You'll take at least one shore excursion every day on Avalon Siem Reap, and on many days, two excursions. All excursions are included in the price of your cruise fare. The first excursion will take place right after breakfast, the second usually after lunch. Most excursions will get you back to the boat to have meals onboard, if you desire. Because there are only 36 passengers onboard, everyone participates in the same excursions. The group size makes it mostly manageable, though in some cases you'll feel a bit crowded.
The variety of excursions is excellent, with some tours done by bus to visit temples and others dropping you off right in the heart of towns and villages. Having mobility is a must for almost every excursion. You'll be climbing steps, walking on dirt or pitted roads, and climbing into and out of various modes of transportation, such as tuk tuks, pedicabs, motor scooters and ox carts. There's always a "gentle walking" option, but even this one requires the ability to take stairs and navigate through sometimes tricky passages and difficult terrain.
* May require additional fees
A local guide leads you on your excursion, and he or she will stay with you the entire time you're in the country. (If your cruise takes you to Cambodia and Vietnam, you'll have one Cambodian guide, then one Vietnamese guide, or vice versa.) Your cruise director also joins you on every excursion, so you'll always have at least two people guiding you. Passengers wear earpieces, and guides speak into a microphone so even at the back, people can hear what's going on.
Excursions take you to the biggest sites, like Angkor Wat in Siem Reap or the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, but they also take you to small villages to learn about how locals live and work. You'll visit bustling markets, schools and silversmith shops. You'll learn how artisans ply their trade and how English is taught to 80 children of various ages. These excursions will make you feel like a traveler who has gained great knowledge and intimate insight into Southeast Asia and its people. The favorite on our cruise was a visit with schoolchildren learning English; passengers read texts with the kids and helped them with their pronunciation. It ended with a sharing of songs.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Entertainment onboard Avalon Siem Reap takes place a couple of times each trip, and it often overlaps with the enrichment program. Movies -- documentaries or Hollywood films -- are shown once or twice, and popcorn and refreshments are offered. (Don't be surprised when a few passengers fall asleep during the films, a sign of a day well spent.) A crew talent show is a must see, and the dance party is also fun though will totally depend on the mix of your passenger group. Otherwise, there's the nightly cocktail hour.
Enrichment is where the programming on Avalon Siem Reap excels. Each night, an enrichment activity is offered. One night, it might be a visit from orphans who perform a cultural dance, and a demonstration on the myriad uses for scarves in Cambodian society another. All of the enrichment activities are well thought out, with the aim being to provide passengers a deeper understanding of the area's culture. Passengers on our sailing commented that the variety of enrichment options was exceptional, and they appreciated the opportunity to learn about things like traditional Apsara Cambodian dancing. Audience participation is encouraged, but not in the heavy-handed way that can make shy Westerners uncomfortable.
When guests are brought onboard to entertain, plan to have some small bills for tipping. While Avalon says it's not required, virtually every passenger opts to give a little something at the end.
Because the itineraries offered on Avalon Siem Reap put passengers in port early every day and have them doing tours in the morning and afternoon, the nightlife onboard is relatively sedate. Many passengers head to bed right after dinner or after a quick nightcap. Still, those who stay up head to the Panorama Lounge, where service is extraordinarily friendly and prompt.
The Panorama Lounge (Deck 2): You'll find only one lounge onboard, and it's open from early in the morning until the evening. Essentially, if passengers are awake, it's open. Floor-to-ceiling windows surround the large lounge, which feels light and airy. Beige chairs and serene yellow banquettes are topped with pretty green floral pillows. Low, glass-topped tables are set so passengers can casually chat between meals or at cocktail hour, which runs from 6 to 7 each night. A small, curved wooden bar sits at the rear port (left) side. The space is comfortable, and passengers, who tend to be social, gather here throughout the day.
In the morning, it's the spot to grab coffee, tea or a pastry before breakfast. In the afternoon (or often in the late morning), passengers gather here ahead of lunch to grab a beer. Before dinner, the space hosts a cocktail hour, where hors d'oeuvres are served while the cruise director goes over the next day's agenda. After dinner, it occasionally hosts entertainment events, like movies (with popcorn!).
Avalon Siem Reap has one sun deck, located at the very front of the ship on Deck 2. The area is covered to protect passengers from sun and rain, both of which are quite common on all itineraries. Passengers can relax on wicker chairs and wooden loungers, topped with green cushions, while ceiling fans cool things down. The sun deck is the best spot to catch the sun rising or setting over the river. The space is used more lightly than the adjacent Panorama Lounge, perhaps because the heat can get somewhat intense there. Waiters and waitresses swing by occasionally to offer drinks, but it's just as efficient to visit the bar and order.
The ship has a reception desk, located on Deck 2, where passengers can make spa appointments, settle up their bills and generally ask questions. In the Panorama Lounge, you'll find a small selection of fiction books, games and a daily roundup of the international news. The "library" also offers a limited number of books related to history of the region.
The ship doesn't have a laundry facility, but passengers can send out items for laundering and pressing at a per-item cost. The ship has no internet cafe, but Wi-Fi, though naturally spotty because of the remote itineraries, is complimentary and available in the public spaces onboard. It's especially poor when multiple passengers are trying to log on at once, so if staying connected is a must, plan to get up early or stay up late. A small shelving unit stuffed with goods for sale -- jewelry, handbags, cards, wood-carved puzzles and jewelry boxes -- is located on Deck 2. Pay for your purchases at the reception desk. You can also borrow a USB drive loaded with movies such as "Good Morning Vietnam," and "The Killing Fields," from reception. The drive plugs into the USB slot of your in-cabin TV.
There is a small spa room on Deck 2 of Avalon Siem Reap. Here, passengers can book services such as massage, foot reflexology, pedicures and manicures, and facials. The spa can only accommodate one passenger at a time, so appointments are a must and should be booked around shore excursions. Prices are much less than you'll pay at resorts in the U.S. but more expensive than the dirt-cheap options on land in Cambodia or Vietnam. Make appointments via a sign-up sheet at the reception area on Deck 2. Tip your massage therapist in cash at the end of your treatment. Avalon suggests roughly 10 percent. Be aware: The massage is along the lines of what you'd get in Asia, so areas not routinely massaged in Western treatments -- stomach and buttocks -- for example, are massaged on Avalon Siem Reap. If you're not comfortable with being massaged in an area, just tell your therapist.
Avalon Siem Ream has a small fitness center that accommodates two to three people at once. The little-used space is adequate for the size of the ship. It includes one treadmill, one recumbent exercise bike, a number of yoga mats, dumbbells up to 12 pounds and exercise bands. Water and cold towels are provided. It's open from early in the morning till late at night. On our cruise, those looking to spread out a bit did open-air yoga on the sun deck in the mornings.
Kids can sail on Avalon Siem Reap, but it's rare to see any onboard. The ship has no children's facilities or programming, nor does it provide a special menu for kids. The programming and itineraries are geared toward mature travelers, and only those children with a more adult mindset will enjoy cruising on Avalon Siem Reap. There are no connecting cabins, nor are there cabins that accommodate more than two people.