to take the green bus into town with some others so our guide could take us to a laundry to drop-off our clothes. The charge is $2USD per kilo (2.2 pounds) and it is weighed right in the bag. It would be ready the next day at 5PM (there are no dryers because electricity is so expensive so you need to wait a day for them to dry). Chantha also showed us a great place nearby to eat lunch, The Ankgor Palm restaurant. The meal was delicious, organic and cheap. We had a dish called Amok which is a local fish steamed in a banana leaf with coconut milk, ginger and spices with rice. It was wonderful washed down with Tiger beer. Our friend decided to get a local haircut around the block and was back 30 minutes later and $3 lighter. We took a "tuk-tuk" back to the hotel. They are known by a variety of names-rickshaw, cyclo, pedicab, etc. Some are powered by bicycle from the back (Hanoi & Saigon) and others by motobikes in the front (Siem Reap, Phnom Penh). The average price is $1 but can go as high as $5 depending on the number of people (some can take as many as 4 people) and the distance. You must negotiate the price before you get in. We met in the lobby for the afternoon tour of Angkor Wat. The place is mammoth and the approach is awe-inspiring. It was sunny, hot and humid (sunscreen, hat, umbrella & WATER!!). After the tour, we had the option of going back to the hotel or up Phonm Bakheng hill with our guide to watch the sunset. I chose to return to the hotel but DH opted for the sunset. Unfortunately, there was little sunset as a big, black cloud blocked most of the sun. That evening we were on our own for dinner so the four of us went into town to eat at the Red Piano, recommended by our guide on Pub Street. It was made famous by the cast of Tomb Raider (Angelina Jolie) while filming in the area. Compared to our lunch at The Angkor Palm it was very overrated. Pub Street has the proverbial restaurants, bars and shops and is an interesting place to walk around. There are the fish foot massage shops that have large tanks of skin eating fish that love to nibble away the dead skin from tourists' feet for $3 for 15 minutes. We saw alot of that but did not partake. We finished off with ice cream from The Blue Pumpkin and some window (stall) shopping but did not buy anything. It had been a very long day so by 10PM we were back in a tuk-tuk for the trip back to the hotel.The following morning started with breakfast at 7AM and then back on the bus at 8 AM for the trip to Bantey Srei. This is the temple complex featured in the movie "Indiana Jones Temple of Doom". The trees and roots literally grow out of, on top of, and around the temple. There were some wonderful photo opportunities. We bought a lovely watercolor of the ruins painted by a young artist from a group of orphans and disabled people. He signed it and rolled it into a small wicker tube. I was sorry that I didn't get a picture of him with the painting to keep together. I also should have bought another one-good cause and very unique. Our next stop was Ta Phrom, my favorite of all the temples. Made of sandstone, Ta Phrom is also the oldest (9th C.AD) and I think the most beautifully and intricately carved of all we saw. It also seemed to be the least visited. It is amazing that at all of the temples we visited you can climb on the rocks, touch everything and access is virtually unrestricted. This will most certainly change in the future. Several passengers had purchased woven straw water bottle holders for $1 (everything seemd to cost $1) at some of the sights the prior day so I was happy to find them here, purchased one and brought it home. It's a good souvenir and very practical. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a roadside village and watched palm sugar being made. It was quite interesting. I actually bought some (3 wicker rolls for $2). I also bought a locally made batik fabric for my daughter who is into that kind of stuff. They are worn by the local women as skirts wrapped around their waists to just above their ankles. This afternoon was to be our last time with our guide, Chantha. On behalf of his local tour company, we were given a small gift - a wicker gift box with a silver trinket box inside. All of us had different shaped silver items. Ours were a squash and an elephant. These boxes are locally made of Cambodian silver and are sold throughout Cambodia of differing quality but a lovely and unexpected gift and remembrance of our time in Cambodia. We returned to the hotel in time for lunch (on our own). We sat in the lounge enjoying a cool drink and opted to eat at the hotel for lunch. My DH stayed in the room for a nap while I decided to go for a swim. Our guide offered to take those that were interested to the local market (Old Market) for a couple of hours but I decided not to go. I just couldn't face another market and the heat. Instead, I went into the hotel gift shop where I purchased for gifts 3 pair of locally made silver earrings, 5 raw silk scarves and small wicker baskets filled with bags of locally grown saffron and chili peppers. That night the group had a lovely dinner at the hotel which included a BBQ of prawns, satays, vegetables, squid and other seafood in addition to an expansive dinner buffet. We were treated to a beautifully performed traditional Apsara Dance show while we ate.RIVER TRIP ON LA MARGUERITEOur bags were outside our rooms at 7AM and it was registration for La Marguerite in the lobby from 7-7:45AM after which we had breakfast. We were given tags for our luggage and made sure the tags were placed on our bags and that the bags were counted and placed on our bus. We left the hotel at 8AM with our new guide, Vantheany (we called her Teeny), for the 5-hour ride to our embarkation point. Due to low water levels at this time of the dry season, we could not embark on Tonle Sap Lake as cruises do during the rainy season. Our embarkation point was to be Prek Kdam. On the way we would have a bathroom break and visit a small marketplace. The road was almost only 1 lane and dirt most of the trip. The landscape was flat, dusty and somewhat brown due to the dry season. Occasionally there was a hill in the distance, workers in a field, a small hamlet with oxen, houses, children. We stopped at Kampong Thom for a bathroom break and to check out the local market. There were fried tarantulas, fried crickets, snakes, sticky rice and a large variety of local fruit-mangos, pineapple, papaya, dragon fruit, bananas, peanuts (locally grown), tamarind, etc. On the bus, Teeny treated us to sticky rice cooked with black beans in bamboo which is then peeled back and eaten by hand. It was quite good. Some in the group purchased bananas and pineapple, all of which were very tasty. Teeny also purchased some locally grown peanuts which had been boiled for us to sample. Again, quite good. We finally arrived at our embarkation point, Prek Kdam, at 1:30PM. There were some local villagers watching us as we exited our buses and walked down the river bank over dried mud steps to reach the small wood and rope gangplank onto La Marguerite. There were several crew members assisting us with our carry-on bags and steadying us as we made our way onboard. We were directed to our cabins to drop-off our things and then to the dining room on the Main Deck (aft) for a buffet lunch. There are also cabins on this deck. We were on the Saigon Deck-deck 2- where the Saigon Lounge was aft, the Library was forward, the office was mid-ship as was the small gift shop. Deck 3 had cabins, the Sun Deck (aft), the fitness room, showers and massage rooms in between. The cabins were very well-appointed with an efficient use of space and a large bathroom. The linens were soft and the towels thiick and plentiful. There were slippers and bathrobes in the closet, a hairblower and a safe. There was a cushioned banquette next to a large picture window (under which was a full-length deep drawer,a desk (on top of which was the TV, DVD player, a large, working old-fashioned fan and an old-fashioned telephone that worked for room-to-room calls only), a desk chair, 2 night stands with 2-drawers each, bedside lamps and overhead lights and a french balcony with a door that opened but room enough for 1 person to stand only. There was always coffee and tea available on the Sun Deck together with a full bar, a small, raised pool and lounge chairs, tables and chairs, some of which were covered from the sun and elements by canvas. All three decks are accessed by a semi-spiral 3-story wooden staircase with wrought iron railings. While all cabins, the dining room, Saigon Lounge, Library, gift shop, massage & exercise rooms and office are air-conditioned, the central part of the ship was usually warm due to exterior doors being kept open or cabin hallway doors not being closed. At first it was uncomfortable, but after a day or so, it was fine and people started closing the doors more often. The gift shop was left open and unattended most of the time but the office was across the way so it wasn't a problem if you wanted to buy something. There was always a bartender on the Sun Deck and the Saigon Lounge and in the evening there was a classical piano player in the Lounge. That is where most people congregated throughout the cruise since it was air conditioned, had internet access when it was available, beverages, etc. The Library also had a good assortment of paperbacks, board games and DVD's (the flat screen TV in the cabins only played DVD's-no television). We brought some DVD's from home but they would not play as they were incompatible with the local technology so save luggage space and don't bother. There were also 2 PC's in the Library that usually worked OK when there was internet service available. Occasionally, there was a problem but someone from the office was usually available to fix it. Many passengers had laptops, iPad's, etc. so there wasn't much of a problem that I saw with access to the computers. The Saigon Lounge and the Library were the only 2 places with internet access. We had a life-vest safety briefing on the first and second days due to the junk sinking on Ha Long Bay. AMA was very concerned about safety and all of our boat trips during the cruise required that everyone have and WEAR their life vest before the boat would leave. Breakfast and lunch were buffet each day and there was always a station for omelets and Pho in the morning and at least one special hot food station at lunch. Breakfast consisted of cereals, fruits, juices, eggs, potatoes, breads, yogurts, cheeses, smoked fish, etc. Lunch was several hot entrees, a selection of several cold salads, cheeses, breads, crackers, desserts. There was always free coffee and teas(cappuccinos, espressos, specialty coffees were charged), water, soft drinks, local wines, beers & spirits available at no charge. International liquors, beers, wines were charged. There was a mini-bar in the cabin that had snacks and drinks for a charge but the water was always free and replenished daily and whenever you wanted. Water was also provided in a canvas shoulder strap bag when departing on every excursion (a hand wipe was also in the bag) and upon every return there was a cold cloth and glasses of iced fruit juice waiting. Breakfast was usually served between 7-9AM (you could arrive at any time); lunch was usually from 12:30-1:30PM (you could arrive at any time) and dinner was seated and served (no buffet) at 7 or 7:30PM (depending on what was going on before or after that) and ended around 9-9:30. There were no reserved tables and people ate where and with whom they wanted. After awhile, people seemed to gravitate towards certain groups and tables and the staff seemed to know who they were and their preferences.Most morning excursions left the ship by color between 8-8:30AM and returned by 11-11:30AM with some exceptions. The afternoon excursions usually left between 2-3PM and returned by 5-5:30PM, again with a few exceptions. Before dinner each evening we would meet in the Saigon Lounge for 30 minutes to discuss the next day's itinerary and for Thinh to make announcements and answer questions. The crew would serve drinks and there would be a daily drink (alcoholic) served by request for no charge. We would also be served a small appetizer such as a fried spring roll (never gave us a napkin though to wipe off our fingers). Dinner was selected from a menu on the dining table (the menu and times were also posted outside the dining room each day). There would be 1-2 set appetizers, a choice of soups, salads and a choice of one of 2 main courses and one of 3 desserts. There was always grilled chicken breast, steak and hamburger with French fries available as well as ice cream (the coconut was wonderful), cheese and crackers for dessert. On a couple of evenings I was not impressed with the entrees offered so I chose steak and chicken breast. They were quite accommodating about substituting certain potatoes and vegetables although the staff sometimes had language issues. Still, they were young and so willing to please that it was enjoyable to be around them. And they are still training and work very hard to understand what it is that you want. We found that they were hard-working and very polite. Our cabin steward, Luong, was phenomenal. In addition to being a great singer, he was always working. He was constantly straightening up our cabin, replacing towels and cleaning our shoes. After many excursions of walking on dirt roads, etc., we would come back to the ship where damp towels would be placed on the floor to wipe your feet. Still, I hesitated bringing the shoes into the cabin and on 2 occasions rinsed them in the shower. I would leave them outside our cabin with the intent of cleaning them later. For a few days I couldn't understand how they were winding up in our cabin looking very clean and placed on plastic until I found out from another passenger that Luong was cleaning the shoes. Incredible! He earned a separate tip at the end of the cruise.This is a good place to discuss tipping. Like many cruise ships, a suggested tip is $10 per day per person and can be added to your ship account at the end of the cruise and charged by credit card (as long as the total amount is more than $25USD) or you can settle your shipboard account in cash (USD or Dong are accepted although all charges are in USD). We added $140 to our account for the tips, tipped Luong an additional $20 and handed Thinh an envelope the final night of $140 ($10 per day times the 14 days we were with him). As for other tips: We were fortunate enough to be in a group that was traveling together as a large group so they would work out a tip for the guide and bus driver based upon how many days we were with them. So for example, if we were with the guide for 2 full days, it would usually be $8-10 per person total for the guide and $4 per person for the driver. We would pass along an envelope for each and the leader of their group would present it on behalf of all of us at the end of our time with them along with a little speech. This relieved us of figuring out how much to tip, made sure they got a tip from everyone and got it all at once. We did it in USD and it worked out well since once the envelope was being passed you could make change and get more dollar bills! If we had a driver just for the afternoon, we would tip him $2 for both of us. Entertainment on the ship was well done. One night we watched the movie "The Killing Fields" which was an excellent introduction to Phnom Penh and the history of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Another evening in Phnom Penh a troupe of orphaned teenagers were onboard playing traditional instruments and dancing traditional dances. They were excellent. Another night we had 2 Vietnamese singers and 3 musicians playing traditional instruments. All entertainment was in traditional costume, including the night that the crew and guides entertained us. One of the nights we were in Phnom Penh we took a tuk-tuk after dinner onboard to Raffles Hotel for Singapore Slings in the Elephant Bar. That was fun! On the way to Sa Dec, Vietnam, the crew left on our beds the DVD of the movie, "The Lover", Marguerite Dumas' story of her affair with Mr. Le (Marguerite is the namesake of the ship, La Marguerite). Unfortunately, our copy must have been a bootleg since it stopped every 30 seconds so we never watched it after the first 20 minutes. Otherwise, people had drinks & conversed, or played cards & board games, searched the web, sent emails or went back to their cabins. There was Mr. Hai, the piano player, who was an accomplished classical pianist but instead played mostly western songs which seemed to fall flat. By the end of each day we were happy to retire to our cabin to read but usually fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. On 2 of the days we had lectures on Cambodia & Vietnam in the late afternoon after our excursions. On our one sea day, there was a cooking class and an ice cream party. On that day I had a wonderful 2-hr. body scrub and hot stone massage-a real treat- that I booked the first day onboard. Our daytime excursions in Cambodia, excluding Phnom Penh, were to small floating villages and towns with local markets selling local fruits, vegetables, fish, herbs, spices, etc. and to pagodas and schools. For most excursions, we were met by a local boat that pulled up alongside the Marguerite. We were always helped aboard and there were individual seats, life vests and a canopy. One afternoon we were met at the river bank in Kampong Tralach by 45 ox carts from several villages who took us on a 20-minute ride to our buses which would take us to the largest Buddhist pagoda in Cambodia-the Buddhism Center in Oudong. As the ox carts traveled along the dirt road, children would run or bike alongside. I brought a big box of pencils from home to give out to the children. They would respond by placing their hands together as if praying-the Cambodian way of saying hello and thank you. It was wonderful to see their faces and watch them call over their friends for their pencils. Children were everywhere-40% of the population of Cambodia is under the age of 15 and while education is compulsory, it is not enforced. Much of the population is too poor to buy the required uniform and books so many don't attend school which is a terrible shame. LA MARGUERITE-PHNOM PENHWe arrived in Phnom Penh on the third day and were docked there for 3 nights. The dock is along the waterfront street of Sisowath Quay Road, lined with shops, restaurants, hotels, tourist shops, ATMs, etc. FYI-ATMs in Cambodia dispense USD. When using the ATM you will be given a choice of withdrawing money from checking, savings or universal. Press the universal button. Also, if for some reason the ATM starts beeping (similar to a home burglar alarm), withdraw your card immediately and either start again or find another ATM. While this didn't happen to us, we were warned by others that it may mean the machine is about to "eat" your card. From the Marguerite to the street you must walk up 75 shallow metal steps or up a metal incline attached on the side of the steps. The port at street level is actually a parking lot for cars, tour buses and tuk-tuks. The port closes officially at 11PM but you can get back in by paying $1 (we were never asked and just walked in as we pleased). We were able to leave the ship the first night if we wanted but chose to stay onboard and watch "The Killing Fields" which didn't end until almost 11PM. The next morning we went by bus to the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the National Museum returning to the ship for lunch. We were also given the option to have the bus and guide take us to the Central Market (Phsar Thom Thmei) to shop for an hour or so after our excursion. They waited for us or we could take a tuk-tuk back to the ship. The market is indoors as well as having stalls along the outside and at all 4 entrances, all selling gold, silver, jewelry, clothing, souvenirs, flowers, food, fabrics, scarves, shoes, etc. There is also a Russian market that sells similar goods and is supposed to be cheaper with more bargaining. I don't know if any one actually went to the Russian market to shop. We decided to find a laundry and found one a block from the pier. Once again, it was $2 per kilo and it would be ready by 5 the next afternoon. That afternoon there was an optional excursion to the "Killing Fields" (Choeung Ek Memorial) and Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, the Kmer Rouge's detention center in Phnom Penh.. The other option was to stay onboard or spend the time on your own. We chose the former and were so glad we did. It is quite disturbing, especially since the killing fields site we visited is only one of many such sites where the Khmer Rouge did their dirty deeds. Nevertheless, the sobering sites should not be missed as they put in context the painful recent history of the Cambodian people. This evening we went to Raffles by tuk-tuk.On our final full day in Phnom Penh, the ship had traveled downriver to a local silk-weaving village at Chong Koh. Most of the green bus opted instead to visit a local elementary school right near where we were docked to give out pens, pencils and toiletries we had collected at our hotels and on the ship. We visited grades K-6, met the teachers, principal and had a translator. The children were adorable, appreciative and eager to meet the group of strangers. Expect to be greeted by local women and children selling scarves. The children latched on to me immediately and followed me everywhere. When I agreed to buy scarves from them I was surrounded by all of them and the adult women. I negotiated with them and handed off each scarf to my DH who also paid. I would still be there had it not been for the ship's horn and Thinh patiently waiting for us to get onboard. I have wonderful pictures of these children and great memories (and lots of scarves, too). This was a highlight of our trip as were all encounters with the children. The afternoon was free with an optional walking tour led by Teeny to Wat Phnom, a park with a hill in the middle of Phnom Penh with several pagodas on top, one honoring Madam Penh, the founder of the city. So after lunch and before the walking tour, DH and I decided we wanted to buy silver serving utensils as a gift to ourselves and went back to the Central Market by tuk-tuk. The short story is that a shopkeeper directed us to her cousin's shop along Sisowath Quay in the hotel district (across the street from Hotel Cambodiana) where we bought a set of 4 beautifully carved, handmade serving pieces and were taken by their English speaking young friend by tuk-tuk back and forth to the store, an ATM and the pier. We decided to take the optional walking tour during that afternoon during which Teeny introduced us to ripe lotus seeds, hanging fruit bats and a group of monkeys, one of whom stole her lotus seeds. That night after dinner we enjoyed the traditional dance performed by the Cambodian children, said goodbye to Teeny and met our Vietnamese guide, Dauo, who would be with us for the remainder of the trip.LA MARGUERITE-VIETNAMThe next day was our only "sea" day so we slept in (until 8:30) to make breakfast which ended at 9AM. La Marguerite left the pier and we watched Phnom Penh recede in the distance as we merged with the mighty Mekong River, a sight that you can actually observe since the Mekong is blue-green. Today we would cross the border into Vietnam. There was a fruit carving demonstration, an ice cream "party" and a day of down time, much relished after 10 days of nearly constant activity. Late that afternoon we moored in Tan Chau, the first Vietnamese town on the Mekong. This evening was a briefing by Thinh of tomorrow's activities, dinner and an enjoyable show by the crew and guides.In the morning we took a local boat to Tan Chau town where were met onshore by a sea of rickshaws (Xe Loi). Along our route through town we were greeted by locals, always waving and smiling. We visited a slipper making factory and a rattan mat factory and walked through a small enclave of locals to our motorboat which would take us down narrow channels to an evergreen island. We met and mingled with the villagers, their oxen, the local fisherman, and seamstress. We met the children, handed out more pencils and pens, saw their crops (bananas, corn, chili peppers, rice) and watched them build a pond to catch fish from the canal when the river rises during rainy season. We returned to the ship for lunch and cruised further down the river to Sa Dec while enjoying a free afternoon onboard. After a briefing by Thinh, we enjoyed dinner and a Vietnamese traditional folklore performance.The next day was our final touring day on the river. After breakfast, a local boat transferred us to Sa Dec for a walking tour. We strolled the incredible local food market- fresh (very) fowl, fish and vegetables and had a sampling of some exotic fruits. Next was the family home of Mr. Le, Marguerite Dumas' lover. The next stop was a 1-hour bus ride to Xeo Quyt, the former Viet Cong base (described in the materials as "a base to lead the province's people to contribute their strength to that of the whole country to carry out victoriously the anti-French and US war of resistance for the salvation of the fatherland"). It was interesting and involved walking along dirt paths and over footbridges. This was the only place that we applied bug spray (40% DEET) although there appeared to be no bugs (some passengers had taken anti-malarial drugs but Thinh said they were not necessary where we would be and apparently he was correct as we never saw any bugs and never were bitten). Those passengers that did not want to travel to Xeo Quyt returned to the ship and it sailed to Cai Be to meet the others returning from Xeo Quyt. After lunch, there was a mid-afternoon excursion by local boat. We passed the Cai Be Floating Market and took a short tour of a 1930's family home that is now also a guest house. We docked and took a short walk to visit a candy making factory which also made rice paper and snake wine. We returned to the ship for our final evening. Tonight was a farewell dinner, time to settle accounts and pack. HO CHI MINH CITY (SAIGON)We docked in My Tho during the night. Bags were outside our cabin by 7AM and breakfast ended at 8AM. Our bus to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon or HCM) left the dock at 8:30AM and after a little more than 1 hour we arrived in HCM. Our first stop in HCM was the Emperor Jade Pagoda, an intricately carved figurine pagoda in Cholon (Chinatown). Afterwards, we were taken to the Reunification Palace where Dauo took us on a tour of the interior rooms. Following was a visit to a lacquerware factory (Minh Phuong) where we saw how the various types of lacquerware are made and had an opportunity (very short) to purchase. The number and types of products for sale were so overwhelming that we decided to return the next day with our private guide. Our next stop was Indochine restaurant for an included lunch with the entire group during which we received our room keys for the hotel, again randomly assigned. After lunch we were taken to our hotel, Sofitel Plaza Saigon, to check-in. We had a very large and lovely corner room with a great view. DH had not been feeling well the past 2 days so he remained at the hotel for a nap while we went with our guide and bus to Ben Thanh Market. We had about an hour to traverse this cramped, bustling market teeming with people and goods. I found nothing that I wanted to buy and was just too overwhelmed although some of the ladies purchased several pair of very cheap sandals. We returned to the hotel and decided to spend our friends' final night at Mandarin, a beautiful and elegant Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant with wonderful food and service. Each dish was a work of art and was a fitting finale to a great trip. We would be staying in HCM for 2 more days but they were leaving in the morning so we said our goodbyes that evening.The next morning we met our guide, Zoom, at 8AM in the lobby. We had planned a very full day with him before departing from home. Since we had expected him at 9, he sat with us as we ate our buffet breakfast (included). We had a private car and driver in addition to Zoom. Our first stop was Giac Lam Pagoda, the oldest pagoda in Saigon. From there we went to Binh Tay Market in Chinatown, even more crowded than Ben Thanh if that were possible. Zoom navigated us all around as we watched the inventive ways goods are delivered to the market. Again, we found nothing we were interested in buying. Next it was lunch at Pho 2000 where we enjoyed great pho and excellent spring rolls, then on to a different lacquer workshop than the one we visited the previous day. Here we purchased a lacquer lotus plate, wine bottle stands and covered lacquer boxes inlaid with mother of pearl-all for reasonable prices. They were packed in bubble wrap for the trip home. We stopped outside the Reunification Palace where we had an interesting discussion with Zoom about the war, politics, life in HCM and Vietnam. Our next stop was the War Remnants Museum, an over-the-top propaganda museum but worth the visit. We drove past the Opera House, City Hall, went inside Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office, and then enjoyed a wonderful Vietnamese iced coffee drink at the rooftop Garden Bar of the Rex Hotel with a wonderful view of the skyline, Opera House and City Hall. It was at the Rooftop Garden that the U.S. daily briefing took place during the Vietnam War and was also allegedly CIA Headquarters during the war. After a very full and most enjoyable day with Zoom, we returned to the hotel and said goodbye to Zoom (the next day he dropped off a CD of all the pictures he took with us the day of the tour). We looked through our guidebook for a restaurant for dinner and decided that we needed some Western food. We opted for Skewers, a Mediterranean inspired restaurant a short taxi ride away. The food was good, not great, but it was what we were looking for that evening. After dinner, the restaurant called a taxi and we went to the Caravelle Hotel, across from the Opera House, and went up to the 5th floor Saigon, Saigon Bar. We sat out on the terrace and enjoyed the beautiful view of the gorgeously lit City Hall and other buildings while listening to a Cuban Latin band. We decided to have a nightcap at the Rooftop Garden Bar at the Rex so we crossed the street, took some great pictures of City Hall and capped the evening off at the Rex. Our final day in Saigon was a full one as we did not need to be at the airport until 9:30PM. We arranged to pay for a half day at the hotel so we didn't need to check out until 7PM. After our included buffet breakfast with a couple from the ship (several people only took the cruise portion of the trip), we decided we were oriented enough to walk to the area near City Hall where DH was told by Zoom he could buy the watch he wanted. Surprisingly, we realized that we were only 6-7 blocks from this area and the walk was easy. We passed the US Consulate, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Post Office and several shopping malls and department stores. Our watch hunting was ultimately not successful but that was OK. We decided to walk down Don Khoi Street, the major shopping street, towards the Saigon River. We were told by Zoom that it was not very safe to walk along the river (pickpockets) but we wanted to go into the oldest hotel in Saigon, the 1920's French-era Hotel Majestic, at the foot of Don Khoi Street and the river. We went up to the Sky Bar for a drink and enjoyed a great view of the river. After enduring the heat and humidity, we left and walked back up Don Khoi street to Mojo for lunch at the Sheraton Hotel. Mojo is a funky place with a menu of sandwiches, salads, international as well as Vietnamese dishes. Following lunch, we walked along Le Loi Street to the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum. The museum, which costs the equivalent of $.50 per person, is a 3-story French villa with an original 1920's era elevator and a wonderful display of historic and contemporary sculpture, paintings and lacquerware. The museum is not air-conditioned so it might be a better stop in the morning. We walked back the way we came on Le Loi Street, stopping in the Park Hyatt for a cold drink and a glass of wine while cooling down and resting our feet. The hotel is very modern and the art work is beautiful. It seemed that we had probably been in every high-end hotel in the city save one or two. We walked back to the Sofitel exhausted and a little disappointed that we did not make it to the City Museum for the Water Puppet show that could only be seen between 5 and 6 that day. After doing some final packing and taking showers, we checked out of our room and left our bags with the bellman. We asked the concierge for a restaurant recommendation. He suggested an Italian restaurant a short taxi ride away and he made a reservation for us. When we arrived at L'Hostaria, we were greeted by the manager from Turin who luckily had a table for us since there was a very large party of Germans occupying most of the tables. And it was lucky since the food was wonderful, the wine very good and the prices very reasonable. It was a delicious dinner capping a fantastic trip. We returned to the hotel, picked up our bags and took a taxi to the airport 25 minutes away. We flew to Tokyo, had a 5 hour layover and were back home 26 hours later but on the same day we left HCM.It was a memorable and very special trip. Read Less
Sail Date February 2011
------------------------------------------------------------------------------ This is an unvarnished subjective review of my recent Viking river cruise on the Mekong on the RV Tonle. Viking is the most recent of a number of tour ... Read More
------------------------------------------------------------------------------ This is an unvarnished subjective review of my recent Viking river cruise on the Mekong on the RV Tonle. Viking is the most recent of a number of tour companies that contract the Pandaw river boats for their vacation packages. We had taken Viking cruises in China and Russia and enjoyed them very much, so we had no qualms about booking this one. We had to work with the Viking travel agent (TA) for several days before we finally obtained a sailing date that fit our schedule, although we put ourselves on a waiting list for several others. At this point communications with our TA ceased, as he no longer returned my phone calls or answered my emails. Other TA's could not, or would not give me any information about the wait lists, so I finally gave up and resigned myself to the March 19 sailing. The Generations visa service was expensive but efficient and I had no complaints. The air booking person was very helpful and made some modifications for me so I could leave Hanoi a day earlier due to a commitment here at home. I was also able to use some frequent flyer miles to upgrade to business class on the trans-pacific flight to and from Tokyo. By the time we landed in Saigon, it was 1030 PM and we were escorted to the hotel by our Viking representative and checked in by midnight. Thus, the first day of the tour was already over. The good news was that the Sofitel Saigon Plaza hotel in Saigon was wonderful, as were all the hotels on this vacation. Viking always does a great job in picking top-notch lodgings. We were escorted to the hotel by one of our two guides (Tom and Kong). Our guides were superb, spoke excellent English and did a good job in looking after our every need. There were 62 of us on the cruise. I would guess that the average age was about 70. Most were well-heeled, well- traveled, and well- educated. There were a few that should not have been on the trip due to mobility issues. Many of the tours require physical dexterity and good balance. The American Disabilities Act standards do not apply in Vietnam and Cambodia. I assume that they either did not read the caveats in the brochures or chose to ignore them. They ended up being a burden for our guides. Potential customers should use some common sense before booking a cruise such as this. My recommendations are as follows: If you use a cane to walk- Don't go. If you can't go at least 2 1/2 hours without going to the toilet-Don't go. If you have balance problems or vertigo-Don't go The Saigon tours were interesting, and included the Reunification Palace, Chinatown, a lacquer factory, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the central market. As expected, there was some force feeding of Communist propaganda during the excursions. The war museum was completely one-sided, as expected and featured some former South Vietnamese Air Force aircraft that had been repainted with USAF insignia. I failed to mention that I was the only Vietnam War combat veteran on the trip, having flown as a navigator in AC-130 Gunships, primarily in Cambodia. Since I had been based in Thailand, I had only seen Cambodia from the air. When we ceased operations in August 1973, we knew it was only a matter if time until the Khmer Rouge took over the country, but we never foresaw the genocide that was to come under Pol Pot. At that time no one even knew about Pol Pot. Our guides tried to tip-toe around the politics, but had to toe the party line, at least in Vietnam. That evening, we were transported to the Rex Hotel for a nice fixed menu dinner and cultural dance presentation. After a sumptuous breakfast, we were transported to the ship via bus and greeted by the friendly crew of the RV Tonle. The accommodations were comfortable, but not luxurious. Bottled water was freely dispensed for drinking and tooth brushing. The dinner and lunch menus varied between quite good to acceptable. The French influence was quite evident in the baguettes and other breads. The most memorable dinners included lamb, salmon and fried chicken. The breakfast buffet was wonderful, with many options. I think they did the best they could with the products that they could obtain. Local beer and well drinks were always free and complimentary South African wine was liberally dispensed at dinner. The Vietnamese and Cambodian beers were quite good, as was the white wine. I thought the red wine was dreadful, but my fellow passengers seemed to like it very much. The house liquors were mainly Philippine products. I only tried the house Vodka once and felt that it would have been more appropriate as a paint thinner. There were also reasonably priced premium beer, wine and liquor options. In the evening, there were history lectures and classic movies that were related to some of the sites we visited. Complimentary Wi-Fi was available once we crossed into Cambodia, but you had to be in the library lounge to connect. I just used my I-pod to get my web mail, rather than bringing a laptop. Regarding tipping, the guides suggested that we pay $100 per couple up front for all the tips for the local guides, bus drivers, small boat operators, etc. so we wouldn't be nickeled and dimed throughout the cruise. Most thought this was a good idea and went along with it. I also gave extra tips to the Cambodian and Vietnamese local guides who were very good. The ship tips come to around $150-170 per couple for the cruise, which you can put on a Visa or Mastercard . AMEX is not accepted onboard. Also I tipped my tour guide (Kong) about $170 at the end of the tour. It's also a good idea to bring 50-100 one dollar bills for souvenirs. High end shops and hotels take all credit cards. The dollar is the preferred currency in Cambodia and Vietnam, so there is no need to ever exchange dollars for local currencies. ATMs even dispense dollars in Cambodia. The bottom line is that you should bring about $500 cash with you. The ship and hotels all have room safes and crime seems to be almost non-existent. The tours along the Mekong were pretty much as advertised in the brochure. We were able to see and appreciate the daily lives of Vietnamese and Cambodian farmers, brick makers and fishermen. These people work very long hours for almost nothing, live in squalor, yet seem to be as happy and dignified as any millionaire on the boat. Smiling, friendly children abound everywhere. Some are looking for a hand-out, some are selling stuff, and some are just curious. Along the way, we were able to experience a variety of transportation methods, including Rickshaws and Tuk-Tuks . Many of the tours required tricky transfers onto small skiffs. During the seven days on the ship, we saw a lot of villages, Wats, orphanages, and markets. Our tour guide had worked at the notorious S-21 torture center in Phnom Penh as a small child after his parents were executed by Pol Pot. Over 2 million Cambodians were killed in the genocide. The visit to the killing fields was powerful and emotional. The bones of victims continue to surface all around the area. We could see them everywhere. I now have no regrets about my role in fighting the Khmer Rouge in 1973, other than the fact that we didn't finish the job. Perhaps, the most poignant moment for me was at Wat Hanchey in Cambodia where I saw a Buddhist monk ring a gong that was made out of the bomb casing of an unexploded US Mark 82, 500 lb bomb. Now I knew the war was really over. After disembarking, we took a five hour bus ride to Siem Reap with only one "happy house" rest stop. Fortunately, we were warned by the guides, so I was able load up on enough Immodium and lomotil to keep my "Ho Chi Minh's revenge" under control for the journey. Quite a few of the passengers had some intestinal distress that seemed to be exacerbated by the anti-malarial medication, which I stopped taking after a few days. Mosquitoes were few and far between and I think that frequent applications of DEET 30 lotion is enough protection against Malaria and Dengue fever for this tour. At Siem Reap, we checked into the stunning Sofitel Phokeetra Royal Angora Golf and Spa resort. This is one of the most beautiful and luxurious hotels I have ever seen. The rooms, service and food were outstanding. Tours of various temples including the famous Angkor Wat were amazing but the tours required quite a bit of agility to complete. Safety is not a high priority here, although the guides did their best to make sure we didn't get hurt. We also saw the mysterious Taprohm Temple which was featured in the Tomb Raider movie. Reluctantly, we finally checked out of the hotel to fly to Hanoi. Unfortunately, the flight didn't arrive in Hanoi until about 1100 PM so we didn't get to the hotel until after midnight. Once again, poor scheduling meant that we only had a few hours of sleep in the Sofitel Metropole hotel before resuming the tours. The Hotel was wonderful and the tours were good, except for the Hanoi Hilton, which was just a propaganda event. We also went to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, but I was the only passenger to decline viewing the long deceased and stuffed dictator. We had a nice farewell dinner the last night, bid adieu to our new group of friends, jumped into a cab the guide procured for us, and headed to the Hanoi airport. This was the trip of a lifetime and we are still trying to process everything that happened. I know that I glossed over a lot of details about the food and tours, and I think I really shortchanged the hardworking crew of the RV Tonle. The only English word they didn't seem to know was "no". I highly recommend this to those who prize adventure over luxury. Despite the minor problems encountered, we remain loyal Viking customers. I'm just getting a different travel agent next time. Read Less
Sail Date March 2011
It was a no brainer to chose Viking for our trip to China since our European trip from Budapest to Amsterdam was so successful. Service is our main reason to travel the Viking way. We also love the intimacy of a small ship along with ... Read More
It was a no brainer to chose Viking for our trip to China since our European trip from Budapest to Amsterdam was so successful. Service is our main reason to travel the Viking way. We also love the intimacy of a small ship along with the relaxed dress code. Food and drink was another factor. We enjoyed the cuisine and non-alcoholic drinks. Guides, housekeeping and waitstaff were superior. Cabins utilize every inch of space wisely. Open seating is critical to my husband and I since we make friends along the way. This setup allows us to invite new friends for a meal together and to join some of the other passengers we haven't met yet. We must reiterate the wonderful job the guides do. They treat us so well they become like "family". I trusted his experience explicitly and time and time again he never let us down. The amount of hours he worked in the evening and early in the morning showed us how dedicated to excellence your employees are. It is easy to recommend Viking to friends and family. We want them to have the same wonderful memories that make us two our your biggest fans. I hope to continue exploring new vistas aboard your ships. Russia is on our wishlist for Fall, 2012. See you soon. Read Less
Sail Date May 2011
My wife and I had been interested in China from a social, economic, and tourist perspective for many years, but did not visit due to concerns about the language barrier, governmental issues, and quality of services. We are in our 50s and ... Read More
My wife and I had been interested in China from a social, economic, and tourist perspective for many years, but did not visit due to concerns about the language barrier, governmental issues, and quality of services. We are in our 50s and 60s, and have extensively travelled, but none of our previous travels prepared us for the reality and wonderful experiences of China on our Viking River Cruise. We began our journey in Shanghai, and arrived a few days early to see the city and surrounding areas. The Pu-dong Hilton's concierge arranged a car to retrieve us from the airport, checked us in at our room, and helped with other trips. The Hilton's people provided excellent service, and wonderful food and lodging. Shanghai was a reality check for us, since it is such a major city with high-end shopping and modern buildings juxtaposed with the old Shanghai and Bund area. The architecture was beautiful in both areas and blended the old and new China. A new "Luxury" temple with huge wooden beams and precious metals was under construction in the middle of Shanghai, while the old temple was on a side street, albeit well visited and filled with the aroma of incense, and both well worth the trip. One thing we anticipated, and quickly realized, is that in many places including rural areas, bathrooms may not be to the same standard as the US, so it is worthwhile to have a supply of packaged wipes. For transportation, we would ride a taxi or bus to reduce travel time for longer trips, and then walk for hours. We received cautions about watching for pick pockets, but did not experience any issues. We could move around the city for just a few dollars equivalent. Language was not an issue with transportation, except taxis, and concierge and door men handled this by giving us cards to provide instructions for the return trip to taxi drivers. Buses required coins to ride. The Pu-dong area is a high-end part of Shanghai. Fashion appeared to be very important for women and to a lesser extent men. We visited a high rise mega-mall filled with shoppers of all ages, but mostly female, laden with bags of their purchases from luxury stores. I just wanted a new set of sandals, and it was an easy purchase. I identified the style and multiple sales people (all young women) measured my feet, paid with a credit card, and then returned to the sales desk to retrieve my sandals. The sales people were very friendly, and we can truly say that everyone we met in China was friendly and helpful to us at all times. We transferred to the Shanghai Shangri-La hotel to meet our Viking River Cruise tour group. Viking utilized excellent hotels throughout our journey, and the Shangri-La brand hotels we experienced in Shanghai, Guilin, and Hong Kong were the best. We applied for the Shangri-La loyalty program, since it allowed us to obtain cash at a lower cost than ATMs. Be sure to take advantage of breakfast at the Shangri-La (especially Shanghai); it is a culinary adventure. In addition, meals were a fun event that provided an opportunity to meet new people and enjoy different foods. Most of the lunches and dinners on shore were served lazy susan (family style) while others were buffet style. This provided an excellent opportunity to taste the food, if not familiar, and eat more of what you like. Also, all meals were casual, so no suits or ties needed, although the Beijing Opera was smart casual. At the first night meeting, we received an assignment with Francis Yang as our tour guide. Mr. Yang led the group that was going on to Guilin and Hong Kong after departing Beijing. Mr. Yang took good care of us at all times and made our journey, easy, pleasant, and safe. Mr. Yang anticipated our needs, and was the best tour guide we have experienced in our travels. We still occasionally communicate via email. We will forever be "Francis Group" and move on with a wave of the raised Viking pennant. We toured Shanghai as a group seeing silk and carpet factories, museums, acrobats, and more, and then flew to Wuhan to board the Viking Emerald to begin our journey on the Yangtze. Mr. Yang provided our airline tickets, handled all of the luggage arrangements, and escorted us through airport security with ease, and made sure everyone arrived in good shape. We learned about the Viking shopping guarantee for purchased items, and it was true because the merchant replaced an item at no cost after we received it in damaged condition. The Viking Emerald was a modern and extremely clean ship. We had a stateroom with veranda that provided us with views ranging from tranquil scenery, cities, and factories, to an occasional hydrofoil streaming along the Yangtze. The veranda was a great place to take pictures, relax and enjoy the experience together. The Viking Emerald crew was friendly, strived to learn our names and to deliver outstanding service. We utilized the on-board laundry, and were pleased with the service and low cost. There certainly is no need to over-pack for this trip. There were many high points of our cruise on the Yangtze including visiting a museum. temple, and Viking-partnered elementary school, but going through and touring Three Gorges Dam was the highlight. To go though the dam was an awe inspiring experience, especially after having learned about its history and seeing relocated villages along the Yangtze. Chongqing was our disembarkation city, and a city of 30 million people. The Viking Emerald tied up to a floating dock a couple hundred feet from shore. It was a wonderful experience to see local farmers hand-carrying produce and other foods to the ship for its return trip. The farmers also handled the ship's baggage and would carry a passenger, if desired. We flew from Chongqing to Xian, where we saw the Terra Cotta Army and Pandas. There was still excavation and reconstruction of soldiers underway at the Terra Cotta Army site. The Pandas were great fun, and zoo a wonderful place for people of all ages. We moved on to Beijing, visited the Great Wall and jade factory on one day, and then Tienanmen Square and Forbidden City the next day. The anticipation was high for our tour to the Great Wall because there initially was fog in the mountains that acted like a curtain, and then lifted later in the morning. To be on the Wall was like being at a festival with traditionally clothed bands marching and people helping one another to take pictures to remember their visits. Tienanmen Square and Forbidden City were huge sites that displayed much about the history and culture of China. It was hot in June and this day required stamina and plenty of hydration to keep going. We went to the Beijing Opera and to a restaurant specializing in Peking duck for dinner. Both were pleasant experiences, and the opera was much different than Western opera. We moved on with another flight to Guilin, which was an area filled with magical landscapes of towering mountains, low river-lined valleys, and farms like in Chinese paintings. A day cruise along the river with lunch on-board ship gave a closeup experience that produced many great memories and pictures. Our last stop was Hong Long, and there was plenty of free time. We toured the city on foot, and went to Macau for an afternoon. The trip to Macau on a fast ferry was an event itself, and it was interesting to see the island. The only substantial delay we experienced during our entire trip was a half day with a return flight home from Hong Kong due to a medical emergency on the inbound US flight. Viking representatives helped us with options and escorted us to the airport. After a very hard working Delta Airlines representative finalized our arrangements, we checked our carry-on baggage at a secure storage locker and used this day to visit Lantau Island and a fishing village outside of Hong Kong to see dragon boat races. Everyone should hope for a delayed flight because the experience is priceless on Lantau with the 4-mile cable car ride to its peak. Our Viking River Cruise tour was a a wonderful life experience, where we enjoyed ourselves and learned so much about other people, their country, culture, and history. All of the Viking team members we encountered delivered excellent service, and especially Francis Yang our tour guide. The Viking Emerald and all transportation were in top shape and extremely clean. We would highly recommend Viking River Cruises based upon our experience. Read Less
Sail Date June 2011
We took the most fantastic river cruise in China! I would recommend the Viking River Cruises for anyone wanting to get the biggest bang for their buck on a trip to China. We had wonderful land accommodations in Beijing and Shanghai and the ... Read More
We took the most fantastic river cruise in China! I would recommend the Viking River Cruises for anyone wanting to get the biggest bang for their buck on a trip to China. We had wonderful land accommodations in Beijing and Shanghai and the rooms on the Viking Emerald were great. The food was wonderful as well with many choices. The service was exceptional. The tour guides were the best! They really made the trip-they organized every tour with precise detail and eye toward every persons' comfort; each guide spoke very good English and were there for you on the ship, in the hotels and on the tours. No request was too big or small for them to work on. They will take care of translations, advice on food, shopping and local customs. It was a most incredible trip. We saw and did so much: walking the Great Wall, seeing the Terracotta Warriors and the most wonderful museums! When we left China, we felt we had really seen a good representation of the country in 2 weeks. I would not go to China on any other cruise line than Viking. They have a great depth of contacts. Once we were held up in traffic getting to the airport when our group leader, the great James!, called the airport and they held the plane for us! Talk about service! The airport and hotel check ins were handled expertly-we never touched our baggage even when checking in to the airport or to the hotel! We have always been happy with Viking River Cruises and we expect to go on more! Read Less
Sail Date July 2011
Flight was ok, flew connecting through Toronto (continental) to Air Canada first class. No problems going there, food was all right, dinner was pretty good on the plane, breakfast not so much. Service very good, but not the best, booked ... Read More
Flight was ok, flew connecting through Toronto (continental) to Air Canada first class. No problems going there, food was all right, dinner was pretty good on the plane, breakfast not so much. Service very good, but not the best, booked through Viking Air. Arrive in Shanghai to find the Viking crew standing outside, and we were told to wait at an ATM machine as they were waiting on other guests. We waited there for close to 50 minutes (what's that saying about first impressions?). Finally after 20 hours of flying we got on the bus to go to the Portman Ritz. Upon arrival Daniel, our tour guide for the entire trip, proceeded to help us get a smoking room and welcomed us. The hotel was wonderful, and we ate in the Chinese restaurant attached to the hotel. Very good, and something that is easy to miss in this hotel is the 2nd floor bar, where they have live jazz every night from about 8pm till midnight. Also this bar is half smoking, half non-smoking, and it seemed like no one was on the non-smoking side all the night we were there. The next day, we woke up nice and early to go touring. First we go to some sort of garden, it was very nice looking, and we got some free time to visit the merchants. After that we stopped on the Bund to look at the river and skyline. Then we were brought to the first "Tourist Trap", the embroidery "factory", which was mostly a store with pushy salesman, and a restaurant in the back. The food was mediocre at best, and Chinese (which you learned to hate by the end). After this we went to the Shanghai museum that had some interesting coins and jade pieces, but it was nothing to go nuts about, definitely worth a visit though, and was one of the authentic highlights of Shanghai. At night, we went to an Acrobat show, which was quite good, but between the jet lag, and touring all day, it was very difficult to stay awake. The following day we were transitioning to the airport to go Wuhan, but not before we got to just one more "Tourist Trap" in Shanghai. That morning we went to the rug-making factory (woke up nice and early for it too). It had 2 people making rugs when you first walk in, then a shopping area easily 10 times the size of the "factory". We had a box lunch, which could not be consumed. We flew to Wuhan, which took off about an hour late and went to a Provincial museum with a remains of a tomb. Definitely a highlight of the trip, and was quite amazing. We heard them play the bells from the tomb. Which was quite nice. We then went to board our ship, the Viking Emerald. Once on board the ship, we realized this is no cruise like we from the United States are used to. They have no food for long stretches of the day except peanuts, and ramen noodles, however for some reason they offered an all you can drink policy for a very reasonable price (I believe $175 for 4 days, but included premiums like Grey Goose and Hennessey). The room was cruise ship small, but about the same as any regular cruise boat. There was no smoking lounge anywhere, so smokers beware in the bad weather. While there was a Chinese BBQ on the back of the ship, it went completely unused, and the only reason we knew it existed was due to the large sign saying BBQ with pictures of food, that looked considerably better than the food you were eating the whole trip. While on the boat we encountered many poor dishes, and it made me dream of such splendid meals by the great American chef, Colonel Sanders, whose food quality is outstanding compared to his trip (please note, I find KFC to be repulsive). I however digress as we did eventually make it to a KFC next to the Great Wall, not because there weren't good restaurants near the wall, as I am sure there were, but out of desperation for something familiar. The boat did feature a very inexpensive and nice spa, that was a plus, but they offered no enrichment activities, and the biggest show of the week was the crew talent show, which consisted of Chinese chefs trying to sing which in polite terms, reminded me of watching a prison rodeo on TV, where all the prisoners kept smiling while being attacked by a bull. The Yangtze was very beautiful however, and many of the sites we saw were very good. This includes The Three Gorges, which were stunning, the Dam, the locks, and a beautiful pagoda on a hillside. These tours were quite well executed except for one stop, involving the Viking School. The Viking School was an absolute disgrace that should give great shame to Viking. This insulting school "sponsored" by Viking, consisted of the kids acting as a tourist attraction, in an overly run down school made of depressing of cement, with pictures of the Great Leaders of China on the walls. There is a broken basketball hoop in the courtyard however, and it is questionable the amount of donation Viking has actually made to this school. If I had to guess it was no more than a $1000, and I am pretty sure the buses the arranged to go visit the school outweigh their donation every year. Not only was the condition of the school extraordinarily bad, it was depressing in and of itself to be at such a horrid place on vacation. This may be cold-hearted, but the Chinese people chose to have a communist government, and therefore deserve their communist school, capitalism does not need to fund it, and frankly the funding that Viking gives to the school makes capitalism look bad. But I digress. After leaving the river cruise we went to a cruise see the pandas, which was ok, and had another awful lunch in a hotel. What was amazing about all of our food stops, is that they only provided you with one glass of soda, and refills could be purchased. For the $14,000 that we paid (without airfare), one would think that soda would be reasonably included. After we flew to Xi'an where we greeted with the Terra Cotta Warriors. This was the highlight of the trip that everyone should see. It was truly fascinating and awesome. They gave us an adequate amount of time there, and it did not feel rushed. That evening we decided to leave our tour (as we really did not want to give Viking any more money), and g to dinner by ourselves. We went to Huili Japanese Restaurant, as suggested by our Amex Concierge. We hired a hotel limo (Kempinski Hotel) for $80 for 4 hours (a brand new BMW 750li), and went downtown for the evening. Our tour guide seemed surprised that we would wander off on our own, but this seemed more like a sales pitch for the event that evening they were upselling. We had a wonderful meal at Huili and would recommend it to anyone. It was the 2nd best meal we had the whole trip. Our meal came to $38 Dollars including tip, and consisted of 7 courses each, and 4 extra large beers. They do not speak English however, but with the help of my phone, we used Google Translate to tell them what we wanted, and it worked perfectly. We then stopped at a Wal-Mart just to see the difference between a U.S. Wal-Mart and a Chinese Wal-Mart. The next day we flew to Beijing for the last part of our pre-extension trip. We were brought to the "least visited" part of the wall, which felt like the most visited part of the wall. It was packed with tourists, and there is a place where all the tour guides hang all their flags in front of the gift shop next to the KFC, and rows of tourist traps, and I counted at least 15 flags. If you are looking for a private and intimate experience with one of the world's great wonders, look at other tours. After we had our "lunch of local specialties" which consisted of us being paraded through another tourist trap jade factory place, to the back where they had a huge dining room with 10 different tour groups. At this place we had a meal we could not consume, and I was about 30 seconds away from standing up and screaming, but didn't, as many of the people on our trip were clearly trying to make the best of their vacation. I will explain why they did not seem to care later, but once again I digress. We then went to see a recital by the Peking Opera performers, where the duck was quite good, and the performance was quite bad. It was unbelievably annoying and I do not recommend it. We stayed at the Regent hotel in Beijing, where the service was quite excellent, and the hotel was beautiful. When we woke up, we went to see Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in extreme heat, and while it was quite fascinating the heat got to me after a while, and of course someone got lost in the group and it took us an hour to find them because they did not have an international cell phone. We then skipped their "lunch" which I am sure was at some sort of tourist trap, and we went for lunch and dinner on our own at the hotel, not trusting the food of Viking any longer. The next day we flew to Guilin to being our Hong Kong extension. In Guilin we stayed at the Shangri-La, which had wonderful food, and our meals were in the hotel. We went down riverboats once again and experienced the 5-hour trip down the river, in what seemed like part 2 of the Three Gorges. It was truly a waste of time, and we would have appreciated an extra day in Hong Kong. When we did reach Hong Kong, the trip was more to our pace. There was a small introductory tour in the beginning that brought you to the major sites and 2 days of free time, where we had custom suits made, wonderful dinners on our own, and we even took a jet boat to Macau. This was the highlight of our whole trip, and we realized the reason why... Viking wasn't there to mess it up. While I could not mention everything in the above post, I can say that there were many things we learned from this trip. We learned that as we are seasoned travelers, who have been to over 41 countries, we do not need a corny tour to show what is good, and at the price we paid, could have arranged everything using private cars, first class flights, and our own restaurant preferences. The average Viking guests are traveling upper middle classes, with little to no demands or requests. There are many teachers, retired factory managers, etc. on the trip of their lives, and it shows. There are no repeat performances, there is no chance they would ever come back to China, and this is their dream trip. They are afraid of the unknown, and the tour guide engages this perfectly. This is not a cruise like Crystal, where you discuss the other 40 countries you have been to, or compare notes and complaints compared to other trips you have been on. This group of travelers creates an issue, as they do not demand the service that a truly affluent traveler knows to demand. While this may sound incredibly snobby, it is simply true, which is why I believe there are so many positive reviews of this trip. This trip brought us to 4 tourist traps, which were applauded by the guests around us, while I longingly looked out the windows at the true culture we were missing. We were squished onto crowded planes for short domestic flights of 4 hours after delays (which our tour guide told us were quite common in China), and not made aware that we urgently needed to upgrade to first class (after all, if we had booked it ourselves, it would have been first class, but because they were only supposed to be 1 hour trips, we didn't go through the effort). Looking back however, this trip would not be appropriate to upgrade to first class, as you would likely outcast yourself from the rest of the travelers. This compared to Crystal where it seemed like an echo on the one flight we took from St. Petersburg to Russia, as to why they did not offer a first class option. This trip is not for the well seasoned, and overall is not a very good trip. The food is repulsive for the entire trip, and we found when we got home we spent nearly $1,000 feeding ourselves. The loads of corny jokes from the tour guides such as "my cousins help you with your bags" and "my cousins have blocked the internet" were sad and desperate attempts, that made me feel like I was in a really crappy travel comedy film you watch during a Tuesday afternoon rain delay for a 3rd rate baseball city. You really need to consider anyone else, or consider doing it on your own, you should be more than able to considering the service provided by the hotel we stayed at. This trip was pathetic, and easily the worst trip I have ever taken, but since I like to end on a positive note, all the hotels were very nice, but Viking did not own them (or the ship for that matter). Also, you never had to handle your bags, as they had porters at every stop (which our tour guide referred to as cousins). Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
I just returned from Viking River Cruises' Imperial Jewels of China, September 18 -- 30, 2011. This is a once in a life time kind of trip. I am rather disappointed with the misrepresentations by Viking River Cruises. Viking River ... Read More
I just returned from Viking River Cruises' Imperial Jewels of China, September 18 -- 30, 2011. This is a once in a life time kind of trip. I am rather disappointed with the misrepresentations by Viking River Cruises. Viking River Cruises brochure touted the "Viking Emerald" as the "Yangtze's most elegant and newest ship." It was definitely not an elegant or luxury cruise ship by any stretch of the imagination. The carpeting in the hallway was uneven. There were little crawly creatures and cockroach in the bathroom. According to the Program Director, Iowa Xian, Viking River Cruises bought the ship from Century two years ago, a Chinese company. As a matter of fact, all onboard literature referred to the ship as "The Viking Century Emerald." The ship's captain and crew were Chinese. The captain did not speak English. There was no professional staff or entertainment. The Program Director was a Tour Escort turned Program Director, and who openly expressed desire to return to his old job as tour escort. There was not even a theatre or show room. They just put up chairs in the so called "Observation Lounge" on Deck 5. Presentations were displayed on a stand-up projection screen. The same set up for movie viewing (The Last Emperor.) The menu choices were limited. I asked for an entrée without potatoes. I was told it could not be done. I was asked to pick from a stand-by choice of chicken or salmon. I asked for Eggs Benedict without the Hollandaise sauce. After waiting for 30 minutes, I was given a poached egg, period! It opened to question on the skills of the kitchen staff! This is definitely not worth the price Viking River Cruises is charging for the trip. I am also very disappointed with Viking River Cruises customer service. I booked directly with Viking when they had a 2-for-1 sale. I was shocked to see that they charged foreign transaction fee on my deposit. Later, I gave the booking to a travel agent, and did not have to pay any more foreign transaction fee. The customer should be informed about the foreign transaction fee. I could have used a different credit card which did not charge foreign transaction fees. The Customer Service personnel at the toll-free number provided misinformation. I was told that they used small planes of 50 passengers and therefore must stick to luggage weight restrictions. This was far from truth. We flew on regularly scheduled commercial flights. It turned out that the best part of the intra-China flights was that we never had to handle our own luggage and no worry about luggage allowance. The tour escort had "nice cousins." Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
If you select the Amalotus or her sister ship you must understand the seasonal patterns of river flow, lake heights and rain season characteristics along the Mekong because this causes get variations in the nature of the environment and ... Read More
If you select the Amalotus or her sister ship you must understand the seasonal patterns of river flow, lake heights and rain season characteristics along the Mekong because this causes get variations in the nature of the environment and point of Siem Reap arrival/ departure. Brochures advise about this. There can be over 30ft height difference in the lake level. In late Sept 2011 there was a very high flood late in the wet season and many roads to the lake edge became impassable even by bus thus causing a five hour bus trip, the dry season journey The vessel had acute problems with vibrations of the prop shaft, air condition problems in the upper cabins, and anchor noise. The cruise experience some teething problems but the crew made light work of any problems. There were no problems with service except trip departures were a bit confused. Food was good but will improve when the staff become more familiar with the ovens and grills. Quality was good and there was ample selection. Free drinks were plentiful, if you do not like it buy your own. Local beer is very good and equal if not better than most US brands. The crew were young and very willing and their enthusiasm and personality were the making of many positive experiences. Talk to them, learn their stories, share their emotions, look analytically at what has happen in Cambodia and Viet Nam and Laos and do not accept the spin put on the history by any one from US political departments. WE had the former US ambassador to Cambodia on board who tried to validate all aspects of US involvement as positive and beneficial?Shore visits and boat trips are interesting whatever the weather, they provide an excellent perspectives on river life in the different countries. The larger cities are too big to cover in a day or two but visit the graves and killings fields of Cambodia. IT will put the problems of your own life in perspective. Our wet season trip was great; Yes, we had rain, we had some experiences with floods and tuk tuk rides, the paddies were full, the landscape was green, the lake side settlements were reachable by boat, the temples had mysterious atmosphere, insects were absent and the people were fantastic especially in Cambodia. Remember 80+c/80+rh Two days in Siem Reap is insufficient to do there are any justice. Find a 4 star hotel and stay for longer at a mush lower cost. Hire a tuk tuk by the day and just go with the flow of people or water? I will do it again. Shore tours groups seemed to be based on who you booked your cruise with. APT and AMA were segregated and independent travelers were formed into other groups. Not all took any notice and formed friendship groups. This is not a European cruise, this is the real SE Asia but the quality and value is very good. Just go and enjoy. Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
This was a trip of a lifetime. We chose Viking River Cruises after enjoying their Waterways of the Czars cruise. Our main guide was very knowledgeable and engaging young man. His sense of humor and his care to all of us was outstanding. ... Read More
This was a trip of a lifetime. We chose Viking River Cruises after enjoying their Waterways of the Czars cruise. Our main guide was very knowledgeable and engaging young man. His sense of humor and his care to all of us was outstanding. What a great way to see the Great Wall of China and Tiananmen Square. Our hotels in Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai were 5 star. Our buses were clean. We had a lower cabin on the boat but the it was identical to the upper deck ones. It also had a veranda. The views were still awesome on the lower level but we usually stayed on the upper deck when cruising. The staff entertained us one night ; they were so talented!! They knew your name after the first night of the cruise. The Li River and Guilin are not to be missed. It is just like the old China that we remembered from pictures in magazines. Hong Kong was exciting to see also. We did most of it with another couple who had been before and knew the ropes. Viking takes care of their passengers. Several people needed medical care and the guides stayed with them, assisting in the language differences and transportation issues. Absolutely no complaints with this wonderful cruise line from food to accommodations to every aspect of our trip. We are taking our third cruise with Viking and will stay with them in the future!! Read Less
Sail Date September 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
When my friend and I embarked in the Viking Emerald I immediately noticed that it was much bigger than the Viking Europe and I felt that we were welcomed with much enthusiasm. The welcoming group were all smiles and we were even allowed to ... Read More
When my friend and I embarked in the Viking Emerald I immediately noticed that it was much bigger than the Viking Europe and I felt that we were welcomed with much enthusiasm. The welcoming group were all smiles and we were even allowed to beat the drums while other passengers were coming on board. Wow! There was also an elevator and even if we were in the lowest category cabin, there was a veranda, too. The cabin was much bigger and there was enough room for our luggages under the bed. The waiters/waitresses were more active & attentive and they themselves were the entertainers (dancers) during the post dinner shows. Sad to say, the cruise itself was somewhat boring due to the weather. Maybe I picked the wrong season. Or maybe the agent whom I asked suggested the wrong month (October) for me. It was always foggy. I couldn't appreciate the view from our veranda. I have to delete most of the pictures I have taken. Worst of all, I just heard the roaring of the Three Gorges Dam and never saw it due to the thick fog. All the other iteneraries were spectacular especially the Terra Cotta Army & the Great Wall. We were glad to have joined the optional tour to Hongkong and Guilin. Guilin was marvelous. If I have another opportunity, I would love to go back but next time, maybe on a summer month. Way to go Viking! Read Less
Sail Date October 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
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
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

Find a Cruise

Easily compare prices from multiple sites with one click