Viking Mekong is completely different from the river line's signature Longships. The ship is styled like a traditional French Colonial riverboat, and it feels more like an oversized yacht than a cruise ship, thanks to gleaming mahogany and teak and polished brass accents. It also feels older than it is, which is probably by design -- the simplicity of Viking Mekong melds well with its environment. A bright, shiny white ship would look completely out of place gliding past the stilt houses and sampans (flat-bottomed boats) along the Mekong. In this way, the riverboat complements its itinerary.
On a ship with just 60 passengers, cruisers will get to know each other quickly. Staterooms are fairly basic, which lures cruisers out into inviting, open spaces like the Sun Deck, which offer a better way to mix and mingle. Deck chairs line the Sun Deck, some with shade and some exposed to sunlight, offering great views of life on the river. Although cabins have balconies, they're not really usable, since they're fairly narrow and, during the day, they get really hot.
Although the ship is pretty basic, the service is anything but. Crewmembers -- mostly Cambodian -- are unfailingly friendly. They greet you with a genuine smile, learn your name almost immediately and go out of their way to make sure you're comfortable. For example, our room steward overheard we liked chocolate (not a common treat in this part of the world) and made sure there was a little tray of sweets in our cabin every day.
Public areas include the dining room, a forward saloon, a small spa and a lecture room/movie room. Savvy passengers make it a point to get to the lecture room early to scope out prime seats with unobstructed views. During the day, everyone disembarks for at least one guided shore tour, often with a return to the ship for lunch before going out again in the afternoon. There is only one day spent floating along the river on this itinerary, so it's a fairly active schedule all in all.
This isn't the right cruise for those with mobility issues; since many destinations have no designated docking ports, a temporary gangplank or small sampan is used for access to land. Also, there is no elevator on the Viking Mekong. The ship is small, though, so you won't do much walking while aboard.
Passengers are typically in the 55- to 65-year-old range, with a smattering of slightly younger and older passengers. Most are retired. On most sailings, about 80 percent of passengers are from the U.S., followed by the U.K., Canada and Australia. Most people have taken at least one other river cruise before tackling the Mekong, and you'll hear stories of the Danube and the Rhine at dinner. Passengers are typically folks who have traveled extensively and don't mind the physical effort it takes to see some of the glorious temples and exquisite monasteries on the agenda. The searing heat and humidity are not to be taken lightly here, either. If you do not tolerate heat well, this isn't the cruise for you.
Dress aboard and ashore is casual, and dinner attire is "evening casual," meaning nice pants and a collared shirt for men and a simple dress or slacks and a pretty top at dinner for women. The same holds true for dinners ashore. The main consideration is dressing suitably for visits to religious sites, where respectful attire is a must. At Angkor Wat, for example, women are required to wear tops with sleeves (a scarf covering the shoulders is not acceptable),no short skirts and nothing too revealing or in bad taste (such as a T-shirt with a cheeky slogan). It will be hot, so bring light clothing and a hat with a brim. Wicking fabrics are a great idea, as well as loose-fitting pants and flowy dresses. A light rain shell is also handy in this tropical climate. Sports sandals are a good choice for exploring the uneven grounds and steep staircases at the temples. There's no need to bring heels or dressy shoes.