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Aqua Expeditions started life with two luxury cruise ships on the Amazon before choosing another mighty river – the Mekong – for their third vessel. Aqua Mekong duly launched in 2014, and plies the waters between Saigon in Vietnam and Siem Reap in Cambodia, home to the extraordinary temple complex of Angkor Wat.
Guests can enjoy a full seven night Expedition Cruise either up or down river between Siem Reap and Saigon, or Explorer four-night and Discovery three-night cruises between either and Phnom Penh. Eagle eyed readers will of course at this stage point out that Siem Reap is not on the Mekong, and they would be entirely correct. To the north of Phnom Penh, Aqua Mekong in fact charts a course along the Tonle Sap, an extraordinary river and lake system that acts as a tributary of the Mekong, but which seasonally reverses course so water from the Mekong flows up into Tonle Sap Lake, swelling its size sixfold and allowing Aqua Mekong to navigate all the way to the northern shore, a short drive from Siem Reap.
Experiencing this happy quirk of nature from the comfort of Aqua Mekong is set to become one of the great ways to explore Indochina in luxury. There are just 20 Design Suites, each with floor to ceiling windows (and ten with additional private balconies) so guests can watch the world drift by on the Mekong or Tonle Sap, the lifebloods of Vietnam and Cambodia respectively.
The interiors throughout Aqua Mekong were constructed of sustainable and locally sourced materials to designs by Saigon architects firm Noor Design, with the overall effect one of understated elegance thanks to muted tones, polished hardwood floors and South East Asian ornaments adorning the various public areas.
One of these areas is the Dining Room where executive chef David Thompson produces Michelin-starred cuisine to rival that in his Nam restaurant in Bangkok. The emphasis is firmly on South East Asian cooking, with Vietnamese and Khmer specialities to the fore. Naturally the river's bounty also features prominently, so guests can enjoy dishes such as Vietnamese chilli and basil catfish or river prawns with ginger and tamarind on betel leaves, all served by the highly attentive staff alongside a fine wine selection.
On the observation deck above the restaurant there is a comfortable air-conditioned lounge complete with contemporary planters chairs and a bar serving fruit juices, cocktails, local beers and European wines. The bow and stern areas of the observation deck are the place to relax in the open air, with the bow offering a shaded bar and plunge pool area. Further aft are the library and games room (complete with table football) and a private screening room.
Activities on board include treatments in the spa on the lower deck where the expert therapists offer a selection of Asian massages, aromatherapy and other holistic treatments. There are also daily talks about such subjects as Buddhism and the ecosystems of the Mekong and Tonle Sap, given by Aqua Mekong's expert guides. The guides also lead the various shore excursions that take place two or three times a day on the voyage. These can involve anything from jungle walks to visits to Buddhist monasteries or bicycling along the riverbank on Aqua Mekong's fleet of bicycles. There are a total of four ten-man launches that buzz back and force between ship and shore, and these are ideal for exploring the secret corners of the river and stilt villages and markets in Tonle Sap Lake.
Please consult us for more details on departure dates throughout the year.
Why we love it
Because this is the most civilised way to travel between Saigon and Siem Reap and, on a more detailed note, because of the ca phe da, Vietnamese iced coffee with sweet condensed milk, they serve at the onboard bar.
Holly, Original Traveller