A Journey on the Mekong: What to Expect from a Scenic River Cruise in South East Asia

Plunging through the exotic landscapes of Vietnam and Cambodia, the Mekong River is the physical and spiritual lifeblood of this dramatic corner of South East Asia, bringing life to the thousands of people who live simply on its banks.

Despite being the 12th longest river in the world, the banks of the Mekong remain shrouded in mystery and exoticism. This is a place littered with ancient temples and pagodas, where primordial forests provide shelter for countless different species of wildlife. And yet to the people who live here, the river is their complete way of life, just as it was for the ancestors who came before them.

At Scenic, we want our luxury journeys on the Mekong River to reflect and showcase the incredible cultures, traditions and customs which live out on the banks of this enigmatic waterway — giving you an authentic and genuine travel experience you’ll treasure for a lifetime.

mekong luxury river cruise

To allow you to experience life on the Mekong with Scenic, we’ve enlisted the help of travel expert, Dave Pryde, who recently joined us for a luxury river cruise on this treasured Asian waterway. Dave travelled from My Tho, Vietnam to the Cambodian capital of Siem Reap on board our luxury river ship, Scenic Spirit, discovering for himself the exotic wonders of the Mekong and of course, our extra special signature all-inclusive service.

Dave was kind enough to share his adventures along the Mekong with us. Read on to discover what a luxury river cruise along this magical river has in store.

A Journey on the Mystical Waters of the Mekong

Our journey with Scenic began aboard a luxury coach, for a two-hour drive south to My Tho, where we would board the Scenic Spirit. It was a very picturesque drive through endless rice fields, and the high-quality coach and motorway made a big difference to the journey. As we reached the port, the sheer scale of the Mekong Delta was mind-blowing. I hadn’t realised just how big this river was, and the volume of water and scale of the delta is second only to the Amazon.

Once we’d reached our boarding point, it was time to step on board the 5-star ship that we’d be calling home for the next 8 days — and what a stunner she is, too. Our ‘welcome on board’ cocktail set us up for a nice evening sail, and we left My Tho at around 5 o’clock for our cruise to the province of Cai Be.

mekong luxury river cruise

Once the sailing got underway, there was a Sunset Cocktail reception and our Cruise Director, Paula, introduced herself and all of the key staff, from the Captain to the Head Chef. Then it was G&T time, before a sumptuous buffet dinner that was to be the first of several excellent meals enjoyed on board Scenic Spirit over the course of our river cruise. We anchored at Cai Be at 8.00 p.m., and the evening was all about getting to know our fellow travellers — some of whom quickly became close friends.

The next morning demanded an early breakfast, as our first excursion was due to commence at 8.00 a.m. There are three sampans attached to the Scenic Spirit, and these are used as the tenders to get to shore.

Firstly, we went to the famous Cai Be floating markets; they start at 4.00 am every day, and every conceivable fruit, vegetable and fish can be procured here — some of which we’d never seen before. The colour, vibrancy and general bustle of this unique market made for an incredible spectacle, and one we’ll surely never forget.

The next stop on the day’s itinerary was a visit to a traditional Vietnamese homestead, which had been carefully preserved to reflect its French Colonial heritage. The cultural sightseeing didn’t end there, either, and the next couple of hours were spent exploring the various authentic cottage industries in the area. During our visit, we got the chance to sample the local ‘Snake Wine’, which, despite the cobra staring back at you from within the jar, actually tasted surprisingly good!

mekong luxury river cruise

After another exceptional lunch back on board our ship, we were off again, this time to another ancient house supposedly made famous in a movie called ‘The Lover’ (though we’d never heard of it). This was another fascinating visitor attraction, full of some amazing artefacts and furniture that gave you a sense of what life was like over a hundred years ago in this unique part of the world.

We then walked through the ‘Wet Markets’, and what an experience it was. The vast array of food and produce on show was mind boggling, with frogs, mice and even chicken feet among some of the more exotic cuisines on offer.

The next day, it was time for another excursion, this time to Tra Su Forest, a bird sanctuary which is home to a huge and diverse range of species. We were treated to a 45-minute journey up one of the huge tributaries of the Mekong in a very fast speedboat — a thrill enough in itself. We then boarded a bus for the last leg to our destination.

What followed was a one-kilometre walk through a beautiful forest, where we boarded flat-bottomed motorboats to transport us through the wetlands. After half an hour or so, we were moved into an even smaller, three-man craft with an oarsman (or in our case, oarswoman) so we could glide through the dense forest even more quietly, so as not to disturb the birdlife. As well as exotic birds there were also hundreds of different kinds of butterflies, making for an absolutely fantastic experience — words and pictures simply don’t do it justice.

Back on board, I opted for a very interesting tour of the galley with the Head Chef. It was a real eye-opener to see the limited space they have at their disposal considering the quality of cuisine they create and produce. The whole thing was set up and run like a military operation, giving me a newfound respect for the chefs who work so hard to deliver exceptional food day after day.

mekong luxury rive cruise

That evening, the entertainment was a traditional Vietnamese ‘Lion Dance’ performed by a local troop of young lads whose energy and enthusiasm in the 90-degree plus heat was bewildering. We then enjoyed a sumptuous ‘Farewell Vietnam Gala Dinner’, and as we sat down for the first course, we set sail for Cambodia and our first stop, the capital, Phnom Penh.

Our last night on board the sumptuous Scenic Spirit was in Kampong Cham. In the morning, it was another beautiful sunrise and an early start as we prepared for the last leg of our trip and the bus journey to Siem Reap. But the day couldn’t have got off to a worse start – the main zip on one of our suitcases broke! Thankfully, the Scenic crew went to great lengths to ensure it was all safely tied up, transferred and stored in the luggage compartment on board the coach, really helping to put our minds at rest.

As there were only 18 on board our bus and it was a 40+ seater, there was plenty of room to spread out for the long journey north. As always, passenger comfort is the number one priority when travelling with Scenic, and the staff ensured there were plenty of stops along the way. During the journey, we stopped off at an amazing Stone Cutter’s village where the carvings can fetch up to 10,000 US dollars — hardly surprising when you see the work that goes into making them. Another memorable stop was at Naga Bridge. The bridge dates from 12th Century, and although it’s showing its age, it’s still quite the spectacle.

On arrival into Siem Reap, we were taken for a slap-up lunch at a local restaurant, and then it was a short transfer to the Park Hyatt Hotel to say goodbye to our fellow cruisers. Before we could leave, however, the staff once again went out of their way to ensure we got to a local store to buy a replacement suitcase, a sign of outstanding customer service. I even managed to ‘negotiate’ a deal based on their advice that nothing should be purchased at the first price quoted — a little touch, but one that demonstrates that having a little local knowledge can go a long way.

siem reap

And so our time with Scenic was over. It’s a real challenge for me to try to convey in words our thoughts and memories of this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. They truly are masters at making you feel incredibly special and valued, and genuinely cater for your every need. I can’t remember the last time I ever gave a straight ten out of ten for customer feedback, but feel that every single star is earned and thoroughly deserved in this instance.

If you want to see Vietnam and Cambodia in style, this is the way to go — you will not find better. Our sincere thanks to Paula and all of the staff on board the Scenic Spirit – they are a true credit to the company.

We’d like to thank Dave for sharing his experiences on board the Scenic Spirit, and look forward to hosting him again in the future. If you’d like to follow in Dave’s footsteps and embark on a once in a lifetime journey on the great Mekong River, click here to browse our collection of luxury river cruises in Asia, or call the Scenic team today on 0808 159 6409 to find out more.

Laura Barlow-Edwards
Laura Barlow-Edwards
Laura is Scenic's Digital Marketing Exec. She loves travel; her first river cruise was on the Danube, and she fell in love with Budapest at first sight. In her free time, Laura is usually reading, travel blogging, or planning her next adventure.