Avalon Siem Reap exclusively sails the waterways of Southeast Asia in Vietnam and Cambodia, including the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers. At three decks -- only two of which are available to passengers -- it's one of the shorter riverboats that sails the area, generally enabling it to fit under bridges and power lines some other ships cannot. Accommodating only 36 passengers, Avalon Siem Reap provides an intimate sailing experience, and travelers quickly bond over the shared activities. Cruises feel personal and genuine.
The ship itself is clearly Asian in design, with art that reflects the region. Dark, manufactured wood floors as well as touches of genuine mahogany wood fill the public spaces and cabins, while linens and area rugs feature bold floral patterns. The ship is stunning and has passengers feeling comfortable and pampered at the same time. That's no accident; crew, including a dedicated cruise director who quickly will become your trusted go-to for everything, encourage a casual vibe. This starts with the shedding of shoes when you walk onboard. To preserve the gorgeous floors and cut down on tracking in all sorts of outdoor elements, passengers remove their shoes when they enter the ship, and crew members clean the soles, returning them later in the day. Most passengers wear socks, slippers or even go barefoot onboard. (It's a little odd at first, but by the end of your cruise, you'll be loath to wear actual shoes.)
The light-and-bright Panorama Lounge, along with its adjacent sun deck, are highlights onboard. The lounge space, with floor-to-ceiling windows all around it, is the spot for hanging out, especially when weather is too hot or wet. Passengers also lounge here to check the internet. Likewise, the sundeck is perfect for scenic cruising as well as catching the magnificent sunsets and sunrises over the waterways. Service in both spots is excellent; waiters know your drink order by the second day and intuitively have your beverage waiting for you. In fact, service all over the ship is wonderful, with staff comfortably interacting with passengers in a friendly yet respectful way. (Consequently, the ship's crew talent show feels more like a family reunion than a cheesy canned show.)
While the ship serves as the backdrop for a good portion of your vacation, the true star actually is the itinerary, which generally begins with a pre-cruise tour and ends with several days ashore as well. The tour program is smartly designed, with emphasis on seeing the big highlights -- Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields, for example -- as well as the opportunity to interact on a meaningful level with locals. You'll likely first meet your cruise director at your hotel. This is also where you'll meet your tour guides, who stay with you the entire time you're in their country. These individuals become essential to the cruise experience, sharing history, demographics and personal stories that help passengers better understand the region. Avalon has done an excellent job hiring skilled tour guides who speak excellent English and understand passenger questions, concerns and needs.
Cruises on Avalon Siem Reap are not designed for people with mobility issues. The itineraries aren't doable for anyone requiring a wheelchair, as roads and sidewalks (if destinations even have sidewalks) are pitted and broken, and they're often on uneven surfaces. Additionally, many excursions require getting into and out of unusual modes of transportation, such as ox carts, sampans and tuk tuks. The riverboat doesn't have an elevator, and even getting on and off the ship would be difficult for people who need wheelchairs or walkers.
Passengers on Avalon Siem Reap are generally 60-plus and are well traveled. You'll share a sense of adventure with your fellow passengers, who hail mostly from the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The environment fosters a multinational passenger experience, and tour guides make references in miles and kilometers, and pounds and kilograms, for example. English is the language onboard. During the summer and early fall, expect a more diverse section of passengers. In November and December, you'll find mostly Americans. Children are permitted to sail, but the length and intensity of the itineraries means kids onboard are rare.
Dress onboard Avalon Siem Reap is totally casual. In fact, you don't wear shoes most of the time; passengers instead opt for slippers or flip-flops at the request of Avalon staff trying to keep the ship's gorgeous wood floors clean. (Slippers or other clean shoes are required in the dining room.) During the day, when the boat is in port, passengers wear layers to keep the sun and bugs off. (Pack sunscreen and bugspray.) Shorts, pants, T-shirts, flip-flops or tennis shoes, dresses and skirts are all common. Keep in mind, visits to temples and palaces require passengers to have shoulders and knees covered, and a scarf thrown over a tank top isn't sufficient. Pack breezy linen pants, capris and blouses to ensure you adhere to the dress requirements. Onboard, comfort reigns supreme. Shorts and tees are acceptable at all times, even in the dining room. The ship is air-conditioned, so a light sweater or jacket is a solid accessory indoors.
Your cruise fare on Avalon Siem Reap covers your cruise, excursions and unlimited local beer and local spirits, soft drinks, coffee, tea and bottled water. It also covers wine at lunch and dinner. Your cocktails during the nightly cocktail hour also are covered. Confused as to what's included? The bartender and wait staff onboard will let you know if you order something that costs extra.
Items like spa treatments, gratuities, visa fees, airfare and transfers are not included. Avalon suggests you pay $7 to $9 per person per day for the cruise director as well as $10 to $12 per person per day for the ship's crew. You can prepay these before your trip via credit card, if you wish. Otherwise, you can pay onboard at the end of your trip by cash only. Spa treatments don't include gratuity, but plan to tip around 10 percent.
The U.S. dollar is the currency onboard, and it's widely accepted in ports throughout Cambodia and Vietnam. Bring crisp bills that don't have tears, holes or inkmarks on them to spend in port; many restaurants and vendors won't take blemished bills. You'll likely receive change in local currency; bring small bills so you aren't stuck with a pocketful of money you can't spend when you head home.
Avalon tips all drivers and guides for shore excursions, so you don't need to pull out cash at the end of a daytrip. Still, plan to have a few dollars handy for exceptional service (like when you're riding in a pedicab) or to donate to monks who perform blessings for passengers.
You're also on your own for buying school supplies for a visit with schoolchildren. (Purchasing school supplies is optional, but you'll feel out of place if you visit the school empty-handed. You can buy supplies in bigger cities rather than pack them from home.)