Mekong River Cruises
The Mekong is Indochina’s longest river, and in many ways, the beating heart of Southeast Asia. This mystical waterway winds 3,000 miles from China through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. As it forms the border between Laos and Thailand, its waters finally become navigable before flowing southwards into Cambodia and feeding into Vietnam’s rich Mekong delta and the South China Sea. It’s this southernmost stretch of water that Avalon Mekong river cruises focus on, gliding past the jungle-clad hills, outdoor markets, decaying Buddhist temples and shimmering rice paddies of Cambodia and Vietnam.
The Mekong itself is steeped in history. A lifeline for civilisations through the ages, the first recorded settlements along the river date to the 1st century BC. Roman coins have also been unearthed along its route. Around 700 years ago, the Thai people formed Siam, now Thailand, west of the river, while the period between the 15th and 19th centuries saw the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch all make incursions upstream before the French took control in 1893. During the Vietnam War, the Mekong’s west banks became a base for raids against communist forces in Laos. Since then, the Mekong has become increasingly important as a source of economic prosperity, although much of its valley remains undeveloped and untouched. Today, over 60 million people still depend directly on its waters, using them for irrigation, washing and fishing. It’s this that makes Mekong cruises much more than a lesson in landscape, but a privileged window into the extraordinary sights, sounds and colours of urban and rural daily life in southeastern Asia.
Why Mekong river cruises?
Avalon Mekong cruises are a study in contrasts, passing aromatic floating markets, chaotic cities, rustic villages and lush paddy fields in spellbinding succession. One highlight is the immense Mekong Delta. The ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam, this 15,000 square mile region of waterways and marshlands overflows with orchards, fish farms, raft villages and rice paddies – all hardly changed in centuries.
Around the delta, the backwaters of the Mekong are sprinkled with waterfront towns like Cai Be, with its vibrant floating market, and Sa Dec, which boasts a lively market and brickmaking workshops. Next comes charming Chau Doc, with its fish farms and countless mosques, temples and chapels. From here, the Mekong penetrates deep into inland Cambodia, threading all the way to its capital, Phnom Penh. Once a French enclave, this dazzling city blends fading colonial buildings with noisy markets, a spectacular Royal Palace and the nearby Killing Fields: the latter testament to the Khmer Rouge’s brutality. Gliding through quiet hamlets and lush green pastures, the river then weaves towards the city of Kampong Cham, known for its archaeological remains. Further upstream is Udong, once Cambodia’s capital and vast Tonle Lake, a stunning expanse famed for its abundant fish, which sustain its waterside communities.
Mekong cruises & Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand & Laos
Avalon Mekong river cruises reach beyond the Mekong, taking in the highspots of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos by land. Explore the exuberant city of Ho Chi Minh, formerly Saigon, with its vibrant open-air markets, French Colonial style cathedral and haunting Cu Chi tunnels built by the Viet Cong. Visit Siem Reap to marvel at the splendour of the Angkor Wat Temple Complex, the Khmer Empire’s ancient capital and home to mighty Angkor Wat, known as the symbol of Cambodia. Our Mekong river cruises also visit Thailand’s vibrant capital of Bangkok, giving you free time to enjoy its colourful markets, winding canals and golden temples. There’s also the chance to see Vietnam’s Hanoi and magnificent Ha Long Bay with its limestone islands, or travel to Laos to experience the magnificent, temple-filled town of Luang Prabang.