Most days include plenty of time on land, with the standard schedule including a morning tour, a return to the ship for a long lunch and an afternoon tour.
All shore excursions are included, most are half-day, and there are only a few days when there are options to choose from, most notably on the day when the main tour goes to the emotionally intense Cambodian Killing Fields, site of Pol Pot's holocaust.
Despite the fact that there are only ever a maximum of 124 passengers at any time, the passenger list is divided into four color groups, and you can choose to stay with your group for the duration of your trip, providing a continuity of guides and a chance to get to know a small group of passengers better. The cruise director does an excellent job of building up "team" spirit by playing danceable music for the groups to parade out of the lounge to for their tours each day.
Many of the tours include a walking element, and there are also plenty of opportunities to ride in tuk tuks and oxcarts as well. As this cruise sails through rural Vietnam and Cambodia, expect to see lots of rice paddies, small villages, silk-making businesses, temples and monasteries, and local food markets. Tour guides' lectures about the scenery and culture are broadcast to passengers wearing headsets so that other groups are not disturbed.
Passengers are offered bottles of water, umbrellas and ponchos each time they leave the ship, and glasses of fruit juice and cold towels when they return from excursions. When the river is too high or too low, people may be bused to some locations that can't be reached on the water, but the changes are made smoothly and passengers are given notice of the tweaks to the itinerary.
When there is downtown onboard, many passengers take the opportunity to rest and relax between tours. There are, however, some organized activities onboard as well.
Lectures and workshops are minimal on this cruise, and the most common activity is the meeting each evening to discuss the next day's activities, including a rundown of what you'll see and whether you'll need bug repellent and to cover your knees and shoulders at religious sites as well as a funny story or two from the cruise director. Other daytime activities include a rather forgettable cooking class (it's stand-and-stir style, rather than hands-on, and involves no tastings), a geography lesson, an impressive scarf-tying class and a napkin-folding class.
Each evening, after dinner, most passengers gather in the lounge for a drink, and the ship offers small-scale entertainment that ranges from karaoke to a crew talent show. The crew does the best that they can with little resources onboard -- there are no singers or dancers on river ships in Asia as you might find on some European cruises, but there is a piano and lighting. Mornings include an early start every day so at night the ship is always quiet by midnight and usually most guests have retired by 11 p.m.
There are two bars onboard, one indoor and one outdoor, and both are located in multipurpose spaces that tend to have a traffic flow whenever guests are onboard. Both spaces have Wi-Fi as well.
Saigon Lounge (Deck #2): This lounge, which is used for daytime lectures and port talks as well as evening cocktails and post-dinner entertainment, is the beating heart of the ship. Passengers stroll in and out throughout the day for complimentary drinks (including coffee and tea, soft drinks, espresso drinks, and local beers) and for-a-fee cocktails and wine. Throughout the day, there is a table of snacks, including fruit, cookies and crackers, and during mealtimes you'll find some sandwiches or other light fare for those who choose to skip the meal in the Mekong Restaurant. In the evening before dinner, you'll also find trays of a complimentary cocktail of the day, which tends to be some sort of fruit-and-rum punch, though the drink itself changes daily. This space also includes a small library of books, including popular guidebooks to the regions visited on the cruise.
Sun Deck Bar (Deck #3): This bar, located behind the pool, has plenty of lounge-style sectional seating and cafe tables as well as chaise loungers facing the water. The Sun Deck Bar also serves complimentary drinks and for-a-fee cocktails, as well as a snack menu of light alternatives at lunchtime, such as Reuben sandwiches, chicken burritos, chilled papaya soup, Caesar salads, and cheeseburgers. On one day per sailing, it is also home to the deck-top Asian fruit tasting, a chef-hosted afternoon of explanations and samples of every single fruit you might find in the local markets, from custard apples to even the dreaded Durian.
On the sun deck, you'll find a small pool as well as a wide selection of lounge chairs. On sunny days, passengers do gravitate toward the area when there is downtime onboard.
There is a friendly staff at the reception desk, a tiny "library" in the lounge, a couple of computers for use and a gift shop full of the kinds of items people buy on land in this part of the world, including silk scarves, raw silk pillow cases, chopstick sets and "elephant"-style pants in busy patterns. There is no self-serve laundry onboard, but there is the option of sending out your washing and dry cleaning for a small fee. Wi-Fi is complimentary throughout the ship.
Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh, Tan Chau, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh, Tan Chau, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
The onboard spa has three treatment rooms and a hair salon, but it is very popular despite its size. Prices would be high compared to what you find on land here, but they're a steal compared to the rates charged in most people's hometowns. The menu includes massages ($45 for 60 minutes), facials ($30 for 60 minutes), manicures and pedicures ($45 combined), and blow outs ($15). We heard passengers rave about the scalp massage that came with the blow out, and we loved our massage but felt our facial would have benefited for some (well, any!) discussion of our skin and the process.
There is also a small gym onboard with a couple of cardio machines and a weight machine, as well as daily fitness classes on deck, including stretching, yoga and resistance band classes, all of which get a substantial turnout that reflects a demographic shift toward retired travelers' increased appreciation of fitness. Unlike on AmaWaterways European itineraries, there are no bikes offered on the Mekong, and the line representatives say that it is because of unpredictable traffic patterns and the poorly maintained road quality in the region.
Children must be 4 years old to travel on AmaWaterways in Asia, and while sailing with children between the ages of 4 and 7 years old is not recommended, we have seen families with quieter children sail onboard and really enjoy the experience. There are no special activities designed for kids, and the children who do sail tend to be well-behaved and well-traveled. And while there are also no special children's menus, the kitchen is always happy to whip up something special -- from burgers and fries (served in cute little metal fryer baskets) to chicken fingers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or spaghetti and meatballs -- for kids who aren't happy with the choices on the menu.