Amawaterways AmaDara 7-14 Dec 2015 Siem Reap to Saigon
We enjoyed a 7 day river cruise on AmaDara from Siem Reap Cambodia to Saigon Vietnam in early December 2015. This was our first cruise with AMAWaterways, on the AmaDara and on the Mekong River.
There were pre cruise and post cruise packages that we did not participate in. We organized our own tours with French speaking guides to satisfy the majority of our group.
All meals, breakfast lunch and dinner had a choice of Asian or Western dishes. Breakfast was an extensive buffet with Asian and Western selections along with an Action station where omelettes and eggs could be had along with pho (Vietnamese soup) which was excellent.
If it had been a long day of tours and sightseeing you could simply sit and order the Chef's recommendation for lunch or dinner which we did many times. Wine, included with meals, was poured freely, the selection limited to a red and a white, I was never left wanting and a top up to take to the room after dinner was never denied. My wife thought Chardonnay was over represented during the cruise.
There was only one sitting for all meals and one dinning area for all meals except dinner.
There was a special higher end restaurant, the Chef's table, that you could book for dinner instead at no extra charge but the seating is limited. I suggest you reserve early so you get your preferred time and date.
Bar brands of alcohol were available complimentary as were soft drinks and juice. There are no beverage packages required. High end alcohol brands and wine not during meals were an extra charge to your room.
As wine was included with meals, nobody cared if you brought your own wine on board to have before or after dinner.
Entertainment on Board
The entertainment on board is a bit sparse compared to ocean cruises, but we were so busy with the daily tours we didn't miss it. That said there were a couple of evenings of local entertainment that was very unique. There was also a crew talent night, the kitchen won with YMCA, it was fun and we all got to eat the next day. There isn't a casino or any slot machines.
Throughout the cruise there were 2 tours a day, included in the price, a morning and afternoon tour. The morning tours started between 0815 and 0930 and always had you back on board for lunch. The afternoon tours varied in starting times but we were always back in time to freshen up and try the daily free cocktail before dinner.
The Cruise Director, Long and Hotel Manager Markus were friendly and approachable. Most days Long had a short talk about what would be happening the next day. When leaving for a tour make sure to say, So long, he'll like that.
Having a handicapped family member (not on cruise) you become much more aware of accessibility issues. This is not a boat or cruise for a person in a wheelchair or with any significant walking impediment. There are no elevators and the gang plank to get on/off and local terrain is such that you need to be able to walk on your own.
Pictures from our trip:
The cruise started with a 5 hour bus ride from the Sofitel Siem Reap to where the boat was 'docked' (tied to trees on shore). The boat rarely starts close to Siem Reap I was told, Tonle Sap lake, but usually well past the southern end of the lake, which we found a bit disappointing not being able to see the lake.
The bus ride was quite nice though, there is a lot of country side to see and there are 2 stops, one to eat your complementary Sofitel box lunch and the other at Spiderville for crunchy desert spiders and other bugs. Those cost extra but they would have had to pay me to eat the tarantulas and I'm a fairly adventurous eater. The Sofitel box lunch was ok, a sandwich a piece of fruit, a cookie and water.
We arrived at the boat mid-afternoon and walked down a grassy slope to a gang plank with railings on to the boat. A boarding cocktail, crew introductions and we were underway, upstream, roughly north, up the Mekong towards Tonle Sap lake! We didn't quite reach the lake though. We moored mid-stream for the night.
On day 2 the morning tour was a boat ride to visit a floating village, lots of great photo ops, no walking just a launch from shore to take us to see the extensive village. Many of the houseboats are painted a Finlander (Sky) blue in the belief that it wards off mosquitos and attracts Finns. Ok maybe not Finns.
The launch returns you to the ship in time for lunch and a brief rest.
The boat sails back down stream, close to where we started but on the opposite shore to visit a small village of silver and copper smiths. We were tied to shore for this excursion and through until the next morning and you could go with or without a guide Into the village. If you have space in your luggage, bring school supplies such as note books and colouring pencils as there is a small school here that would appreciate it. The classroom looked to hold about 40 kids so bring lots if you can.
The kids selling the silver items are very good with English and salesmanship. I'm sure we paid more than we should have but the prices are so cheap and the kids so nice, it's not a big deal.
Our guide told us that if we didn't want to buy anything do not challenge the salesmanship skills of the sellers by saying, no thank you. That means, try harder, to the sales people. Simply ignore them and don't say anything. It's hard to do but it works.
Today we took a short bus, less than 1 hour to visit a Buddhist Monastery and be blessed by 2 monks. This was quite interesting. Everyone gathered around the sitting monks and sat on the carpet in front of them careful not to get within a meter (yard) or so. Hats off, arms and knees covered and no touching the monks. They chanted for 5 minutes or so and then threw Jasmin blossoms over/on us. We could then take pictures with the monks. After we had a tour of the Monestary, where they slept, ate, the laymen and nuns etc.
Then it was back to the ship for lunch and a short rest before the afternoon Ox Cart ride. Another short bus ride to a spot on the side of a small road where the Ox Carts were waiting. There isn't any suspension on the carts so you feel every crack in the road, fortunately it's not a long ride, maybe 20 minutes. 3 people per Ox cart including the driver.
As the Ox Carts are making there way down the dirt road we passed a school as class was dismissed (there are morning and afternoon classes that the kids attend 1 of), the kids must see this money train every week and ran right for us. We had a young girl walk beside us and chat with us, then she sang if you're happy and you know it clap your hands, that turned us to jelly pretty quick. She never asked for anything or put her hand out but we gave her an apple and $1 USD, she seemed happy about that. After that I stocked up with apples from the ship, the kids really liked them and were very appreciative. I asked her what her parents did, her Dad was a taxi driver and her Mom cut rice in the field. Our guide said taxi driving is a good job but the rice harvesting is only $4-$5 USD a day. The little girl wanted to be a rice harvester like her Mom. I felt kind of depressed after learning that.
Back onboard we were underway for Phnom Penh and our 3rd tour of the day, the Central Market. We had about an hour in the Central Market which is filled with everything you can imagine, clothes, jewelry, electronics, fresh crawling out of the pails food and flowers. We picked up a bouquet of flowers for our cabin for $5 USD.
Back to the ship and dinner and then a final unescorted trip to the Night Market. Transportation was provided both ways with pickup and drop off times noted in the lounge.
This was a full day.
Today we were off to the Killing Fields, it was a rather long bus ride as there were some demonstrations taking place on our route so we took a detour. Still the sights you see out the bus windows are just amazing, the little shop factories, markets, restaurants with impossibly small stools, the garbage everywhere, rice drying on huge mats in front of homes, so the time passes quickly.
The Killing Fields are smaller than I imagined having watched the movie of the same name. It's a very somber place, human bones and clothing poking up from the ground here and there. They are building a wooden walk way but for now we had to watch where we walked, not wanting to step on anybody. A large shrine housed many skulls categorized by how the victim was killed, hoe, club, cleaning rod and gun. We had about 30min to ourselves to wander the site and look at the various displays.
Back on the bus and we were headed to the Genocide Museum, formally prison S-21 In downtown Phenom Penh. How the bus drivers navigate in such congestion is beyond me. The scooters are like mosquitos, buzzing and beeping all around.
The prison was ok, lots of pictures of people that didn't have a natural end. Back on the bus and we arrived for a late lunch around 1pm.
The after lunch tour was of the Royal Palace, Golden Buddha and Silver Pagoda. It was scorching hot, I saved a couple of towels from the previous day and brought them with us in a baggy, really a relief in the heat.
Our only problem with the cruise
It was in Phnom Penh that the sister ship AmaLotus tied up beside us for a little over 24 hours. Unfortunately our cabin was facing the rear of the Lotus so it wasn't pretty or quiet with the engine or generator running day and night making it impossible to sit on our balcony with exhaust fumes as well. Other cabins on that side faced cabins from the other ship a mere 5' away so everyone kept their drapes drawn. The other side of the boat, all decks, sported a view of the underside of the pier, not so nice either.
I don't know if this happens every cruise or not.
After the Palace we were underway to the Vietnam border and Tan Chau. It was nice to sit down and relax after all the tours.
Enroute to Tan Chau
We cleared Vietnam customs last night, it was somewhat anticlimactic. After all the effort to get our Visa, we never saw an official. It looked like our passports were taken to shore by small boat, stamped and boated back.
Today's tour started with a shore launch boat ride to shore where bicycle rickshaws picked us up, 1 per rickshaw, for a ride to a silk factory. The silk factory tour was interesting and noisy but conveniently had a gift shop. Apparently Angelina Jolie had a dress made from the silk produced here. Back on the rickshaw to a rattan mat factory, no word on rattan mats at Brad and Angie's place. After a short walk we were on a small dock where the launch met us and returned us to the boat for lunch.
The afternoon while we were underway again, there was an exotic fruit tasting on the top deck including durian, jack fruit and a few others.
The last full day was an early start, up at 0600 for the launch to shore at 0815 and a visit of the market. Beautiful colors in the market, lots of variety including rats (to eat). Also visited the house from the movie The Lover, look for seats near a fan. This is how I picked all my seats during tours in hot climates, where's the fan?
We then boarded the bus again for an hour or so ride to the Vietcong HQ facility, basically bamboo huts in the jungle with black holes into the ground for bomb shelters. Lots of small ponds courtesy of US bombers during the Vietnam war. The trail was narrow and it was hot, if I had to pick a tour I wouldn't do, this would be it. There were actually nice big ponds and other things to see if you didn't want to hike the trail.
We were back on the boat for lunch and ready to go again for the afternoon tour of a floating market where the vendors advertise what they are selling by putting the produce on the end of a tall bamboo pole.
The tour also included a visit of a large Catholic Church, candy manufacturing and snake wine.
The morning of departure, bags were out in the hall by 0730 and we were on busses to Saigon by 0930 for an hour or so bus ride to the Sofitel Saigon.
This was one of the most photogenic vacations we have ever been on. There are pictures everywhere, scenery, kids, temples, monks, boats, scooters and animals.
The boat, only months old, was beautiful, wood everywhere, wonderful fixtures in the bathrooms, balconies for everyone and no ocean swells. The staff and food were excellent. The tours were extensive and well thought out.
Our cabin, 107, was on the lower deck about 3/4 of the way to the back. The lower deck isn't entirely a negative as you are almost eye level with the drivers of long tail boats zipping past, it makes for good photo ops as most wave back. The rooms are the smallest but still good size. All the rooms on the AmaDara have a balcony, our balcony was the smallest but still it was adequate for after dinner drinks. We had a seating area with a table and 2 chairs. There is also a French balcony right beside the regular balcony but we didn't use much as it was hot out. In fact there were alarms if you left your cabin door open.
We looked at upgrading to a suite as the boat was about 1/2 full a little over 60 guests (life boat drill head count) and the cost was significantly cheaper than purchasing a suite initially. But we decided against it as it would require 2 cabin upgrades for the other couple and we had already unpacked.
There is free wifi when the boat is within range of a cell tower which was most of the time, although it was never fast. The wifi antenna's are near the middle of the ship so if your room is towards the back the wifi will be weak to nonexistent. The wifi seemed to run out of steam by the time you reached cabin 111. If you have a suite, then you have your own wifi.