Asia’s Mekong River has become the new frontier for river cruise companies seeking to expand their traditional offerings beyond their primary product in Europe.
For cruise sellers, it’s an opportunity to expose repeat river cruise clients to something not only exotic but culturally and historically enriching. Another likely target audience is ocean cruisers who’ve seen bits of Asia but want to explore in more depth.
With eight river cruisers in Europe, AMA Waterways is the largest operator on the Mekong and has a ready pool of cruisers. “We have a lot of people who have experienced our European and Russian cruises and are looking for new destinations,” says President Rudi Schreiner.
On an April sailing on AMA’s 92-passenger La Marguerite, many of the passengers were, in fact, repeat river cruise passengers who had travelled with AMA in Europe. Schreiner was onboard to assess service standards and operations. Not overly impressed with the Vietnamese free-pour wines served with dinner, Schreiner says complimentary wines will be upgraded next season to Australian or New Zealand selections.
Fine tuning aside, the experience is a rich and varied one, with passengers playing dual roles as tourists and attractions. In Tan Chau, for example, the entire ship’s manifest traveled by rickshaws, a spectacle for the small town. In Cambodia two days later, passengers returned to La Marguerite on 40 oxcarts the ship had organized. Villagers waved and giggled as oxcarts laden with passengers trundled by.
The eight-day cruise began in Ho Chi Minh City and ended in Siem Reap, Cambodia, home to Angkor Wat. In between, there were visits to floating markets and temples, palaces and pagodas. In Phnom Penh, passengers visited the sad site known as ‘the killing fields’ and the infamous high school turned prison, called simply S-21.
Built in 2009, La Marguerite is a luxury vessel by river cruise standards. Cabins are generously proportioned — especially the junior suites — service was good, and entertainment took the pleasing form of lectures and local dance.
Food was good, not Michelin-starred, but tasteful and with a selection of Asian and Western foods.
As on European river cruises, shore excursions are included in the price of the cruise.
Passengers found the Vietnamese and Cambodian hosts to be exceptionally friendly and welcoming and the experiences authentic and intriguing. AMA Waterways sees plenty of growth potential – in conjunction with its Vietnamese partner it plans to introduce one new ship annually for at least the next couple of years.