Mekong Serenity Activities

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Horizon pool on Mekong Serenity
Mekong Serenity's Harmony Lounge
Jo Kessel standing in front of the ruins of Ta Promh in Siem Reap
Spiral staircase on Mekong Serenity
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Jo Kessel
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Shore Excursions on Mekong Serenity are Varied

All excursions on a Mekong Serenity cruise are included, although joining them isn't compulsory and you're free to explore on your own. Most days there's both a morning and afternoon excursion on offer, although you can choose to stay back and relax by the pool instead. That said, the excursions are well paced, never too long and varied. And for more physically challenging activities guests can choose whether to go into a faster or slower group.     

Only two days of the cruise are in Vietnam where traditional sampan boats ferry cruisers from ship to shore. Excursions vary between being on foot and being transported by local Tuk Tuks / rickshaws and highlights include exploring rural villages, farms and markets — you'll spot produce you might not see anywhere else in the world and which you may very well wish you hadn't seen – as well as visiting the occasional temple, cathedral and silk/mat weavers. Locals live in stilt houses dotted along the river and occasionally invite us into their homes, where cows and chickens live downstairs. You get to interact with the people who call this home which gives a very good sense of what authentic Mekong life is like.

Once you've crossed the border into Cambodia the ship docks at every destination, although it's not always in a conventional port — sometimes the ship moors along the banks and disembarkation is via a very makeshift gangway. But the crew is always there to offer a literal helping hand.

There's an overnight in capital Phnom Penh where the excursion choice includes visiting the emotionally challenging Killing Fields (where dictator Pol Pot carried out the genocide of a quarter of his population), the Royal Palace or a microbrewery.  Later there's a free bus shuttle to the Central Market. This is a bustling, sprawling affair where you can pick up bargain local textiles and 'real fakes' – we bought some excellent value Armani and Ray Ban sunglasses! In the evening you're free to explore independently. We opted for a fifteen-minute walk from the ship to the night market, but others made a trip to a swanky skyscraper rooftop bar.

Other Cambodia cruise excursions include a visit to the hilltop Buddhist Oudong Monastery (where you receive a blessing from the monks) as well as to villages which specialise in making silver. Ports may change due to river levels - we were unable to stop as scheduled to climb Wat Hanchey, a hillside monastery with a great vantage point over the river. But we thoroughly enjoyed the alternative offered which was a visit to Twin Holy Mountains with showstopper gold Buddha and Ganesh statues. Instead of a river view we were entertained by some fabulously cheeky macaque monkeys.

Depending on whether you book your Mekong cruise sailing upstream or downstream, your voyage will either start or finish in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam or Siem Reap, Cambodia. If you've booked the guided land stays then excursions are included, with plenty of options. On day one in Ho Chi Minh City you can visit the Cu Chi Tunnels (a hugely impressive network of tunnels built by the Viet Cong during the war to hide both themselves and their weapons) or Long Tan. And the next day you can choose between a morning walking tour, motorbike or sunrise Tai Chi lesson. Tai Chi (our pick) was excellent and worth getting up early for, but be sure to wear trainers instead of flip flops!

The star attraction of Siem Reap is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Angkor Wat, an 11th century Hindu temple which is an engineering marvel that's considered the 8th Wonder of the World. Cruisers who have booked the guided land stays will be treated to a sunrise excursion here as well as several visits to other temples within the archaeological complex, one of which includes Ta Promh, an evocative temple whose remains are strangled by tree roots. Angelina Jolie filmed "Tomb Raider" here and it's incredibly photogenic. If you've had enough of being guided around in a group take a Tuk Tuk here independently and explore on your own. Top tip: come towards the end of the day when the crowds have left and you have the place to yourself.

NB: Please note that Siem Reap is not on the Mekong River and is a five-hour drive from where the cruise docks in Kampong Cham.    

Lectures and Enrichment on Mekong Serenity are Excellent

Several enrichment activities are scheduled during the cruise, including performances by local folk dancers and musicians. There are also interesting lectures, some serious (about Cambodian geography, history and life along the Mekong River) and some more light-hearted — we learned 20 different ways how Cambodian women make use of a sarong. One afternoon there was a cooking demonstration of the Vietnamese soup called Pho and Vietnamese hand rolls , followed by a tasting session of local fruits,  from longan and rambutan (both from the lychee family) to jackfruit and dragon fruit.   

Nightlife on Mekong Serenity is Low Key

River ships are not known for their nightlife and because most excursions start around 8.30 a.m. most guests went to bed early. However, there was a resident pianist who played pre and post dinner in the lounge and several nights there were other scheduled activities, including a screening of a documentary about the Khmer Rouge's brutal dictator Pol Pot as well as a quiz — our team won and we were gifted champagne and water bottles! There was also karaoke one night plus the crew stage a fun talent show with guests acting as judges.

Fitness/Recreation on Mekong Serenity is Generous

There's no excuse for not staying fit on Mekong Serenity! As well as its pool it has a well-equipped gym with treadmills, bikes, a cross-trainer, multi-gym and yoga mats. The sun-deck also has a jogging track, although because of the heat it's probably best to walk rather than run during the height of the day. The Spa is standout for a ship this size, with two treatment rooms and massages so good (and so reasonably priced at $45 an hour) that you might consider booking one a day.

Is Mekong Serenity Family Friendly?

While there are no kids clubs or activities laid on specifically for youngsters, children of all ages are welcome. That said, the itinerary is very busy and the excursions probably best suited to older teens.

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