My husband and I decided to start our trip with the 3 night Siem Reap hotel package and then the 7 night cruise with a 2 night Saigon stay. Here's what I learned from taking this trip:
You do need to get visas for Vietnam ahead of ... Read More
My husband and I decided to start our trip with the 3 night Siem Reap hotel package and then the 7 night cruise with a 2 night Saigon stay. Here's what I learned from taking this trip:
You do need to get visas for Vietnam ahead of time. You can do this through an agency or directly with the consulate. If you start in Hanoi, you need a multiple entry visa. If you start in Siem Reap like we did, a single entry visa is needed. You also need a visa for Cambodia but that can be bought at the airport. We did e-visas via the Internet. I had them within 24 hours. AMA also has an account with a visa agency and you can use that service if you wish.
Cambodia is very polluted. So if you have respiratory issues, make sure you have all of your medications. I have asthma so I had a breathing treatment before I went. The pollution still bothered me.
US dollars are accepted everywhere. Visa credit cards are preferred. If you use an ATM machine, do not put your card in mor than twice. Meaning if it doesn't take it the first 2 tries, don't do a third. It will be eaten.
You will overpack. It is hot and humid. With most of the temples, for men shorts must reach the knee and For women also or capris. Shoulders must be covered. The cruise is very casual. Most women had on simple blouses and capris even at night. I wore a great deal of golf clothes because they are moisture wicking. There is indeed a 7 hour bus ride. But it is in a very comfortable bus and ours had wi-fi.
We were in a suite, #301, and these accommodations have wi-fi extenders. Wi-fi was pretty good. The cabin was spacious but really lacked storage. Lighting is also poor. We used our balcony frequently.
The food on the cruise is just OK. Dinners were the worst. I had only two evening meals I really liked. Breakfast and lunches are better.
Their shore excursion programs or run very well. You are colored coded as to which group you're with. But you can move from group to group if you wish as long as there is room in the group. Every tour was on time. The guides were excellent. In Saigon we opted for a personal guide and driver rather than the tours from the ship. It worked very well for us. We got in to the major attractions before all of the crowds. Entertainment is limited to a crew show and karaoke. Doing a river cruise really helps you see more of this area of the world as opposed to a land package. Read Less
We did only the river cruise part of a broader package that AmaWaterways provides. We heard generally good things about the land portions of the package. Overall, the cruise was enjoyable, but it got off to a rocky start with an ... Read More
We did only the river cruise part of a broader package that AmaWaterways provides. We heard generally good things about the land portions of the package. Overall, the cruise was enjoyable, but it got off to a rocky start with an unexpected 7-hour bus ride over bumpy roads with only a tiny sandwich and an apple for lunch. Many passengers seemed in a bad mood by the time we got to the boat, but this was soon lifted by the welcoming high tea immediately after boarding.
The food on the boat was quite good and provided in large quantity and variety. The complimentary wines with lunch and dinner were mediocre at best. The 24-hour free beer was icy cold and much appreciated.
The number, length, and variety of shore excursions was extremely well done; enough to keep us entertained without overtaxing us. There was no charge for these excursions, though small tips for drivers and guides were encouraged. The local guides were very good as far as we could tell. Our own guide in Cambodia, Adam, was excellent. He was charming, full of information, and always happy to answer questions or banter with passengers. We learned a lot about the people who live on the river and the recent history of Cambodia and Vietnam.
The entertainment on board was OK but not great. The best event was a funny crew talent contest. There were 2 or 3 masseuses who seemed quite busy. The massage was very good and cheap as well. A high point for me was just sitting on our balcony or the upper deck and watching the riverbank roll by, with all the floating villages, fishing boats, and barge traffic. Very peaceful. A major negative was the wi-fi connection, which was available only in one lounge and was so slow as to be essentially useless.
The biggest negative for us is the deceptive description of the cruise itinerary on the AmaWaterways website. For us, a highlight of the cruise itinerary was sailing down Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in southeast Asia. According to the website, departure from the Siem Reap hotel would be at 11:00 am. There was a note on the website that in "low water season" departure would be at 7:30 am via a 5-hour bus ride to the other end of Tonle Sap lake, because the boat cannot sail on Tonle Sap in low water. We made sure that we did NOT book our cruise during low water season, which is February through June. We called AmaWaterways a couple days ahead to confirm the 11:00 am departure and were surprised to hear that departure had been changed to 9:00 am. More importantly, instead of boarding at Siem Reap and crusing on Tonle Sap, we had to take the long bus ride mentioned above (7 hours not 5) and missed Tonle Sap altogether. We checked a website run by the government of Cambodia, which reported that water levels in Tonle Sap were not low and were in fact average. We asked some of the local tour guides and they told us that the boat almost NEVER sails on Tonle Sap lake and that passengers almost always have to take the 7-hour bus ride. In fact, we were told that in all of 2014 only one cruise actually departed from Siem Reap. This is in sharp contrast with the wording on the AmaWaterways website.
We took the land package also. Hanoi-Ha Long Bay-Siem Reap and after cruise Saigon. The land package is not to be missed!
First-AMA is a delight to work with. We needed to add an extra day and had a few questions and had ... Read More
We took the land package also. Hanoi-Ha Long Bay-Siem Reap and after cruise Saigon. The land package is not to be missed!
First-AMA is a delight to work with. We needed to add an extra day and had a few questions and had 5star service.
Second- pace was great. Saw a lot, didn't feel like rushed and could see in depth with a lot of variety but not so slow to be bored. There was a lot of uneven walking and getting on and off launches, so would be impossible if wheelchair bound or slow cane walker. Getting on and off the boats and up the hill sides were augmented by a gauntlet of the ship's crew with availability of lots of helping hands.
Third- lots of choices of things to do every day. AM and PM- often 2 or 3 choises for AM and then again in PM.
We had one land tour and cruise tour director Mr. Thai- start to end. He was awesome. Everything ran smoothly. He was everywhere at once and I swear he knew where all of us were by name at every moment. Lots of interactions multiple times a day- what did you like, guides, any problems etc.
Accommodations on Indochina Sails on Ha Long Bay were great. Beside the National Geographic views, Tai Chai in AM, a very entertaining "Gear Guys" movie in PM riding motorcycles the length of Vietnam, carving demonstrations and very good food. Beach and cave adventure. All in 24hrs.
Siem Reap one of the wonders of the world- go and see sunrise or later if want to sleep in. Guides top notch.
Cruise boat new. Luxurious with hard woods and kept spotless. Never felt cramped and lots of seating and areas to be. Lots of space for the "hermits" and lots of friendly people to socialize with. We had a midpriced room on he second deck and never felt cramped. Not TV but DVDs (I never turned it on). On the cruise ,Wifi variable and not very frequent depending on if near a town and when everyone on- not able to access. I did get my emails and wrote sends which went out eventually but not in "real" time.. Really you are out in nowhere. Nice to be unplugged. 5 star service otherwise.
Only disappointment to us was the food. Not much local cuisine at dinner. But some at breakfast and lunch with buffets. Breakfast a buffet- egg station and hot Asian Soup. Lunch 1/2 buffet with ordered soup and main course. Dinner totally ordered. The American food was what would expect on a 5 star cruise. We don't drink but lots of free alcohol, soft drinks, water and juices all day long. Wine is imported so only free at dinner- we did not try but people seemed to like it. The crew kept all the glasses full. Lots of MSG use by the cook, I was told by the head of food service- so was on my own to avoid but I am used to avoiding even in US-so no hot soups, sauces etc. I got no headaches as long as I kept with the Asian salads, cold fruit soups and nonsauced foods.
As between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I did not expect to see families. One family with well behaved older grade school kids, one just married mid 20 yr olds and the rest 50+ with no frail elderly.
I don't see how we could have seen what we saw if we hadn't taken this cruise. A very luxurious, safe adventure in a 3rd world country.
Note AMA uses going downstream and APT (mostly Australians) use going upstream. I am told the menu is different -more Asian food and more spicy food with the Australian APT. Marguerite is run by the same shipping company and is a narrower ship. About 2ft in each room. Tourmore uses this ship and often Australian tourists. I am not sure if uses the same catering or tour company.
I would definitely consider AMA again for a place I can't manage independently easily as Russia.
First and foremost, Son, our Tour Director was an amazing and diligent guide that met everyone’s needs. He ensured everyone understood the plan, how to eliminate overhead and bureaucracy and the most time was spent on the ... Read More
First and foremost, Son, our Tour Director was an amazing and diligent guide that met everyone’s needs. He ensured everyone understood the plan, how to eliminate overhead and bureaucracy and the most time was spent on the attractions and not waiting around. We loved how he handled all the passport, visas and customs processes. He made it so easy for everyone. Not a single complaint.
The land portion of the Hanoi tour excellent. Good balance and blend of sites. My only criticism is the tour did not include an option for the women’s museum which is a great museum to understand all the ethnicities in Vietnam, nor did it include a visit to the (Army) War Museum in Hanoi. We went to these on our own. Taxis only cost $2-3 each way, so it was no problem for us to do when we arrived a day early before the tour started.
The hotels were clearly 4-5 star choices. Could not have been better choices and the Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi was a clear delight. Definitely sign up as soon as you can for the free bomb shelter tour. You will learn a lot of history in 45 minutes that many never hear or see in Hanoi.
As everyone will tell you, bring LOTS of $1 bills for tips. You need at least 50 of them. Plan for it, you will need them for many things, like Tuk Tuks, taxis, drinks, etc. Don’t plan on exchanging money in Vietnam for the small bills…you can, but it is a pain in the butt and may not be possible when you need it. Just bring $100 in lots of small bills. You will be happy. The ATMs in Vietnam are plentiful and spit out local currency…most people don’t need more than $50 in local currency. In Cambodia, most people use US dollars and even the ATMs give out US dollars, no local currency needed. In restaurants, taxis and bars, tipping is not needed or expected.
From a weather standpoint, it was HOT and HUMID in August. You will sweat your butt off and be prepared to bring lots of clothes that you can wash in your room every day (like EXOffico, REI and Columbia). Most people can and do wear shorts, but for temples and pagodas, you do need long pants and full shirts that cover your shoulders to get into most of them. Outside of that, most places and most people are very casual. It can also rain/downpour at a moment’s notice, so small mobile umbrellas are handy. The tour group is very good with giving ponchos and umbrellas when people were not prepared.
Hanoi, Siem Riep, Phnom Penh, the villages are all safe. No threats whatsoever. Very friendly people and no concerns of theft, pickpockets, etc. A true delight that is not experienced in many countries anymore. Never felt or seen any behavior or activities to concern a tourist.
One thing that AMA did very nicely is there for approximately 65 people total in our group. They broke it down into 3 groups every day based on a color naming scheme. In general, most groups at 15-20 people max, and each group got their own bus. They never operated with massive group sizes or crowded busses. You actually felt like a smaller tour. This was well done and a definite plus for this tour company.
Cruising with AMAWaterways on the AMALOTUS for a week was a delight. The highlights:
The staff do have limited English, but it is adequate and they try very hard meet all passenger needs while being in a third world country. They are customer focused and it shows. But, be aware, they are limited and if you have questions that are more than basic things, they will not understand you or be able to help. It is important that people set different expectations on what is possible and what can be done in a third world country.
The rooms are very comfortable and clean. We were a little worried that our first room (303) had very poor air conditioning and was going to be hot, but they moved us to a new room (305) and we had a nice ice cold room the entire cruise.
One thing people should be aware of: if some of the better rooms are not occupied, they will not upgrade you to the nicer rooms. If you want a nicer room, they will offer the upgrades for a discount ($500 - $800 for the week), but it won’t happen just because you are a frequent guest of AMA Waterways.
The food was great every day. Good choices, many options and generous portions available to everyone. Local and western choices. Great flavors and unbelievable presentation every day. The seating times are somewhat fixed though: lunch is at 12:30 and dinner is at 7:30. There is a little flexibility, but not much. Everywhere you, you will be given lots of bottled water to drink and brush your teeth with. Not even locals drink tap water, so you better not try it yourself. Even if you run out, you can buy a bottle for 50 cents in local currency or even a bottle of beer for less than $1 US dollar. Most people felt the Cambodian Angkor beer was the best choice.
Drinks are always available: beer, cocktails, soft drinks, juices, water, etc. Wine is only available at lunch and dinner, but it is poured with ease and you can take a full glass when you leave the table. The house wines were not bad and unless you are a connoisseur, the wines will be just fine.
The exercise room has 1 bike, 1 treadmill and 1 elliptical with a few free weights and yoga mats. It is not much, but at least they had something on the small ship. I think it would have been nice to have a few more free weights in the heavier levels.
Vising the local villages and schools was a wonderful experience as a westerner. We were able to see, smell, and feel how many people in Vietnam and Cambodia live their daily lives. It is so limited and so different, it is hard to explain until you experience first-hand. You learn and understand so much more with tours like this that are not possible in the standard group tours. The people love to meet and see you and it is a delight to interact with them. When you visit these places, the children love the gifts. In Siem Riep, we purchased some small soccer balls to give to children in the villages. This is something they could never afford, but it gave them a toy that many could enjoy that might not be possible without outside visitors bringing these things to them. It was a great reward to play a game with all the kids without saying a word that neither side could understand.
If you have one of the mini-suites you get the great benefit of a bathtub (with jets) which is great when you have to do laundry to clean your daily sweaty clothes in the 100% humidity and 100 degree weather in these countries in the summer months.
You also get a dedicated Internet hotspot for your room and do not need to share with the entire passenger list which is VERY nice when you want to stay connected along the way.
This was my first cruise ever, and it was such a positive experience. Amawaterways has done a terrific job of combining different types of on shore experiences on this cruise. This was extremely important to me as I have resisted ... Read More
This was my first cruise ever, and it was such a positive experience. Amawaterways has done a terrific job of combining different types of on shore experiences on this cruise. This was extremely important to me as I have resisted cruising up till now, not wanting to spend my entire time on a ship and needing excursions that are interesting to me.
When traveling, my wife and I like to visit historical sites, as well as absorbing the culture of the country through contact with the locals - seeing how they live and enjoying (hopefully!) the local food. This cruise did an exceptional job of that, aided by the knowledgeable guides such as Mao Ponloe in Cambodia, and Khanh in Vietnam.
Congratulations to Amawaterways. The staff onboard were very friendly and very efficient. The cruise manager did an exceptional job on this particular voyage. Che Thanh Thoai is a remarkable individual. His attention to detail is astonishing. He was EVERYWHERE we needed him to be, to the extent that we sometimes wondered if he had several identical brothers! He is energetic and friendly, and sympathetic to passengers needs. He goes out of his way to help and please, even when passengers are clearly in the wrong (e.g. missing departure times). He is also quite talented as a musician and vocalist! The entire staff was pleasant and provided great service, but Thoai stood out.
With this experience I am now a committed cruiser, and will thoroughly endorse Amawaterways to anyone that asks.
The Amalotus is a very well designed ship with minimal engine noise and vibration in the cabins. The only downside on this particular cruise through the Mekong - very spotty internet connections. The exercise area is a bit limited, but there were never any lineups for use. The A/C was not always turned on there, so it was easy to get up a sweat!
We went on the 12 day vietnam Cambodia tour including 7 nights river cruising. Started in Saigon at Sheraton, had a wonderful Luke Nguyen inspired degustation at Xu, absolutely faultless! Went to the Tunnels which was an eye opener, ... Read More
We went on the 12 day vietnam Cambodia tour including 7 nights river cruising. Started in Saigon at Sheraton, had a wonderful Luke Nguyen inspired degustation at Xu, absolutely faultless! Went to the Tunnels which was an eye opener, especially when one person at the tunnels told us he had lived in the tunnels for 12 years during the vietnam war...unbeleivable!!!!! Did an amazing cookery class in Saigon. Breakfast at Sheraton was brilliant, our guide in Saigon was great. After 2 days we got on the boat, which was in good condition, aparently only a couple of years old, I believe.
The staff on the cruise were very good and tried to learn our names and what we liked to have, they tried hard to please. The food was okay, and the steak was excellent although sometimes a little rare. The salads became a bit boring and the menu was a bit limiting. The wine was often off or undrinkable, however each time we complained of this, which was often, they would replace with a slightly better wine that was not off. This was a bit tiresome and would have preferred that APT supply at least bottled wine of a better quality so often we purchased bottles wine. My husband complained, but it still kept happening.
Vietnam and Cambodia was an eye opener, as to the amount of poverty, but the people seemed to be happy and clean. We were shocked by how the war had affected so many and cruising along you get to see the poverty which was very sad.
The tour guides and cruise director had great sense of humour and spoke pretty good english. Some of the tours were too drawn out and could have been done in half the time, which often made it boring.i.e. In Siem Reap, we got up at 4.00 am to meet at 4.45 to go to Angkor Wat to take photos, which was a few minutes drive away, after getting tickets and after a short walk in, although the day was cloudy I still managed to get some nice shots. We then stood around doing nothing, and some wandered over to have a coffee or champagne and at 7.00 oclock , I was too bored by the waiting and went back to the hotel on a tuk tuk and advised the tour organiser of this. Whilst I was having breakfast I noticed several other people also did the same as me.
The bus ride to Siem Reap was supposed to be 5 hrs, and we were told a few days before that they had been working on the bridge for the past couple of years and we could not go upstream any further and the trip could be perhaps 5.5 hrs. It was a very unconfortable 6.5 hrs, the road had been damaged by flooding some time previously and the road was extremely bumpy and dusty. We stopped twice for a toilet stop and were not given any lunch even though we started off at 8.00am but were told to purchase a snack at the WC stop, which consisted of chippies, biscuits etc. We got to the hotel and were told a club sandwhich with beer or softdrink had been organised but at our cost I thought this was not well handled by APT. A 6.5 hr bumpy dusty bus trip should have at least had a meal supplied by APT during the ride, especially when they had known the length of time it would take and what the road was like, as the floods had happened several months ago.
.After the long and dusty bus ride some of our luggage was completely covered in dust and when at the hotel we put a back pack on the bed, which left a filthy brown mark, as it did on my clothes. The Sofitel in Siem Reap was very very nice in a beautiful setting. I had a cookery class, except they cancelled, even though there were 8 people wanting to do it and was booked in for a massage as a 2nd choice. APT later arranged a cooking class, at our cost, and we had to cancel the massage as it was at the same time, and could not make another time. The cooking class was nice and we had a lovely meal there. We were unable to get a return flight from Siem Reap and had to stay an extra night so we chose not to take the APT included flights and got a $500 rebate and purchased business class, although we cld not get a connecting flight from Singapore to home and also had to stay extra time there. We had been met at the airport in Saigon by APT, but we were only 1 couple out of 3 couples that were not given a delivery to the airport by APT as were leaving, but fortunately Sofitel,( as we chose to stay in a suite), kindly offered to take us there in their hotel car.
Although we are avid small ship cruisers, and had not done any river cruising before, we have thought a lot about the trip since leaving and will probably try a river cruise in Europe at some stage, as we had met a lot of wonderful people on board Amalotus which made for an amazing time.
Any tour company can take you from one place to another but it takes a company that is at the top of its game to put together a crew that took us on our tour of Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong. Mr. Thoai, the Cruise Manager, ran a very ... Read More
Any tour company can take you from one place to another but it takes a company that is at the top of its game to put together a crew that took us on our tour of Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong. Mr. Thoai, the Cruise Manager, ran a very professional program but was sensitive to passenger needs and desires. He was very concerned that people had the best time possible. The same can be said for Mr. Thant, Mao, Virak and Minh. They knew the local history and events and wove their personal experiences and knowledge into their presentations to make them memorable. It was those people and their empathy and concern for passengers that put this cruise over the top for us.
The agenda was the same as most of the others operating in this area. We chose AMA because of their inclusion of Ha Long Bay and a night on a junk as part of the tour. It was a definite plus! Another bonus was the pool on the AMALotus. We didn't use it a lot but it was certainly nice to take a dip at the end of a hot, humid day, of which there were many.
We chose the lowest deck with a balcony for the river portion of the cruise. I didn't see any reason to pay for an upgrade to a higher deck. Our cabin was quiet and convenient to all parts of the ship. I would not, however, want a cabin on the lowest deck without a balcony. We didn't use the balcony but the extra light it allowed in was worth the price.
The two Sofitel hotels in Hanoi and Siem Reap were outstanding. The food, room quality and service were top notch. While the Sheraton in Saigon didn't quite measure up to the exclusivity of the Sofitel hotels, it was an excellent hotel as well. The food in the breakfast and dinner buffets was absolutely amazing. We had to think very hard to remember having anything as good.
Being Canadian, we had to order US dollars to spend in the markets, for tips and the like. We ordered $1s, $10s and $20 but the next time I would cut down on the $20s and get $5s. I'd probably go with $100 in $1s to start. We were told you could change money while on board but we didn't take advantage of it. For us, it was cheaper to get the money through a bank in Canada than to use an ATM while travelling.
We arranged our flights so we arrived a day early and left two days later. It was a wise decision. The day at the start allowed us to wind down and relax after the almost 30 hours traveling while the two days at the end gave us a chance to see some things in and around Saigon, e.g., the Cu Chi tunnels (recommended).
Overall a great trip! We will definitely go with AMAWaterways again.
We were on the AMA Vietnam/Cambodia tour early April 2014. We started in Hanoi and ended in Ho Chi Minh City. First of all we concur with a prior review which stated that the breath of touring from this trip could not be done on your ... Read More
We were on the AMA Vietnam/Cambodia tour early April 2014. We started in Hanoi and ended in Ho Chi Minh City. First of all we concur with a prior review which stated that the breath of touring from this trip could not be done on your own. Our group was in the 50-80 age range with many in their 60s and 70s, retirees, Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Australians overwhelmingly white crowd, a number of Jews and I would guess more Democrats than Republicans. There was one former US army officer who had served in Vietnam who found this to be an emotional experience, all in all an intelligent concerned group That said - this was not a vacation experience but rather a working cultural exchange.
Get the Cambodia E Visa - it is about $24 on line and will save you time in line in Siam Reap and you do not have to send in your passport. Otherwise get the Vietnam multiple entry visa, easy to obtain about $250 from any Vietnam embassy or consulate.
Inchon airport rescreens international transit passengers causing you as much as additional 30 minute delay in airport between changing flights. We ran the last .5 mile to get our Seoul/Hanoi flight.
Shots etc - the AMA tour leader was opposed to anti malarials stating that too many folks get serious reactions beyond the risk of malaria. We took the newest drug and had no reactions. Did have one 24 hour period of loose stool as did a number of folks on our trip. There is NO potable water in Vietnam and Cambodia and although AMA goes to great lengths to assure proper food preparation, there is some RISK of stomach upset so prepare accordingly. After my brush in Siam Reap at the Sofitel, I went on the 169 degree program until coming home. It is extreme and you won't get to eat the tasty salads but you are less likely to need imodium or more. Bring DEET - we were in plenty of villages in Vietnam and Cambodia with standing stagnant water - mosquito breeding grounds. That means the possibility of malaria, Japanese encephalitis and dengue fever (It only takes one bite) I regularly sprayed with DEET before going on rural tours and this was in the dry season. Also in the Mekong, the air can be plenty polluted - lots of smoke and haze. If you have respiratory issues - be forewarned you may have problems. It bothered some us on the trip. Also you will be going in and out of air conditioning into very hot and humid conditions. Don't be surprise to catch a cold or upper respiratory infection. Prepare accordingly. That said - noone on our trip got very ill and AMA is prepared to take you to area medical facilities if needed AND you should have adequate medical insurance and trip insurance to PAY - and you should have plenty of cash if needed. Remember - there is no CVS nearby so bring all the stuff that you may need in 16 days.
Cash: Bring at least $40 in $1 bills and maybe about $300 total cash. You will use them for tips - guides, staff etc. Dollars are accepted in Vietnam and Cambodia willingly. ATMs are in cities but credit cards are used only in cities and on board the ship at the end to settle bills.
Connectivity: Biggest complaint outside the hotels and the cities was internet connectivity. I brought an Ipad which is light, easy to use and can give access to Skype for cheap phoning -but AMA has chosen to have lousy connectivity on the ship. They use the local cell systems which are poor in rural areas. On the other hand the guides used cell as well but a different carrier and often had better connectivity than AMA so ask them to use their hot spots if they have them. AMA could use satellite for internet. There is NO TV on the ship and a very poor movie selection. Again AMA could use satellite for TV but does not. That said, you are pretty tired in evenings and need sleep for the next day's excursions. There is no problem, recharging devices in hotels or the ship. Bring 220 connectors. Most devices have 110/220 volt capability. Hair dryers are available in hotels and the ships.
Clothng: Everyone brings too much. I worse shorts everywhere, even to the temples and palaces. Just make sure shorts come BELOW the knees. Cargo styles work well. Some women wore dresses to dinner which is overkill but hey! Take advantage of laundry service in the hotels and ship to keep travel weight down.
All hotels used by AMA are first class, excellent, comfortable. The Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi has the nicest Hotel fitness center I have ever seen. The Sofitel Siam Reap is spectacular - see other comments and the Sheraton in Ho Chi Minh City is a decent first class hotel but could use some updating.
The Ship: The AMA Lotus is comfortable, rooms very nice. We had cabin 220 at the front, big king bed, plenty of storage, decent bath. However when the anchor goes up - only happened a couple of times, you will hear it. Public rooms are spacious and comfortable. The pool is a cross between a pool and jacuzzi - nice to use to relax. The small fitness facility has an elliptical and treadmill and gets quite a bit of use early in the AM. The Lotus has laundry service which you will probably need to use - as the weather is 95-100 and I found myself showering and changing as much as 3X a day.
Food: There is lots of it, do not understand a previous comment on amount. If you eat everything offered - you may gain weight. Food is western and asian with plenty of buffets - breakfast and lunch and multiple choice menus for dinner. The salads look great but if you have had your stomach upset issue - be careful. It only takes one lapse of sanitation to make you ill. Plenty of folks went to private restaurants in Hanoi,
Siam Reap and Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh city and did fine but ask for suggestions. We were surprise that the quality of ingredients was as good as it was. Bottled water is everywhere. Local Vietnamese and Cambodian beer was fine. AMA bulk wines were good and our tour liked them. At the Sofitel Siam Reap, try the home made chocolate ice cream - it is astoundingly good.
Tours: You go on this trip for the touring and the AMA program is spectacular. If you take it seriously you will learn much on Vietnamese, Cambodian culture, history as well as multiple forms of Buddhism. Our guides all had local involvement with the places we visited which made this a much better experience than just touring objects - you really get a sense of the people. That said rural Cambodia has stark poverty with rampant pedophilia sex tourism in the the bigger cities. Children are vulnerable to exploitation and families are VERY poor. Touring is a very intense experience with about 30 separate tours during the trip. Ankor complex was VERY crowded with dense crowds, hot/humid miserable conditions - but then you are seeing one of the great wonders of the world. Halong Bay was not much with pleasant scenery. The bay is very polluted and there are no sea birds - few fish in this dying area. There was a bad storm in the morning before we arrived and the guide made a comment on the possible cancellation. Be careful on the bay, it is not place to be in a bad storm. The "luxury" junk was nice but there was a deadly accident in 2011 where a junk sank in the night with some tourists dying. Hanoi is a busy capital, somewhat austere in comparison to bustling Ho Chi Minh City. Urban Phnom Penh has plenty of street crime so be careful wandering at night. Ho Chi Minh city is developing economically and you will see a big difference with the other venues. For us, the Killing Fields was the most amazing tour. It is quite raw, like visiting the death camps in 1946 with many unsettled issues. The Vietnamese have turned the Vietnam war into Disneyland with national parks with caves and tunnels for tourists and school age children. You will see many temples, excellent museums, palaces, city tours and small villages, crafts demonstrations and daily life. You will be thrilled and depressed with the poverty especially in Cambodia. Expect to get plenty of exercise walking and sweating. Going up from the Lotus on newly made steps up the river bank can be arduous for those with mobility issues. People forgo some tours as they tend to tire out later on this trip. End the trip with Ho Chi Minh City. It is a pleasant experience and there is plenty of shopping and good eating. The AMA staff is amazing, excellent hard working tour director and wonderful young ship staff who attend to your needs - they will spoil you.
Bottom Line: We found this trip to be a fantastic experience, well put together. The AMA staff, tour director worked hard to ensure we could enjoy this.
My wife and I just returned from our Feb/Mar AMA Lotus cruise, south to north, a few weeks ago. My wife and I were very happy with this cruise. The “Con” remarks below are meant as constructive and hopefully would not lead ... Read More
My wife and I just returned from our Feb/Mar AMA Lotus cruise, south to north, a few weeks ago. My wife and I were very happy with this cruise. The “Con” remarks below are meant as constructive and hopefully would not lead anyone to think that they should not take this trip.
This trip is a little different from AMA Waterways North to South tours. The main thing is that on the North to South version, you spend a night in Hanoi and the next day you are bused to Ha Long Bay for an overnight on a Junk. The next day, you are taken directly to the airport for a flight to Siem Reap. Your port of entry into Cambodia is via the Siem Reap Airport and you can do a Visa-On-Entry. On the South to North version, you cruise up the Mekong Delta and enter Cambodia via one of several river stops. You cannot do a Visa-On-Entry this way and must have a Visa Stamp in your Passport. I actually requested both of the required Visa’s directly from the Vietnam and Cambodia in Washington, D.C. You will save a hundred dollars or more this way and the applications can be found on their websites. It was very easy to do. Be sure to request a Multi-Entry for Vietnam.
I’ve reviewed many restaurants in both Saigon and Hanoi on TripAdvisor (Semi-OldTraveler). There are some great places to eat in both cities. After our tour with AMA Waterways, we stayed on for several days in Hanoi. There we toured with Hanoi Eco Tours. Another very good group. They also can be found on TripAdvisor. A small note, AMA Waterway only gives you about 1 day each in Saigon and Hanoi. This is normal with most companies. It is not enough time to see these cities. So I would recommend that you plan on arriving a few days early and also stay a few days after to really get the most out of this tour.
1. AMA Waterways provided very good transport between airport/hotel and vise verse if you are arriving outside normally scheduled transfer periods, if you book it through them. In both Saigon and Hanoi, the airports are about a 55 – 60 minute drive either way and taxis’ needs to be researched before you get to Vietnam if you are planning on going that route. AMA charged us $60 each way for special transfer which is about what taxis’ will charge, so I’ve been told. Worth the money.
2. Hotel section in Saigon, Siem Reap, and Hanoi are all 4 – 5 Star properties. Siem Reap is to die for and most of our group would have liked to spend the balance of the trip there.
3. AMA Waterways only gives you a couple of hours at each of the temples in Siem Reap. As it turned out, this is more than enough time.
4. Rooms and other facilities on the AMA Lotus were all pretty good (except for the two front cabins which are next to the anchor chain locker.) No major complaints there as they warned us before dropping/raising the anchor.
5. Food in the hotels was what you would expect from these types of properties, i.e. very good. Food on the AMA Lotus was pretty good and you get a good International menu with each meal.
6. The cruise director and all of our guides were very good. On day one, you are broke up into smaller groups to accommodate the smaller buses and you will normally stay with that group throughout the tour. We heard a complaint about only one guide outside of our group.
7. AMA Waterways tries hard to make it easy during the many transfers on/off the boat, hotel check-ins, and border crossings.
1. Being notified of a last minute change to the schedule (arrived with our final package/tickets days before departing) was not necessary as AMA knew about the changes for weeks prior. It could have presented a problem with Visa’s had we not been persistent in determining our Cambodia entry point. See #3. below.
2. The drink policy on-board the boat was not as AMA advertised including our Welcome Letter on the boat. Wine and beer are only free during lunch/dinner in the dining room (not in the lounge) and other liquor (whiskey, vodka, gin, and rum) are free only as long as you drink their local brand and don’t mix any other alcohol with it, i.e. no free martinis. When brought to the Hotel Manger’s attention on the boat he said that the letter was incorrect and would need to be changed. There website posted the same information.
3. There was too much confusion over the point of the Cambodian border crossing on the south to north bound trip prior to getting our Visa. The company that AMA recommended to process the paperwork for us assumed we were going into Cambodia via the Siem Reap Airport which was wrong. I and my TA got two different answers directly from AMA before getting the correct entry point. As a side point, it is very easy to apply for the Visa’s yourself (multi-entrance for Vietnam and single for Cambodia) and you will save a couple hundred in additional processing fees.
4. The Wi-Fi on the boat left much to be desired. There was absolutely nothing on the TV. They did have some old movie DVDs if you wanted them. It would have been nice if they would have maybe had some news feeds. We saw satellite and other TV antenna’s in most places we sailed so it should not have been a problem.
5. At the Wat Hanchey stop, many of us felt that we were scammed by the locals and AMA should have forewarned us. Ladies were selling packages of 10 children’s books in a clear wrapper for $5.00. If you buy them and distribute to the children standing around, the children take the books back to other women where they are rewrapped and sold again. Even the Buddhist priests were turning them back in for resale.
6. Final bill on the boat was provided in Vietnam Dong vice US currency. This resulted in another transaction/conversion fee by my credit card company. In all my years of traveling with US based cruise companies, the final bill has always been in US dollars. Two of the hotels, Saigon and Siem Reap quoted the final bill in both currencies and even the Junk in Ha Long Bay billed us in US dollars.
7. The tour director made a pretty big deal out of providing sandwiches for us at the Siem Reap Airport prior to our flight. They were horrible and we got a small meal on the airplane which would have been adequate.
8. On the flight between Siem Reap and Hanoi, some couples could not sit together (think rows different). There really didn’t appear to be any excuse for this as AMA knows far enough in advance of the flight to book your seats together.
9. This last one and I’m not sure it is AMA’s fault but ultimately, they are in charge. All one morning our guide had bad audio equipment to contend with. I belief that all of the land portions of the tour is subcontracted by AMA and the subcontractor provides the equipment. It was only the one morning and the guide was on the phone constantly trying to get better equipment (it was her transmitting unit). After 3 replacements, she finally was given a working unit after lunch.
This was our second river cruise, the first being on the Nile (MS Darakum - recommend). Our cruise was part of a 17 night tour of Vietnam and Cambodia, starting in Saigon and ending in Hanoi, via Siem Reep (Angkor Wat). The organisation ... Read More
This was our second river cruise, the first being on the Nile (MS Darakum - recommend). Our cruise was part of a 17 night tour of Vietnam and Cambodia, starting in Saigon and ending in Hanoi, via Siem Reep (Angkor Wat). The organisation was brilliant from start to finish. Our Tour Manager was extremely efficient as he needed to be as there were 88 people in our group - ranging in age from 50 to 86. As quite new 'cruisers' there was the odd sharp intake of breath at the degree of herding required to ensure that everyone followed what they were supposed to be doing - quite a lot of repetition of very basic stuff, but very necessary for many of the travellers - who still persistently failed to understand. We are accustomed to travelling independently but were attracted by the AmaLotus, so decided on the whole tour, but the infantilisation of the whole group did get a bit trying. However, the schedule was very tight, with lots packed in, which suited us very well as we saw so much. Early starts for morning tours occasioned some grumbling but the Tour Manager set the tone early on by insisting on prompt departures. With only 2 exceptions (people forgetting their entrance tickets despite being reminded only 12 times!!) we left promptly, so weren't inconvenienced.
The ship; We had The Owner's Suite, which was absolutely fabulous. Sitting room with small balcony and shower room, huge bedroom and full bathroom with jacuzzi bath with view over our own larger balcony with two sun beds. We had no problem with hot water and didn't have to wait at all. The room was beautifully serviced and the staff in general were very friendly and eager to please. Swimming pool very cold - couldn't go in. Food; Not bad. Not enough Vietnamese/Cambodian food - too many Americans, so 'International' cuisine. More local food in Cambodia. Very good breakfast pho though. Terrible coffee. Necessary to pay extra (not much, $1.50) for delicious cappuccino. House brands included in the trip price. Wine not great - only Chardonnay at mealtimes, no option of Sauvignon. Red wine adequate. Otherwise, wine very expensive for very average stuff - we paid $45 for a Villa Maria sauvignon.
For land tours we were divided into 'families' - Blue, Orange, Green, etc. While possible to switch groups, not many people did. We did after our visit to Angkor Wat as we didn't like our guide. His English wasn't great and he seemed to lack knowledge about the art and architecture. We were also hampered in our group by lack of mobility of many of the travellers, which meant that at Angkor Wat - the highlight of our trip and why we booked in the first place - we lost lots of time by poor group management by the guide. I would recommend that for the true highlights, it is wise to book your own guide to ensure you get maximum value from the site. At Ta Prohm, instead of talking to us about the history/architecture of the temple, our guide instead talked a lot about Tomb Raider and Angelina Jolie - and took everyone's photos - instead of telling us anything useful. I regret not hiring our own guide for the 2 days in Angkor and would advise that if you are serious about the art/architecture of the temples, get your own guide. Make sure they have good English. My advice to AmaWaterways would be to divide groups into mobility so that the faster groups can see more and not spend too much time being herded through in a slow group, therefore missing lots. We split off and made our own way to the meeting point, which meant we saw all the brilliant not-to-be-missed bas reliefs at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.
The tour has lots of trips which require good mobility and good general fitness - which AmaWaterways state clearly in the itinerary. Despite this, quite a few passengers were really too frail to undertake the trips and several even stayed on the bus on the tour to Angkor Wat! If stuck in a group with the frail, very elderly and very unfit, it can spoil the enjoyment of the tour as the guide has to stay at the pace of the slowest. Can be annoying.
Apart from the Crew Talent Show (!) and a nice dance display by Cambodian children, there was very little evening entertainment and the boat was pretty deserted by 9.30pm - not a problem really, as most trips were very early - breakfast at 7am and on the bus by 7.30/7.45am. Quite a small selection of DVD's of any interest and nothing current. Your own DVD's won't work as they won't be configured for the Far East. No reception at all on the 2 beautiful, large plasma screens in our room - so they are decorative only!
On the whole, the tour guides were very good at their jobs and very keen to give as much insight as possible into the lives of the people in both Vietnam and Cambodia. I would recommend the tour and the cruise - but patience is required as everything is done in a group and if you are not a natural group animal a few deep breaths will be necessary now and again. If you are an experienced cruise person, you'll be accustomed to that by now! Overall, this was a very good experience and I would recommend AmaWaterways.
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