Vietnam & Cambodia by Pandaw

This was my first time at that part of Asia and a cruise along the Mekong river was definitely the perfect way to experience a taste of Vietnam and Cambodia.

We started In Ho Chi Minh City at the War Remnants Museum – I believe you can’t experience Vietnam of today without looking at its past and this is when the pin drops and you can clearly realise that this a country that came back from the ashes of the war to become one of the most enchanting destinations in Asia. We also visited the Basilica and the main post office.

We then ventured to explore the city’s streets at night on a thrilling Vespa adventure. We were picked up at the hotel by our own personal Vespa driver to be whisked away among all the other thousands of Vespa on an exciting adventure around Saigon, to see an authentic side of the city by night with stops at local restaurants to sample the deliciously fresh local food.

Saigon was amazing but I was really looking forward to board the RV Mekong Pandaw boat to start to explore the local’s true way of life along the Mekong River in between Vietnam and Cambodia. We joined the ship not far from Saigon to discover the channels of the Mekong Delta exploring its floating markets and villages before crossing the border to Cambodia.

A Pandaw River Cruise Expedition, the mark for luxury river cruising in Southeast Asia, is a classy way to see this mighty river. This method of travel provides the ideal way to explore remote locations unreachable by road, in great comfort with access to comfortable accommodation, facilities and delicious food. Food on board is indeed delicious and you will be spoilt for choice. Breakfast offers a nice selection of local and western options. Lunch and dinner always have a selection of 3 main courses and you will also find a great variety of the most amazing fruits you can taste.

The Pandaw ship is an object of beauty in itself, hand finished by traditional craftsman in brass and teak, elegantly decorated in a colonial style matching perfectly with its surroundings, something that I think is quite important while travelling. The Pandaw ships are small and intimate vessels, the atmosphere is very informal and friendly, there is no “captain’s evening” and no dressing up for dinner which creates a very different experience than what you would have on a big ship on an ocean cruise.

A big advantage of a Pandaw cruise is that all their ships have ultra-shallow drafts which will take you further than any other boat and well off the tourist beaten track as they are able to navigate through the Mekong shallow waters. This will give you the opportunity to visit areas that are not reachable by land offering an insight into the lives of the river people and experience the local village life as it is, authentic and genuine.

We travelled from the French colonial city of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) to the ancient Khmer capital of Angkor on this 7 nights cruise through some of Vietnam and Cambodia’s most beautiful scenery witnessing daily life in a tribal village, visiting beautiful monasteries, learning about the silk weaving process, visiting the floating villages en-route to Siem Reap and discovering the intriguing city of Phnom Penh by cyclo, these were a few of the experiences we had with Pandaw.

The excursions ashore are a key part of any Pandaw river expedition and they are all included in your cruise. You will also find quality mountain bikes on board enabling relaxed exploration at your own pace.

The service on board of a Pandaw ship is second to none, something that amazed me from day is that when on board of a Pandaw cruise every time you return from an excursion the crew will take your shoes to clean them and deliver straight back to your cabin a few minutes later.

The crew will go above and beyond to make you feel welcome and at home, literally. When you come back after leaving the boat you will always be welcome by someone with a smile, a very much needed cold towel and a cold drink saying “welcome home”. After a couple of days the crew will call you by the name and vice-versa, with a maximum of 48 guests and a crew of around 30 people they can offer a very personal experience.

All cabins offer a comfortable retreat and wonderful views of the passing landscape through its glass sliding doors with direct access to the promenade deck and your private table and chairs for you to sit back and watch the life going by.

The RV Mekong Pandaw is the ship with most space per passenger on their fleet featuring wider promenades, a larger dining hall, cinema room, gym, spa and the delightful, partly shaded sun deck where the cocktail hour begins to be served every day at 6pm – sit back, relax and enjoy breath-taking sunsets and beautiful starry nights from the deck.

On this cruise we spend a day and a night in the exciting, cosmopolitan Phnom Penh. The capital city of Cambodia offers history, laidback culture and an exciting night life.

During the day we were taken to learn about the terrible time Cambodia endured under one of the most brutal dictatorships in modern history, the Khmer Rouge. It is hard to believe that this happened only 40 years ago and while our tour guide told us her own story I could not contain my tears. It was an emotional day for many of us but important to learn and understand.

While this section of Cambodia’s history is hard to accept, it is suddenly outshined by the country’s huge spirit, the warmth of its people and the amazing sights the country has to offer: the legendary Temples of Angkor are the icing on the cake.

Angkor Wat was everything I expected: grand, breathtaking and with amazing well preserved details.

But it was Ta Prohm that made me speechless. Ta Prohm is the most atmospheric ruin at Angkor as it looks like it has been swallowed by the jungle. Fig Trees took root in the loosened stones and rose up through the temple’s walls creating an astonishing fusion of nature and architecture. The tree leaves creates a beautiful roof and flocks of parrots add to the atmosphere giving the visitor the feeling of exploring a temple lost in the jungle. While visiting the temple it was exciting to see the dynamic interaction between nature and man-made art, the roots are firmly place crushing the stones and holding it up at the same time. Ta Prohm reminded me of the power of the jungle as nature wins against man’s creations.

This cruise was the perfect way of connecting with locals and the exotic cultures of the East, while exploring some of the main sites of Vietnam and Cambodia, while enjoying the relaxed pace of a cruise visiting a number of destinations without changing accommodation.

Cruising on the Mekong with Pandaw is like no other and if you if you seek unforgettable moments of tranquillity with gin and tonic in hand whilst gliding through one of the Asia’s greatest rivers, then a Pandaw river expedition is for you.

I dedicate this post to the friends I made while on board of this adventure – without them some of these amazing shots would not be possible! 🙂


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