Coming in 2012: Avalon to Launch New-Build on the Mekong

November 2, 2011
tipping (11:40 a.m. EDT) -- Avalon Waterways is the latest line to cash in on the popularity of Asia's Mekong, by all accounts the river of the moment. Avalon's new 32-guest Avalon Angkor, featured in its Vietnam, Cambodia and China brochure, starts service in April 2012 and will be the line's first custom-built vessel to launch outside Europe. The vast Mekong is far from overcrowded, but it has certainly become fashionable. AmaWaterways has two ships there, La Marguerite and the new AmaLotus; Uniworld has introduced the new River Saigon; and Viking has announced the charter of RV Tonle from local company Pandaw River Cruises, which itself operates four other boats on the Mekong. True, the numbers are small (AmaLotus takes 124 passengers, making it the largest), but the fact that three years ago there were no major operators featuring the Mekong and now there are four is testament to the river's growing fame. All the lines offer pretty much the same itinerary, usually an extended tour taking in Hanoi, Siem Reap (for the Angkor Wat temple complex, Cambodia's biggest attraction) and Ho Chi Minh City in the south. Avalon's offering, though, is slightly different in that Avalon Angkor will be the first ship to cruise all the way between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap. Its rivals moor at Kampong Chhnang, at the southern end of the massive Tonle Sap lake, while Siem Reap lies at the northern end. Avalon's guests will therefore avoid up to seven hours in a coach as they'll sail the length of the lake. The basic itinerary is a 14-day tour including three nights in a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City; seven nights on the river; two nights in a hotel in Siem Reap; and one in Bangkok. Avalon does, however, offer Hanoi and the scenic Halong Bay, as well as a couple of days in Laos, all of which can be bolted on to the basic itinerary. Avalon Angkor is being built in the colonial style typical of the area, finished in brass and teak with wooden louvre shutters shading floor-to-ceiling windows in each stateroom. Cruises include most sightseeing, complimentary wine with dinner and from 2012, all gratuities on board. Prices start at £3,915 (for U.K. passengers, including flights) or $3,819 for U.S. passengers (excluding air). --by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor