Angkor Pandaw Entertainment & Activities
All excursions, typically one each morning and afternoon, are included in the cruise fare. In keeping with Pandaw's expeditionary philosophy, outings to villages or small towns are subject to change based on water levels and weather conditions. Each passenger is given a headset and amplification device for use during tours, as well as an aluminum water bottle, which can be refilled from a cooler on deck. Local snacks (from a cup of rice wine to sticky rice sweets) are offered, with lunches served back on the ship.
During the low-water itinerary, which concentrates more on the lower Red River Delta, many destinations are reached by motor coach with travel times of up to 45 minutes each way. Among the notable exceptions: a stroll through the riverside village of Thanh Ha to watch a performance of water puppets, a tradition that started along the Red River in the 11th century.
The high-water version substitutes time in Ninh Binh province -- where passengers take buses to reach the 19th-century Catholic Phat Diem Cathedral (an imposing blend of Vietnamese and European architecture), a village dedicated to making crafts from bamboo and a boat ride to a limestone cave -- for a full day spent cruising the scenic Da River through a thickly forested national park.
All itineraries include a day in Hanoi, where the ship docks near the city center. Excursions there include a walking tour of the Old Quarter (complete with a stop for a reviving glass of strong Vietnamese coffee) and visits by bus to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Temple of Literature and the Hoa Lo Prison, better known as the "Hanoi Hilton."
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Formal activities are limited, with passengers preferring to gather in the spacious open-air lounge for reading and predinner conversation (when the purser explains the next day's schedule and the bartender serves two different appetizers and his special cocktail of the day).
Local dancers perform onboard on embarkation night in Viet Tri and Hoa Binh, and a lion dance and drumming troupe gives a shoreside send-off as Angkor Pandaw leaves the ceramic-making village of Bat Trang near Hanoi. The ship's Vietnamese and Cambodian staff contribute informal songs, and Vietnam-themed films (including such classics as "Indochine," "The Quiet American" and "Good Morning, Vietnam") are shown in the dining room after dinner. A trip highlight, weather permitting, is a private beach party on one of the nearly 2,000 limestone islands in gorgeous Halong Bay.
One of the ship's Vietnamese guides (there are two on every sailing when the passenger count is 17 or more) delivers an enlightening slideshow and lecture on the country's history, enhanced by his personal experiences growing up in the former South Vietnam. Along with a fruit carving demo, the chef gives hands-on tips on how to make fresh spring rolls. (Two takeaways: Use a dampened cloth napkin as a base, and be sure to moisten the rice wrapper with sufficient water.) There's also a brief ship tour, which gives passengers a chance to chat with the captain about the challenges of navigating such a busy waterway.
Angkor Pandaw Outside Recreation
Public outdoor space is restricted to the upper of the ship's two decks. At the bow, passengers can stretch out in one of eight cushioned teak loungers, though they don't get much use in windy weather. Midship, between an enclosed dining room at the stern and a bar area, an open-air covered area provides seating for 36 divided among chaise lounges and groups of comfy wicker chairs and couches.
Angkor Pandaw Services
The ship's small, self-service bar, located on the top deck behind the open-air lounge, is open 24 hours a day and also serves as a reception area and gift shop stocked with a few fair-trade items and Pandaw logo clothing. An adjacent bookcase includes current paperbacks and classics; Wi-Fi is free, though connections are often spotty. There is no self-service laundry, but next-day laundry and pressing service is available and costs a reasonable $1 to $3 per item.