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Pandaw River Cruises Restarts

Pandaw River Cruises Restarts

By Heidi Sarna.

Note: This article was updated Oct 16, 2020, with new 2021 restart dates.

A specialist and pioneer in river cruises in southeast Asia for more than 25 years, Pandaw River Cruises paused its operations when the COVID19 pandemic hit in March, and is now gearing up to restart its wonderfully quirky and charming river cruises in July (2021) in six countries.

Pandaw’s fleet of 17 colonial-style teak riverboats were built in Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos in the spirit of the 19th-century Scottish-crafted paddle steamers that plied Burma’s rivers at the height of the British Empire.

Each boat carries 10 to 60 passengers and has an ultra-shallow draft, two or three decks, and flat tops so they can slip under bridges and easily navigate small rivers, even when water levels are low. Wood-paneled nautical-style cabins are roomy and very comfortable and tasty meals reflect local flavors.

Pandaw River Cruises Restarts

Pandaw has a fleet of 17 colonial-style teakwood riverboats. * Photo: Pandaw

SPECIAL OFFER: QuirkyCruise readers who book any 2021 or 2022 Pandaw river cruise (except India) by Jan 31, 2021, can avail of a FREE free-flow drinks package, for each person in the booking party. It’s a $80 USD value for 7-night cruise and $115 USD value for 10-night cruises. Mention code QCDrinks when booking. The drinks package includes unlimited soft drinks, beers, cocktails & spirits (not wines). More details in video below:

The Pandaw Back Story

The company was founded in 1995 by Scotsman and Burma historian Paul Strachan with the re-building of an original Clyde-built steamer called PANDAW 1947, one of the last boats built for the original Irrawaddy Flotilla Company founded by Scots merchants in 1865.

The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company was once the finest river fleet in the world with some 500 vessels that carried passengers and cargo, from bags of rice to blocks of jade, silk, tobacco and whisky, on Burma’s Irrawaddy and other rivers from the 1860s until the Japanese invasion in WWII when the British scuttled virtually the entire fleet to keep it out of enemy hands.

Family-run Pandaw was the first company to offer expeditions on both the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers and continues to stay true to its mission of building smaller ships, even as other companies build bigger ones, to offer river adventures in remote areas, especially in Myanmar and more recently in Laos.

READ more about the line here.

Pandaw River Cruises Restarts in September

Pandaw River Cruises restarts in September. * Photo: Pandaw River Cruises

2021 Start dates for Pandaw River Cruises

Burma/Myanmar River Cruising

Irrawaddy River in Burma — September 25, 2021
* The 7-night Irrawaddy “Mandalay Pagan Packet” starts at $1,885 USD per person

Chindwin River in Burma — September 4, 2021
* The 7-night “Chindwin” expedition starts at $3,307 USD per person

RELATED: An Irrawaddy River Adventure.  by Heidi Sarna

Pandaw Sagaing Myanmar

Beauty in Sagaing, Myanmar. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Vietnam Cruising

Red River & Halong Bay in Vietnam  — July 27, 2021
* The 10-night “Halong Bay & Red River” adventure starts at $3,069 USD per person

Pandaw River Cruises restarts in Halong Bay

Angkor Pandaw in Halong Bay. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Mekong River Cruising

Mekong River in Cambodia & Vietnam — August 7, 2021
* The 7-night “Classic Mekong between Siem Reap & Saigon” starts at $2,596 USD per person

Mekong River in Laos — Oct 15, 2021
* The 10-night “Upper Mekong in Laos” expedition starts at $3,924 USD per person

RELATED: Slowly Down the Mekong.  by Heidi Sarna

RELATED: A Mekong River Cruise in Cambodia & Vietnam.  by Ted Scull

India

Ganges & Brahmaputra Rivers in India — October 2021
* The 7-night “Lower Ganges” cruise starts at $3,069 USD per person
* The 7-night “Brahmaputra” cruise starts at $2,861 USD per person

Pandaw does the Brahmaputra River

Beauty on the Brahmaputra River. * Photo: Venkatesh Kolappa

Flexible Booking Options

For new bookings, Pandaw requires just a $100 deposit to secure a cabin between now and September 1, 2020. On their website, Pandaw says: “This means that you can book now to get a guaranteed cabin but if you change your mind for whatever you can walk away without too much of a hit. If you want to go ahead with the trip then we will ask you to make up the deposit to the usual amount by 1st September 2020 (or balance if due beforehand).”

Further, if you make a booking for next season and then, for whatever reason, want to change the date of travel or the routing, Pandaw will transfer any monies paid as a credit to another date or route within 12 months of that sailing date without penalty, subject to availability of a cabin.

Like other travel companies, Pandaw is continuously monitoring the situation and will decide at least 30 days prior to departure if operation is possible, if borders are open and if it’s safe to travel.

Read more here.

Health & Safety Protocols

To ensure maximum safety for all Pandaw guests and crew, Pandaw has just released an outline of its health and safety measures created by Pandaw senior management and based on the current available guidelines of the WHO as well as on the regulations of the individual countries involved.

General rules for social distancing entail new operational procedures on board to ensure a minimum distance of 2.0 meters(6.5ft) between each person. Passengers are required to wear face masks (covering mouth and nose) in public areas onboard if the required minimum distance is not possible. Further, crew will forego usual welcome rituals such as shaking hands, etc. until further notice.

More details are below; click on image to access full report.

Pandaw health protocols

Pandaw health protocols, CLICK IMAGE

QuirkyCruise Review

 

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Scenic Spirit Reader Review

Reader Review: Scenic Spirit.

REVIEWER

Walt Bruyns/Jan Hayes from Canada.

CRUISE LINE

Scenic.

SHIP

Scenic Spirit.

DESTINATION

Cambodia/Vietnam.

# OF NIGHTS

7.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

October 2018, from Siem Reap, Cambodia.

OVERALL RATING

5 out of 5 stars (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 5

-Cabin Rating: 5

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 5

HAVE YOU BEEN ON A SMALL SHIP CRUISE BEFORE?

I’ve been on 5 small ship cruises.

REVIEW

On board the Scenic Spirit, the staff was friendly, attending to all our needs. The cabin was well laid out with the bedroom separated from the sitting area; it had everything we needed and our cabin attendant was efficient.  The pace of the cruise as well as the itinerary was terrific…… Stopping along the way was well planned and thoroughly enjoyable.  The Mekong River is one of the most scenic rivers of the world and the scenery showed well from the Spirit; we saw some great sunsets. Having travelled with Scenic before, we expected a great trip…….and we got it!

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Mekong River Cruise with Scenic.

By Heidi Sarna.

My first Mekong River cruise a decade ago was with Pandaw, a pioneer of Southeast Asia river cruising and one of my favorite small-ship cruise lines.

They offer a casual old-world experience aboard traditionally-designed boats built with lots of teak and open decks to resemble classic Scottish-built Irrawaddy River paddle steamers from a century ago.

In recent years, more river boats — many of them quite luxurious — have entered the waters of Southeast Asia. One of the companies is Scenic.

Last October, I cruised the Mekong River from Cambodia into Vietnam with Scenic aboard the all-suite 68-passenger Scenic Spirit — by far my poshest Mekong River experience — complete with an onboard spa and mini swimming pool.

Scenic Spirit's outdoor pool with Mekong views

Hard to believe a 68-passenger river boat has a pool and a spa! Lov’in it! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

My friend Sheila and I thoroughly enjoyed our 10 days of pampering and adventure. Scenic smartly combines its 7-night Mekong cruises with a 3-night hotel/tour pre- or post-cruise package in Siem Reap to see the temples of Angkor Wat.

Tuk tuk ride in Cambodia

Heidi & Sheila’s Mekong River cruise adventure!

Thinking about taking a high-end Mekong River cruise?

Here are 15 reasons to choose Scenic!

The Immersive Excursions

The whole point of a Southeast Asia river cruise is to learn something, see something, and feel something. Scenic’s daily excursions, usually one in the morning and another after lunch (often with multiple choices), range from temple and monastery visits to walks through rural villages.

There are strolls through eye-opening, nostril-shocking open-air markets selling fresh everything; jaunts on motorized wooden sampans to soak up life on the river; and adventurous rides in tuk-tuk cycle rickshaws.

wet market in Cambodia

Wet markets in Cambodia and Vietnam are an experience! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Angkor Wat Temple Complex 

One of the world’s most coveted travel sites, parts of the world-famous temple complex in Siem Reap, Cambodia, date back more than 1,000 years. With its intricate carvings, jungle setting and hauntingly beautiful ruinous visage, the temples of Angkor Wat inspire awe, wonder and gratitude for anyone fortunate enough to visit. Three days in Siem Reap, based in a luxury hotel, is part of the package.

Ankgor Wat is included in many Mekong River Cruises

The stunning Angkor Wat complex. * Photo: Sheila Healey

The Pagodas

A Mekong River cruise in Cambodia and Vietnam is a journey rich in gilded Buddhist sanctuaries, alternatively called temples, shrines and pagodas. Some are grand and topped with massive roofs and ornate glittering interiors covered with intricate murals. Others are humbler, with aging wood, faded paint and crumbling stupas; they’re part of the everyday village tableau, complete with sleeping dogs and playing children.

A gilded pagoda on a Mekong River Cruise

A grand gilded monastery in Cambodia near the Mekong River. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Sampan Rides

Most days, excursions involved transferring from the Scenic Spirit, whether anchored mid-river or tied up to a tree along the river banks, to a local motorized sampan. Some were wooden, and all had the requisite evil eye painted on the bow to ward off danger. Zipping up and down the river in these boats afforded us close up views of the river banks, to see women washing clothes at the water’s edge and children splashing and waving. We saw lone figures in conical hats fishing from small skiffs and families living aboard squat cargo barges, laundry flapping across the stern, motoring past with loads of sand, gravel, rice and watermelons.

sampan excursions on a Mekong River cruise

Most excursions involved traveling by sampan, which allowed us up close views of life and commerce on the river. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Sunsets

It seemed we were treated to soul-stirring sunsets nearly every day of the cruise, and some morning sunrises were equally as jaw-dropping. With our suite’s huge windows that could be opened with the touch of a button, we could take amazing photos and videos with very little effort! Or if we felt more ambitious, Scenic Spirit’s expansive top deck was an excellent perch to soak up a fiery sunset melting into the Mekong.

Great views of a sunset over the Mekong River.

The all-suite Scenic Spirit affords stunning views of sunrises and sunsets over the Mekong. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

AND, our days at Angkor Wat included a sunrise visit, which turned out to be a mind-blowing pinky-purply stunner. We stood in awe watching the morphing color, thanking our lucky stars for the opportunity to witness such a spectacular natural wonder.

Angkor Wat at Sunrise on a Mekong River cruise

Angkor Wat at sunrise blew us away! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The All-Inclusive Fares

An impressive repertoire of excursions, from walking, speedboat and motor-coach tours, to Scenic’s special “Enrich” happenings — experiential events such as high-tea at Raffles in Phnom Penh — are part of the fare. Also priced into the package are free-flow drinks, with an excellent complimentary wine list with multiple choices each day. Room service, transfers to and from airport, wifi (though spotty), and gratuities (however many leave additional tips) are also part of the fares.

Scenic River cruises are all inclusive

Fares on a Scenic Mekong River cruise include all wines and spirits. Cheers! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Suites

Southeast is Asia hot year-round, not to mention quite culture-shocky, so your cabin is an important retreat for relaxing and recharging. The Scenic Spirit’s 34 outside suites impress with floor-to-ceiling windows that open top to bottom with the touch of a button, for fresh air and photo taking. Most are 344-square-foot Deluxe Suites with walk-in wardrobes, mini-bars, sitting area, and flat-screen TVs for movies and music.

Scenic Spirit Deluxe Suite

Our Scenic Spirit Deluxe Suite was just lovely. * Photo: Scenic

The Spa

The Scenic Spirit’s lovely little spa, a dark-wood paneled retreat, was my happy place. Each excellent treatment begins with a ceremonial foot bath in a copper bowl. Making a great thing even better is the price — an hour-long massage is just $30 USD. I had two of them with the sweet and skilled therapist Rotana! There’s also a gym with three cardio machines, a sauna and steam room, and even a decent-sized outdoor pool up on deck.

Scenic Spirit spa

The Scenic Spirit spa can accommodate two guests at a time. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Guides

The group of excellent local Scenic guides that accompany passengers for the entire 10-day cruise-tour are the glue that keeps the itinerary running smoothly. They lead all excursions and share not only facts about the region’s rich culture and heritage, but fascinating personal anecdotes as well about about marriage, education and tragic stories of family members who perished during the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Scenic Spirit guide tying a monk robe

The Scenic Spirit team of guides was excellent — explaining, enlightening and demonstrating monk robe tying!. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Service

Attentive, approachable, friendly and exceedingly professional, the service level is high-end on board, in Siem Reap and during excursions. From the multiple excellent local guides who travel with the cohort to the restaurant servers, massage therapists and front desk staff, it really is “your wish is my command.”

Excellent services in the restaurants of our Mekong River cruise

Courteous, efficient and friendly service was the order of the day! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Dining

As most passengers want to try the local fare, at least at some meals, and the Scenic Spirit did a great job offering both Asian and western dishes in its lovely windowed restaurant. Lunch was my favorite meal of the day — highlights included Cambodian and Vietnamese “street food” buffets. Festive stations offered prawn sugarcane skewers, Khmer crepes, dim sum, Vietnamese pho noodle soup, fried insects, and exotic fruits like hairy red rambutans. At all meals, there were always western favorites as well.

Lunch aboard a Mekong River Cruise

My favorite meal of the day was lunch — the buffets were awesome! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Entertainment

The entertainment in Siem Reap was excellent, from the dazzling Phare Cambodian Circus, a campy and skillful acrobatic extravaganza, to the magical dinner and Apsara dance performance in the shadows of a beautiful 10th-century temple. Onboard the Scenic Spirit, entertainment revolved around after-dinner drinks with new friends, plus a few featured events — a colorful and clanging dragon dance by a local troupe, a lively trivia contest and a dance party on deck under the stars with the crew.

An Apsara dance performance in the shadows of a beautiful 10th-century temple.

We enjoyed a magical dinner and Apsara dance performance in the shadows of a beautiful 10th-century temple. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Other Passengers

A big part of the fun is cruising with an intimate group of like-minded others, folks who are as inspired and eager to travel in Southeast Asia as you are. The majority of Scenic river cruise passengers are Australian, with a sprinkling of other nationalities, including North Americans, New Zealanders, Britishers, Europeans, and others. Mingling was easy and we enjoyed hanging out with new friends.

The well traveled passengers on a Scenic Spirit excursion

Fun loving and adventurous passengers on an excursion. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Convenience

Southeast Asia is an amazing travel destination, but it can be challenging at times for even the heartiest adventurer, thanks to the heat (it’s hot year-round, sticking to the 80s and 90s F) and crazy traffic. A luxurious river cruise mitigates much of the hassle and lets you focus on the cultural treasures. Unpack once; largely avoid road travel; enjoy plush air-conditioned suites, spa and dining; and soak up the fascinating life on the river and along its banks. 

The scenic spirit docked along the Mekong RIver

The plush 68-passenger Scenic Spirit is a wonderful home base for a week on the Mekong River! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Family Vibe

I’ve noticed that family-run companies like Scenic seem to thrive on the pride and passion that come from building and owning a business. Scenic was started by Australian Glen Moroney in 1986 and has grown into the thriving high-quality luxury cruise and travel company it is today.

Scenic name in candles at an Apsara performance

Family-owned Scenic seems to take great pride in delivering a high-quality travel experience. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Fares start at $4,395 USD per person for the 10-night Luxury Mekong and Temple Discovery Cruise package (7-night Scenic Spirit cruise + 3-night Siem Reap hotel stay). Fares include drinks, meals, excursions and a handful of special enrichment experiences. Visit the Scenic site for booking info.

 

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Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

By Anne Kalosh.

I woke to a rooster crowing at 4:30 a.m. AmaDara was nudged against a bank of the Mekong River, tied to trees. Beneath my balcony, a man was up to his neck in the brown water, bathing his ox. As daylight broke, houses in the forest became visible.

While we ate breakfast on board, families ashore were doing the same, squatting beside their houses that stood on tall stilts. When we strolled through the village in small groups, we met a grandmother chewing betel nuts as she minded a baby, kids jumping rope who called “Helloooo!” and a sprightly 90-year-old man who invited some of us in to his house, climbing the steep staircase with ease.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Children jump rope alongside AmaDara. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Authentic Experiences

These kinds of intimate, authentic experiences marked my weeklong cruise through Vietnam and Cambodia with AmaWaterways. Fascinating cultures, incredible and sometimes tragic history, beautiful sights, wonderful food and unforgettable people made this Mekong River voyage one of my greatest adventures ever.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

A floating village on the Mekong. Photo: AmaWaterways

We roamed markets where we were the only Westerners, got blessed at a Buddhist ceremony in a fabulous temple and rode sampans, trishaws, tuk-tuks and even oxcarts. At a one-room school in Cambodia, we helped barefoot children practice speaking English and brought their teacher pencils and notebooks.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Oxcart Anne! (in blue hat) * Photo: Anne Kalosh

In Phnom Penh’s nightmarish Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, once a prison and torture center run by the bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge, we met one of the few survivors. In Siem Reap, we joined hundreds of other pilgrims trekking through the dark to view sunrise at Angkor Wat, one of the world’s most magnificent temples.

The Mekong is home to many ancient cultures and a lifeline for trade, fishing and agriculture. But cruising is relatively new to the river, so we felt like we were experiencing something very special.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Ox cart driver in Kampong Tralach. Photo: Anne Kalosh

Beauty of a Boat

AmaWaterways’ 124-passenger AmaDara, built in Vietnam in 2015, is a beauty of glossy teak, French colonial styling and carved wood furniture.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

AmaDara has been plying the Mekong since 2015. * Photo: AmaWaterways

I loved my room’s dark woods, spaciousness and tall windows. It was elegant and comfortable, the big bed facing a walk-out balcony and the seating area beside a French step-out balcony.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Benli, one of the wonderful AmaDara crew, showed me to my room. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

The Saigon Lounge with its bar and floor-to-ceiling windows served as a central meeting point for daily briefings, lectures and entertainment. Local performers came aboard several nights to dance and sing. Other evenings we sang karaoke, competed in a rollicking group trivia game about the Mekong and were treated to a fabulous and fun crew talent show.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

The Saigon Lounge hosts briefings, lectures and entartainment. * Photo: AmaWaterways

Local Dishes

The food aboard AmaDara was extraordinary. With Vietnamese and Cambodian chefs preparing the dishes, we enjoyed authentic meals, with some U.S. and international options always available.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Vietnamese and Cambodian chefs prepare authentic meals in AmaDara’s Mekong Restaurant. * Photo: AmaWaterways

Breakfast included fresh fruits like mango, rambutan, dragon fruit, sapodilla, jack fruit and melon; juices, smoothies, made-to-order omelets, stir fries and pho (a Vietnamese broth with noodles, vegetables, lemongrass and chili); cereals, porridge, nuts, yogurt and pastries. There was always a bottle of Champagne for those who wished to start the day with a mimosa or, instead, addictively sweet and strong iced Vietnamese coffee.

Lunch included a salad bar, cold cuts, cheeses, seafood, fish, pasta, action-station items like steamed rice paper rolls with pork and vegetables and main courses like sweet and sour fish, potato dumplings with pumpkin sauce, pizza and burgers (meat or veggie).

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Fresh tropical fruits are in abundance aboard AmaDara. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Dinner choices included Khmer salmon and grilled watermelon, prawn with mango, cauliflower soup with chive oil, Oriental beef consommé, Vietnamese egg drop soup with bean curd and mushrooms, sirloin steak with green pepper corn sauce, roasted turkey with taro and yam, cobia fillet with tamarind sauce and coconut rice, sesame seed tofu and tempura bok choy.

I thought the food was terrific, and it satisfied palates ranging from sophisticated New York foodies to a vegan couple who told me they found plenty of variety. Beer and wine were included at meals.

Friendly Crew, Great Guides

AmaDara is a beauty, but the best thing about the vessel was the friendly Vietnamese and Cambodian crew and the wonderful Ama guides. Tour leader Son met my late-arriving flight to Ho Chi Minh City (which most everyone still calls Saigon). On our way to the plush Sofitel Saigon Plaza, where other Ama travelers spent two nights pre-cruise, I learned Son had been a refugee abroad for several years, and a university professor. He’s the kind of knowledgeable, witty and charming leader you’d follow anywhere. And we did.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Tour leader Son, Anne Kalosh and guide Fin at Angkor Wat. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho
A City Market Adventure

The lotus embryo tea in my hotel room was a preview of the kind of drinks and foods that seemed very exotic to this American. My first city market visit was an eye-opener. There were nets of live toads, baskets of live prawns and kettles of live fish, framed collections of bats and spiders, Vietnamese coffee with brand names like Weasel and Squirrel, wood carvings (one of the Titanic) and enormous bags of cashews. A woman sat skinning an eel.

And the pointers from our Ama guides about bargaining definitely came in handy. Counter the price with 30 percent, then buy at 40 percent, they said. No eels or spiders for me. I took home fresh-ground coffee and silk scarves.

After the market our small convoy of buses drove along the wide avenues of Ho Chi Minh City, buzzing with action and lined with cafés and stands selling all kinds of things. In the countryside we passed emerald-green rice paddies and giant lotus flowers. People along the road wheeled carts piled high with coconuts, watermelons and dragon fruit.

“We like to live on the highway because of the opportunity to do business,” our guide Duy said. Two hours later, we arrived at My Tho, where AmaDara was docked.

Captain Dang Tuc stood at the gangway, impressive with his seafarer’s beard. On board, we learned that “Ama” means “love” and “dara” means “star.” We were just 87 passengers—from the U.S., Canada, Germany, the U.K., Philippines and Australia—on this early-season sailing. (Riverboats run on the Mekong from August to April.)

I was surprised by the number of families, including those with young children and teens, as well as solo travelers like me.

Our first day’s sail, to Cai Be, was short. We anchored midstream overnight. After dinner, Vietnamese musicians played traditional instruments.

Capt. Tuc and a crew member greet embarking passengers at My Tho. Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 2: Cai Be and Sa Dec
Floating market, Temple and Romance

Cai Be is an important agricultural distribution center, especially for fruits. To visit the floating market, we rode in long, covered sampans past colorful boats with eyes painted on the bows (a tradition said to ward off sea monsters). Many of these were live-aboards, and families strung their laundry on lines, kids played on deck and food was cooked in the open air. Many of the larger boats transport live fish in an underwater well or tank with screens to allow river water to flow through.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Touring the Mekong by sampan. Photo: Anne Kalosh

I saw coconut candy, popped rice snacks and edible rice paper being made in a shop that also sold cobra and scorpion wine, these creatures visible in the glass bottles. Other products included “Fat of Pythons” ointment for burns and dry skin and “Cobratoxan” cream for muscle pain.

“We eat anything that moves,” guide Duk said, adding snake is considered particularly nutritious. “We don’t eat python,” he clarified. “It’s too fatty and tasteless. We do eat cobra. We eat rats in the rice field. We eat mice. We eat crickets. Roasted crickets in garlic and chili are tasty.”

Walking along a forest trail we arrived at Kiet House, a pre-colonial home of elaborately carved wood, filled with antiques, ceramics and an altar to the ancestors.

In the afternoon, at Sa Dec, an agricultural and industrial trading center, we visited a colorful temple to Caodaism, a syncretistic religion whose symbol is the Divine Eye of God. Strolling through a market, we saw pigs’ heads split open in puddles of blood, eels and snakes, live crabs and heaps of fresh vegetables, greens and herbs.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Butcher stall in Sa Dec market, Vietnam. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

The French writer Marguerite Duras lived in Sa Dec as a teenager where she had an affair with a wealthy 27-year-old Chinese man. Her novel “The Lover” was made into an exceedingly atmospheric film. We had tea at the wealthy man’s house, now a museum.

Day 3: Tan Chau
Rural Life and Riding in a Trishaw. Whee!

The sampans took us to Tan Chau, famous for its black-dyed silk. We visited a silk factory and at a rattan factory, we scooped up items decorated with hand-dyed silk threads. We learned about rural life on a stroll through Evergreen Island, our guides engaging people to tell about their homes and families. Back in Tan Chau, we rode cycle trishaws, my adept driver chatting on his phone as he pedaled away. I loved the ride!

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Strolling around Emerald Island. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 4: Phnom Penh
Tragedy & Beauty

Arriving at Cambodia’s bustling capital, AmaDara docked right downtown, in the heart of the action. The most tragic period of Cambodian history, the 1975 to 1979 reign of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime, was a sobering start to our visit. Well more than a million people, perhaps nearly three million, were executed or died from starvation or disease. No family was spared. When our guide Fin was a baby, his father vanished and was never heard from again.

Seeing one of the Killing Fields—sites where large numbers of people were executed—was indescribably sad and horrifying. Back on the bus, we fell silent. The shock and revulsion continued back in the city at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, known as Security Prison 21, or S-21.

There we met Chum Mey, one of its few survivors, who wrote a book about his life and ordeal. “How do you have the strength to come here every day?” I asked.

Chum said he’s compelled to bear witness to what happened. His book sales help support victims of the Khmer Rouge.

On the bus, Fin summed it up: “That was heavy. Not an enjoyable morning, but an important one.”

The afternoon was quite different: A walk through the grounds of the Royal Palace, home to Cambodia’s king. In the Silver Pagoda thick silver tiles covered the floor and a Buddha of solid gold was encrusted with thousands of diamonds. For me, a high point was the National Museum with its incredible collection of Khmer art. The Khmer empire was a powerful state that once covered most of modern-day Cambodia, southern Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. Great builders, artists and musicians, the Khmer created monumental temples like Angkor Wat, and the museum houses many sculptures, statues and other artifacts from there.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Phnom Penh’s gilded Royal Palace complex. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Day 5 Phnom Penh, Oudong and Kampong Tralach
Buddhist Blessing & Oxcart Parade

We journeyed by bus to Oudong, Cambodia’s royal capital from the 17th century until 1866, and a place of pilgrimage. AmaWaterways had arranged a special Buddhist blessing for our group at one of the country’s largest monasteries. We sat on the floor, gazing up at the incredible neon lights, statues and paintings while monks performed the blessing.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

A special Buddhist blessing for Ama passengers at Oudong. * Photo: AmaWaterways

Nearby, at Kampong Tralach, dozens of oxcarts awaited, each driven by a farmer. We climbed in, two apiece. Our slow-moving parade was a spectacle followed by skipping children and women waving from doorways.

Back in Phnom Penh, we tried another typical conveyance, tuk-tuks (motorcyle-driven carts). It was fun surging en masse with all the other tuk-tuks, occasionally seeing familiar faces from AmaDara.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Buddha at Oudong Monastery, Cambodia. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 6: Oknhatey
Chatting with Schoolchildren

Sailing from Phnom Penh at 7 a.m., we arrived at Koh Dach, known as Silk Island, and rode tuk-tuks through the countryside of rice paddies and orchards to see silk artisans at work and buy beautiful hand-loomed scarves.

The trip’s most heartwarming experience was visiting a school, where we paired off with the children so they could practice speaking English. I can’t forget the little boy who told me he wants to be an author.

That night AmaDara pulled alongside Angkor Ban.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

School visit on Oknatey Island, Cambodia. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 7: Angkor Ban & Kampong Cham
Village Visit

This was the morning I woke to the rooster’s crow. In small groups, we strolled through the village with our Ama guides. Huge oxen, “like money in the bank” for Cambodian families, according to Fin, lazed in the shade. Some walls had drawings intended to ward off evil spirits.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Oxen are highly valued and considered money in the bank in Cambodia. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

AmaDara cast off for Kampong Cham, our final port. We docked beside an outdoor cafe with umbrella tables.  The third largest city in Cambodia, Kampong Cham appeared prosperous and busy.

Traveling by bus to Wat Nokor, we discovered an interesting temple dating from the mid-11th century. Roadside stands served duck eggs with 20-day-old embryos. Fin explained this is “Something one person eats that makes two persons happy. Get it?” I didn’t, until he winked.  We saw the Twin Mountains (Man Hill and Woman Hill), the topic of a legend in which the women outwitted the men in a mountain-building contest.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

This Cambodian man invited us into his home. At right is AmaWaterways guide Fin. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 8: Kampong Cham to Siem Reap
Goodbye, AmaDara. Hello, Angkor!

Capt. Tuc and all the crew lined up on shore to wish us farewell. It was sad to say goodbye to so many kind and charming people who’d cared for us with such wonderful hospitality.

We were handed box lunches for the four-hour drive to Siem Reap. Cornfields were juxtaposed with rubber trees, and motorcycles buzzed by with four or even five riders. As we arrived at Siem Reap, Fin’s home, he pointed out where, as a boy, he herded the family’s cows, walking carefully to avoid trip wires set by the Khmer Rouge. It was a chilling reminder of Cambodia’s not-so-distant holocaust.

Once a sleepy town, Siem Reap is now the bustling gateway to Angkor Wat, with an international airport and many fine hotels as well affordable and cheaper digs for budget travelers. Ours was the lavish Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort.

On an afternoon tour to Ta Prohm Temple, where giant trees grow from the walls, parrots and macaque monkeys broke the eerie silence. Angelina Jolie filmed “Tomb Raider” there.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Trees grow from the walls at eerie Ta Prohm Temple in Angkor, Cambodia, which featured in Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Day 9: Siem Reap
Sunrise at World’s Largest Temple Complex

Most AmaWaterways travelers spent two nights in Siem Reap. I had a noon flight so I opted for a sunrise visit to the ancient Angkor Wat temple complex. No rooster crowed at the posh Sofitel, but croissants awaited the 4 a.m. early risers in the Ama group. We joined the flow of pilgrims, walking with flashlights, over the causeway atop a wide moat. A light mist made things even more atmospheric.

There was no brilliant sunburst but the gradual unveiling of this incredible sight at daybreak was still profound. Besides its monumental scale and alluring shapes, Angkor Wat is fascinating for its dynamic bas-reliefs of scenes from Hindu epics and hundreds of dancers, each pair said to have different headdresses.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

Angkor Wat is rich with thousands of well-preserved carvings. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

It was a climatic finish to a fascinating trip, from the vigor of Vietnam to the calm (decades after the Khmer Rouge storm!) of Cambodia. I learned and experienced a lot, and much of that was thanks to our excellent Ama guides.

When we’d first arrived in Cambodia, Fin taught us the sampeah, the traditional way of saying hello, goodbye, sorry and thank you by pressing the palms together and slightly bowing the head. The level of the hands is important, signifying different relationships. For example, friends of the same age place both palms together at chest level. When greeting bosses, older people or high-ranking people, the hands are raised to mouth level. Saying goodbye to Fin, I put my palms at nose level, appropriate for saluting a teacher.

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

If you’re lucky, this is Angkor Wat at sunrise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

For booking info, contact AmaWaterways.

And here’s Anne’s interview with AmaWaterways Co-Owner Kristin Karst.

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Monastery visit on a Scenic Cruise

QuirkyCruise Reader Review

Scenic Spirit on Mekong River

REVIEWER

Sheila Healey from the US.

CRUISE LINE

Scenic.

SHIP

Scenic Spirit.

DESTINATION

Mekong River in Cambodia & Vietnam.

# OF NIGHTS

7.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

October 2018, from Siem Reap, Cambodia downstream into Vietnam.

OVERALL RATING

5 out of 5 stars (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 4

-Cabin Rating: 4

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 4

HOW MANY SMALL-SHIP CRUISES HAVE YOU BEEN ON?

6.

REVIEW

If you want an escape in comfort, with a good balance of UNESCO World Heritage sites and small village and temples excursions while river touring, then the Scenic Spirit is the ticket.  This over-worked New Yorker was in love from the get go. As Australian-owned you get a well appointed Modern-designed vessel along with a realistic view of the region.

This 10-day trip transported me to 9th-century Angkor Wat with a knowledgable guide and then back to Siem Reap for total comfort at the lovely Hyatt Regency for two days before we began the river segment of the trip. The guide team was exceptional in their knowledge throughout Cambodia and Vietnam and happy to assist in any need. The staff on the Scenic Spirit was just lovely and aimed to please. One of the highlights on board was the spa and pricing — a plus while traveling in Asia. With 45-minute foot massages for $20, I happily booked three times while on board. It’s the little things in life!

As many will ask about our food and wine selections while on board — overall decent choices and the kitchen did its best with a lovely fresh juice selection daily at  breakfast. I absolutely took advantage of the watermelon juice offerings!  Local cuisine was always a staple as well as western ala carte selections for the less adventurous traveler. Yes, we had the option of beetles and scorpions for one of our lunch selections. If you are a hard core foodie you may be let down at times, but you will have plenty of time to explore Saigon and Phnom Penh for that special food experience, which of course we did!

Our Cabin was super comfortable and the beds beyond inviting.  The size of the cabin is much larger than most river cruise ships and one feels the need to linger at times to enjoy the river views. A real plus was that the windows open with the touch of a button. perfect for your own private sunset photo opportunity while sipping champagne.

The excursions were  quite good overall. To me, the Cambodian side of the trip was more interesting (given excursions like Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields) than the Vietnam side of the trip, which was much more in the vein of local markets and small temple visits. We opted one afternoon to stay on the boat and enjoy the small pool and bar, which was quite enjoyable. WIFI is available, but at times non-existent, which assists in getting one off the grid and much appreciated.

If you are looking to get off the merry-go-round of western life, but don’t want to let go of your creature comforts this may be your kind of holiday. For me Cambodia invaded my soul and touched my heart in a way I wasn’t expecting. The Mekong awaits!

➢➢Peruse more Reader Reviews HERE  …. and …. REVIEW your latest small ship-cruise ✍🏽 HERE  ✍🏽

 

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QuirkyCruise reader review

Angkor Pandaw in Vietnam

REVIEWER

Glenice & Ian Warner from Australia.

CRUISE LINE

Pandaw.

SHIP

Angkor Pandaw.

DESTINATION

Red River, Vietnam.

# OF NIGHTS

10.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

May 2018, from Halong Bay, Vietnam.

OVERALL RATING

5 out of 5 stars (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 5

-Cabin Rating: 5

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 5

REVIEW

We were greeted on board by a fellow passenger with, ’Oh, you’re the virgin Australian Pandaw couple. You’re in for a treat!’  We sniggered at the first part of the introduction, but were very soon to find out that the latter part was absolutely true.

Care of the passengers was paramount on this gorgeous teak and brass ship. It began each day with coffee and tea for the early risers (but I’ll have to take their word for that!) and continued throughout the day with the immaculate care of our cabins, to ‘welcome home’ drinks after each excursion and even, the crooning of local love songs if there was a gap between the end of evening briefings and the start of dinner!  (To the less forgiving amongst us, this was the only time when the quality of service could dip below superb!)

Vietnamese cuisine is delicious at any time but was especially so on our cruise — the quality, the variety, the freshness and the presentation. But, there was plenty of choice, too, for those who preferred more Western-style fare. We never ceased to be amazed at the storm the chefs could whip up on board…and the weather whipped up a few of those too but always at night, so we didn’t miss one excursion and it cleared the air. The weather was unseasonably, ‘hot, damned hot,’ but air-conditioning on board and Dang’s fantastic evening cocktails, dulled the sting of it!

We thoroughly enjoyed the company of the passengers on board (mainly from the UK and Australia with two lovely, younger girls from the US) and interacting with the locals, off board.  This was the jewel in the crown for us. We would never have been able to visit so many, varied villages and iconic sites had we not taken the river cruise — 653 kilometers along nine different rivers! Perhaps it was because these were excursions to places that are off the beaten tourist track, that we were made so welcome by the locals, but I suspect it is also because the Vietnamese are one of the friendliest people on earth!  They often asked us to have a photograph with them.
We visited an amazing variety of villages, specialising in an eclectic range of arts and crafts — from bonsai tree growing to green bean cake making; traditional knife-smithing  to wooden furniture carving;  hand-painted ceramics to conical hat-making and the utterly unique, water puppetry.  We even visited a family whose house has been home to seventeen generations of their clan!  All of this was made all the more enjoyable by the exceptional quality of our guides, Duoc and Vu.  They not only educated us on the history and geography of Vietnam and the areas we visited but entertained us with many an amusing tale of growing-up, Vietnamese.  The three most important things a young man must do are: buy a buffalo; build a house; find a wife and in that order!

The river-cruising itself was both enjoyable and revealing. Passing through the variety of areas from the industrial to the agricultural, you gain a great overview of life and work in Vietnam and its impetus towards a developing country. Then there’s the incredible array of river traffic — from the tiny, indigenous basket boats, propelled by foot, to the myriad sand-movers that chug along just centimeters above the water line — all so ready to share a wave and a huge smile as they go by. Halong Bay is singularly spectacular, but on our cruise, made even more memorable by the visit to a floating house and fish farm, and a sunset swim and cocktails at Three Peach Island. (There seemed to be no end to the talents of our crew. While we swam they set up a barbecue and karaoke and Poly, our most thorough and personable Purser, became the ‘wedding singer’ extraordinaire!)

Our fellow passenger’s initial greeting was right; we were in for a treat. This was the most amazing immersion in Vietnamese history, culture, cuisine and lifestyle. So many of the passengers had completed, not one but four and even more, Pandaw Cruises; this will definitely not be our last!

➢➢For more on this cruise, read QC’s 12 Reasons to Take a Red River Cruise in Vietnam with Pandaw.

 

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Vietnam Red River Cruise

Vietnam 🇻🇳 Red River Cruise with Pandaw

By Heidi Sarna.

I recently returned from a wonderfully quirky 10-night Vietnam Red River cruise aboard Pandaw Cruises‘ 32-passenger Angkor Pandaw, sailing some 650 kilometers from Halong Bay westerly towards Hanoi and beyond. My bestie Rachael and I sailed along the Red River (or Song Hong) and its various tributaries, including the Black River (Song Da) and the Clear River (Song Lo).

The offbeat adventure was appealing and memorable in so many ways, including these 12 reasons.

Vietnam Red River Cruise

Heidi & Rachael’s Vietnam adventure!

1.  Two Days in Halong Bay. The highlight of any visit to northern Vietnam is cruising around Halong Bay’s sea of limestone karsts that pop out of the bay like mushrooms. The ancient forest of crumbling mountain peaks feels otherworldly and prehistoric, especially when you kayak through the grottos and passages. Pandaw knows where to go to avoid the mobs of other tourists that flock to Halong Bay. Sailing there at sunset is especially magical.

Vietnam Red River Cruise

Scenic Halong Bay is breathtaking. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

2.  The Local Food. Angkor Pandaw’s Vietnamese chef and his staff prepared delicious fresh meals with lots of local ingredients, from banana leaf, pomelo (like grapefruit), lotus and cashew nuts to glass noodles and heaps of basil, mint and other greens. We were treated to the nation’s famous pho noodle soup and Vietnamese-style spring and summer rolls (there were western options too), and refreshing glasses of local Bia Hanoi and 333 beer whenever the mood struck.

Vietnam Red River Cruise

A delicious bowl of Vietnam’s popular pho noodle soup. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

3.  Glimpse into Village Life. Our 10-night cruise comprised two days moving around Halong Bay and a day in frenetic Hanoi; the rest of the trip focused on visits to villages within walking distance or a short bus ride of where we were docked. These small towns would otherwise be hard to reach or unknown to most visitors. With our guides we walked around neighborhoods specializing in trades still pursued the traditional way, from pottery to carved wooden furniture, noodles, baskets, knives and rice wine. Half the fun was interacting with locals along the way.

Vietnam Red River Cruise

Noodles drying in the sun like laundry. * Photo: Rachael Nicoll

4.  Our Vietnamese Guides. Duok, or Duke as he called himself for the benefit of the tourists, and Vu were a pair of 30-something Vietnamese guides with college degrees in tourism. They shared not only their deep knowledge of Vietnam’s history and culture, but also fascinating personal anecdotes that shed light on the country’s customs, from marriage to education and religion.

Vietnam Red River Cruise

Douk, one of our two local guides who sailed with us for the week. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

5.  The Vietnamese People. Maybe because tourism still isn’t widespread outside of the major cities, the Vietnamese are warm and friendly to outsiders. In the villages, the locals smiled and waved to our group of 25, making us feel welcome. There was a mutually benign curiosity between us and them, which made it fun to take photos and selfies, with our guides often helping us to ask questions and communicate.

Vietnam Red River Cruise

This sweet old woman charmed us all. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

6.  A Rustic Boat in a Rustic Place. It’s nice to travel to a place in a vessel that looks like it belongs there. The 32-passenger Angkor Pandaw, like the rest of the fleet, is made of teak wood, brass, and steel, and designed to recall an earlier era of Scottish-built steamers for Burma’s Irrawaddy Flotilla Company that in mid-1920s operated upwards of 600 boats. They’re not white or shiny or covered in strings of lights, they’re comfortable, unassuming, utilitarian, atmospheric and solidly made.

Vietnam Red River Cruise

Boarding the 32-passenger Angkor Pandaw in Ha Long Bay. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

7.  The Other Passengers. Pandaw attracts an international lot from all over the world, especially the UK, Australia and North America. They’re an adventurous, well-traveled group of free thinkers who seek out the off-beat. Many Pandaw passengers could afford a more luxurious and mainstream experience, but they choose Pandaw’s quirky river cruises precisely because they are not predictable or cookie-cutter. Many return to Pandaw again and again.

Vietnam Red River Cruise

Passengers on a walk through the rice fields of Cat Ba island in Ha Long Bay. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

8.  The Slow Pace of River Travel. Seeing the landscape gradually unfold from the decks of a river boat, especially at sunrise and sunset, is a special way to travel. The true nature of a country reveals itself in the life along the riverbanks. In northern Vietnam, it’s largely a story of agriculture and industry — green fields of rice, bananas, sweet potatoes, cassava and corn, are dotted with red brick kilns with tall chimneys. Ship builders along the river banks are ubiquitous and so are their rusty red cargo barges that motor up and down the rivers carrying sand, stones, coal and fuel, often passing within a few feet of the Angkor Pandaw.

Vietnam Red River Cruise

A typical barge on the Red River system being steered with the captain’s feet. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

9.  The Convenience. The appeal of cruises big and small is the inherent convenience of unpacking once while you travel to many different places. On small ships like Pandaw, the ease is multiplied. You’ll appreciate never having to queue for anything. Getting on and off the boat takes just a few moments and the vessels are able to tie up to a tree or anchor just about anywhere. Further, just about everything is included in the fares — the cozy cabin, excursions, spirits, beer and transfers.

Vietnam Red River Cruise

The standard Pandaw cabin, a cozy wood paneled abode with lots of storage and a big bathroom. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

10.  The Calm & Quiet. By design, there is no loud music, no TVs in the cabins, and few announcements. Each day takes on a relaxing rhythm, punctuated by causal open-seating mealtime, one or two half-day excursions, and time for lounging on a deck chair chatting with new friends or soaking up the scenery and taking photos. Movies with a connection to the itinerary are frequently shown after dinner, but otherwise it’s a night cap or two before heading off to sleep.

Vietnam Red River Cruise

Photo taking as the main past time on a cruise like this. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

11.  Not Commercial. It was so nice that this trip was not about shopping and buying stuff, whether on board or in the stops. There were a few places to browse and buy (Hanoi and the pottery village), but otherwise, the off-beat places we visited don’t see many tourists and so souvenir shops and touts are pretty non-existent.

Vietnam Red River Cruise

We visited quiet villages and rarely encountered other tourists. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

12.  The Quirkiness. Pandaw is different — the look of the boats, the historical backstory, the itineraries and the travelers it attracts. This is a line that marches to the beat of its own drummer, and I love their tune.

Vietnam Red River Cruise

Rachael is jumping for joy on a ferry that transported us to shore. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

THE CAVEATS:  The Heat: Cruising in late April or May in northern Vietnam means it will be very hot in the afternoons — I’m talking up to 100 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius). The Barges & Factories: Vietnam is a country bustling and brimming with industry and it’s obvious with the many barges motoring up and down the rivers, and the factories and shipyards that line the riverbanks in some areas.

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QuirkyCruise reader review
REVIEWER

Derek Rham from the UK.

CRUISE LINE

Pandaw.

SHIP

Angkor Pandaw.

DESTINATION

Vietnam Red River Delta.

# OF NIGHTS

10.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

May 2018, from Halong Bay, Vietnam.

OVERALL RATING

5 out of 5 stars (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 5

-Cabin Rating: 4

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 3

HAVE YOU BEEN ON A SMALL SHIP CRUISE BEFORE?

I’ve been on 3 small ship cruises.

REVIEW

This was our 3rd Pandaw expedition and other than the revised low water itinerary, didn’t disappoint. The ship, crew and food were all excellent, there were a few minor early irritations with the cabin that were sorted by the efficient purser. The low water revision to the itinerary meant that some of the locations weren’t what we were expecting but the two on-board guides did a great job with what they were left with.

The highlight was the 3 days meandering around Ha Long bay with the opportunity to cycle, swim and kayak amongst the stunning scenery.

 

 

🐧 QuirkyCruise.com’s Pandaw Review

Pandaw has been offering high-quality expedition-style river cruises in Asia aboard traditional-style boats for more than 20 years. The growing fleet comprises 16 nearly identical-looking teakwood riverboats built in Myanmar and Vietnam in the spirit of the 19th-century Scottish-crafted paddle steamers that plied Burma’s rivers at the height of the British Empire. Each boat carries 10 to 60 passengers and has an ultra-shallow draft, two or three decks, and flat tops so they can slip under bridges and easily navigate small rivers, even when water levels are low. Wood-paneled nautical-style cabins are roomy and very comfortable and meals are tasty enough. In every way, the Pandaw experience is solid, authentic and eminently comfortable just like the boats, with the focus on the destination, not fussy décor or cloying service. Step on board and breathe in the refreshing scent of teak wood before wiping your sweaty brow with a chilled face towel handed out by crew at the gangway. Read more. 

 

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QuirkyCruise reader review
REVIEWER

Donald Robertson from the UK.

CRUISE LINE

Pandaw.

SHIP

Angkor Pandaw.

DESTINATION

Halong Bay & Red River, Vietnam.

# OF NIGHTS

10.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

May 2018, from Halong Bay, Vietnam.

OVERALL RATING

4 out of 5 stars (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 4

-Cabin Rating: 4

-Service/Crew Rating: 4

-Itinerary Rating: 4

HAVE YOU BEEN ON A SMALL SHIP CRUISE BEFORE?

I’ve been on 10 small ship cruises.

REVIEW

Trip was up to the normal high standard of Pandaw.  Being small ships the service is personal. There is also close contact with other passengers. Rivers were varied with a mix of scenery from industrial to agricultural, also of course the unique limestone islands of Halong Bay.

One depressing point is the amount of garbage dumped on the river banks in some areas.

The onboard guides worked very hard indeed to impart as much information as possible on Vietnam, its history, culture, and social and religious conventions.

 

 

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QuirkyCruise reader review
Reviewer

Barbara L from the USA.

Cruise Line

Vega Travel.

Ship

Vega Cruise Boat.

Destination

Halong Bay, Vietnam.

# of Nights

2.

Departure Date & Ports

March 2018, Halong Bay.

Overall Rating

4 out of 5 stars  (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 4

-Cabin Rating: 4

-Service/Crew Rating: 4

-Itinerary Rating: 5

Have you been on a small ship cruise before?

I’ve been on 1 small ship cruise.

Review

The 2-night Halong Bay cruise with Vega Travel was fantastic! It is on a small boat (max 16 guests) which made for an intimate experience, both among the passengers and in terms of sightseeing. The natural beauty of Halong Bay is second to none and on the smaller boat we were able to go to places that the larger boats could not. Our local tour guide was very informative and packed great activities into our time together. The tour was well run, the food was good and the crew was fun loving and accommodating. We also greatly enjoyed the other guests.  The cruise was a highlight of our trip to Vietnam!

 

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QuirkyCruise reader review

Reviewer: Chrissy from New York.

Cruise Line: Windstar Cruises.

Ship: Star Pride.

Destination: Vietnam.

# of Nights: 10.

Departure Date & Ports: January 2015, from Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, visiting Halong Bay, Hanoi and Da Nang.

OVERALL RATING: 5 out of 5 stars.

Have you been on a small ship cruise before? I’ve been on 5 small ship cruises.

Review: Best Little Ship on the High Seas

My initial impression that bigger is better was quickly dispelled almost the moment I came aboard. The difference felt like going from a shopping mall to a yacht. The VIP reception, champagne welcome, dancers, back rubs and authentic music, set the stage for what would be the most spectacular small ship experience to date. The ports of call made me chuckle at my former self thinking the Caribbean had everything I could ever want in a cruise destination. The mesmerizing spectacular cultural and natural beauty of Southeast Asia was jaw-dropping and inspiring. As a veteran traveler, this was nothing new, but the small ship difference was that coming back to the ship allowed me to appreciate all the beauty of Asia without the logistical hurdles and cultural frustrations of land-based travel. It also provided a serenity and calm experience entirely lacking on large ships.

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By Lester V. Ledesma.

Nothing says “I’ve been there!” better than a set of awesome travel pictures. I’ve combined my love of photography and travel in a series of “PhotoTreks” to some of Asia’s most exotic destinations, including Vietnam, Bhutan, Myanmar, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand. One of my most popular offerings is a three-day Northern Vietnam PhotoTrek, which combines a one-night stay in Hanoi with an overnight cruise in the UNESCO World Heritage waters of Halong Bay. Photography and cultural immersion are the main goals of every PhotoTrek, and as such the group size is kept to a maximum of 12 people.

In Hanoi, enjoy the capital’s cozy cafes, ancient monuments and bustling street scene, with great photo ops around every corner. With its craggy rock formations and moody mist, Halong Bay provides the perfect setting for taking stunning landscape photos. These experiences are complemented by informal photography discussions, giving shutterbugs the opportunity to improve their craft.

Hanoi-based Vega Travel provides one of its three mid-sized, traditional wooden cruise boats for the trip, and also books the hotel in Hanoi, such as the Hanoi Bao Khanh next to the Hoan Kiem Lake. The Northern Vietnam PhotoTrek is ideal for weekend photography enthusiasts, and is offered to groups of 6-12 participants at around SGD$900 per person. This price includes lodging, transport and meals, but excludes airfare and visa fees.

Award-winning photojournalist Lester V. Ledesma (www.skylightimages.info) has photographed Asia for almost two decades, and his work appears in numerous international publications. For more information on upcoming PhotoTreks, check out the PhotoTreks FB page at http://www.facebook.com/PhotoTreks.

The PhotoTreks cruise boat docks at one of the many islands in Halong Bay. Traditional wooden boats like these are offered by PhotoTreks’ partner Vega Travel. * Photo: Lester V. Ledesma

 

small ship cruises in Halong Bay

Traditional Indochine patterns adorn one of the cruise boat cabins. Depending on the group size, ships used by PhotoTreks have five to seven fully furnished rooms. * Photo: Lester V. Ledesma

 

small ship cruises in Halong Bay

Dusk finds a fleet of boats moored at one of Halong Bay’s numerous coves. Participants learn basic photography techniques to help them capture the stunning sights. * Photo: Lester V. Ledesma

 

small ship cruises in Halong bay

The fiery hues of sunrise illuminate the karst formations of Halong Bay. The Northern Vietnam PhotoTreks itinerary is designed to bring participants to scenic spots at the best times of day. * Photo: Lester V. Ledesma

 

small ship cruises in halong bay

From a scenic vantage point, PhotoTreks participants greet the sunrise at Halong Bay with their cameras. * Photo: Lester V. Ledesma

 

small ship cruises in Vietnam

Traditional wooden boats and modern kayaks float side by side in Halong Bay. The Halong Bay cruise features different photographic subjects ranging from landscapes to local life. * Photo: Lester V. Ledesma

 

small ships cruises in Vietnam

This trio of rice farmers was photographed during a stopover en route to the shores of Halong Bay. * Photo: Lester V. Ledesma

 

small ship cruises in Vietam

Hanoi’s bustling street scene is a street photographer’s dream. * Photo: Lester V. Ledesma

 

small ship cruises in Vietnam

Three generations of Hanoians relax at Hoan Kiem Lake. PhotoTreks participants get to fine-tune their people photography skills, among many other aspects of the craft. * Photo: Lester V. Ledesma

 

small ship cruises in Vietnam

A group of ladies practice tai chi moves at dawn by the Hoan Kiam Lake in Hanoi. Cultural immersion and photography are the main goals of every PhotoTreks trip. * Photo: Lester V. Ledesma

 

small ship cruises in Vietnam

Vendors in Hanoi rush to bring their merchandise to the market before sunrise. * Photo: Lester V. Ledesma

 

 

 

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