Cruising down the Mekong River

Sunset as we cruise down the Mekong River in Vietnam

I must have been feeling flush the day we booked this five-star cruise down the Mekong River, but once in a while its fun to go all out on a luxury travel experience.  We were aboard the Heritage Line Jayavaraman riverboat for a 3-day journey from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

There were 39 passengers on board a ship that can hold 52 passengers, so a little extra space around the boat was quite nice.  Our cabin was luxurious with large windows leading to a small balcony, all the better to enjoy the countryside passing by.

Our cabin

The Mighty Mekong River is the world’s 12th longest river and meanders through six Asian countries with a total length of 4,350 km, we covered just 360 km during our cruise.  The Mekong River provides life to millions of people in China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, their lives being entwined with the river and its floodplains.  The Mekong Delta is a powerhouse of agriculture, rice in particular, but also many other varieties of fruit and vegetables.  Fish farming is an important industry throughout the delta as well as the harvesting of water hyacinth which grows prolifically around here.

We were picked up at our Phnom Penh hotel at 7am and taken to the ship where we enjoyed a buffet breakfast.  I did not realize when we booked this journey that the cruise started further up the river near Siem Reap and we were joining passengers who had already been onboard for 4 days.  Most people were out on a tour of Phnom Penh when we arrived so after breakfast we relaxed on the ship until our room was ready.

While waiting for our room we attended a lecture by Cambodian music composer Dr Him Sophy who shared his life story growing up during the civil war, the Khmer Rouge Genocide regime and his 14 years in Russia earning his PhD at the Moscow Conservatory of Music.  He is a fascinating man and we watched a few small clips from some of the operas he has written.  What he has accomplished during a very difficult life is remarkable, turning grief into beautiful music and performances.  The lecture was the beginning of a busy and educational 3 days on the Mekong River!

Following the lecture, a buffet lunch was served then at 4pm a Cambodian food cooking demonstration led by our head chef, with a little hands on participation making spring rolls.  We even came away with a small cookbook containing a few recipes.  I hope I can one day re-create these flavors….but I doubt it 😂😂

Making spring rolls

Around 5pm we arrived at the border with Vietnam and watched the speedboat with the customs officials pull alongside the ship and take our cruise director off to the immigration office with everyone’s passports and visas.  When he returned, all seemed in order as we were given permission to carry on downriver into Vietnam, our first time in this country.  Before dinner there was a brief meeting in the lounge letting us know about the next day program, then the evening meal was served from 7pm-8:30pm.  Dinner is a sit down service with two or three choices of appetizers, main courses and of course dessert.  Wine or beer is included with lunch and dinner.  The ship anchored overnight mid-river opposite the town of Tan Chau where we visited the next day.

The Cambodia/Vietnam border
Tan Chau

Day 2 began at 7am with a buffet breakfast then boarding a wooden sampan boat to the town of Tan Chau for a visit to the Cao Dai temple.  Cao Dai is a new religious movement founded in Vietnam in 1926, combining facets of Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism and Confucianism.  God is represented by a large eye in a sphere and on the wall of the temple are depictions of holy people including Buddha, Jesus, Confucius and Guan Yin.  The style of the temple seems to be a standard design as we noticed a few of them along the riverbank during the next couple of days.

  • Cao Dai Temple


From the temple we were taken by trishaw ‘xe loi’ through the streets of Tan Chau to the local market selling fresh vegetables, fruits and flowers, cooked meals and rice.

  • My chariot awaits 😂


After the market it was back to the sampan, cruising to a floating Basa fish farm to learn how the farmers farm Basa for local consumption and export.  As you can imagine, it was an aromatic place!

We arrived back at the boat around 11am, time to freshen up before lunch at 12:30pm.  We had a few hours of free time after lunch, including an afternoon tea service, until the 4pm excursion to My An Hung village where we learned about life along the Mekong.  We met the Lam family who welcomed us into their home and played traditional Vietnamese musical instruments for us.  Then we walked around the village before enjoying a Unicorn dance performance by the local youth.

  • Walking to town


After returning to the ship from My An Hung village the boat hosted a cocktail party and line dancing on the pool deck before serving dinner at 7pm.  The cocktail party was fun and a great way to meet a few other guests.  It was a pretty busy and hot day, so we retired early.  The boat anchored overnight mid-river near the town of Sadec.

Cocktail party on the ship

After breakfast on day 3 we boarded the sampan once again and headed to Binh Thanh Island.  Once ashore we visited an unspoiled local community to observe the people hard at work making rattan mats.  We also met some village elders, hearing their stories of life in the village followed by a Q&A session.  One question asked of them was if there is government pension for seniors, we were told yes but it starts at age 80.  The average life expectancy in Vietnam is 77, so it seems that the government does not have to pay that many people!

  • Arriving at the temple


Leaving Binh Thanh Island we boarded a smaller long boat, passing through the narrow channels of the delta.  The views along the riverbanks gave us a great introduction to local life and trading activities on the Mekong.  There are many boats and a lot of commerce on the river, it’s the lifeblood for people living along its shores.  As we made our way back to the ship we passed fish farms, frog farms, fish processing plants and people harvesting water Hyacinth.

Lunch was served on board before our next excursion at 2:30pm to visit a family who specialized in weaving dried water hyacinth plants into artistic crafts and baskets.

Next was a buggy ride through miles of tropical fruit gardens of longan, rambutan, durian, jackfruit etc.  We stopped at Mrs Phuc’s house to sample some local fruits and this is when we tried Durian!!  The fruit we have heard about and referred to as ‘smells like hell, but tastes like heaven’.  Well, I think this is an acquired taste, for us one sample was enough.  It was fairly innocuous and kind of squishy but not something I want again.  Aside from the Durian we tasted Pomelo, Guava, Mango and Jackfruit, these were all delicious.

We took another short meander along the Mekong before returning to the ship, having a quick shower then joining the rest of the guests and entire crew for a farewell cocktail party, followed by a little dancing with the crew.  Yes, even we got out on the dance floor to jump around with the staff and guests, everyone having a great time.  After the party we had a lovely farewell dinner, chatting to people we had come to know over the past 3 days.  During the cocktail party and dinner the boat cruised to the My Tho pier where we anchored overnight before departing the next morning at 8am on a bus bound for Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City.

Our ship’s crew

So, what’s the verdict on the cruise?  There’s no doubt it was luxurious and we were spoiled during our time on board!!  The meals were fantastic, the excursions very interesting and worthwhile, and the staff were top notch.  Was it worth the price?  It cost USD $1,900 each for the cruise which is way out of our travel budget.  BUT…we wanted to cruise down the Mekong, taking tours along the way and we needed to get from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Saigon/HCMC, Vietnam.  When all is said and done, it was worth it to us as we enjoyed a slice of luxury travel above our typical travel style.  We have no hesitation recommending this cruise ship for any of their journeys up and down the Mekong River 😊


Next up, we explore another big metropolis, Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City…..



2 thoughts on “Cruising down the Mekong River

  • March 23, 2024 at 2:55 am

    I’m so glad you had a fabulous time! Looks amazing!

    • March 23, 2024 at 3:21 am

      Thanks! It was a bit of a budget buster but we have recovered here in Vietnam where life is quite inexpensive.


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