Cruising Aqua Expeditions: Voyaging along the Mekong

Belinda Henley discovers the beauty of a delta sunset on a fascinating voyage along one of the world’s great rivers.

I’d read about the spectacular sunsets over the Mekong River, but nothing could have prepared me for the fiery red, pink and burnt-orange beauty I was lucky enough to witness setting over this famous waterway.

It was our final night on board the magnificent Aqua Mekong, and as a farewell the crew had organised cocktails and a selection of “local” snacks — deep-fried tarantula and grasshopper — on the ship’s observation deck.

With a selection of Kiwi music playing — yes, they tailor the music playlists to their guests — we watched the sun go down and reflected on three extraordinary days travelling on Southeast Asia’s longest river.

From our first glimpse of the ship docked in Phnom Penh, we knew we were in for a special adventure. The Aqua Mekong looks nothing like a conventional cruise ship. Designed by Saigon-based architects, the 62.4m ship has a matte-black hull and has been built entirely from local sustainable materials and natural fibres.

With a distinct Indochine aesthetic, the boat is a nod to the many cultures and ancient traditions found along this river.

The Aqua Mekong has been operating between Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam and Siem Reap in Cambodia for four years, offering three, four- or seven-night itineraries. It has a capacity for up to 40 guests in 20 cabins on two levels. It also claims to be the only 5-star hotel on the Mekong.

We are met dockside by our host for the next three days, cruise director Nakey, and ushered on board where we are greeted by the entire crew of 31. Our first real look at the boat and its stunning interior is from the top-floor lounge. This spacious room has floor-to-ceiling windows, a well-stocked bar, local artwork and plenty of comfy couches. It’s every bit as appealing and luxurious as a 5-star hotel on land.

Nakey serves us ice-cold watermelon juice and snacks prepared by the chef. We chat like old friends; he has been on the boat since it first launched four years ago. It’s clear the wonderful team will be a big part of our experience. Nakey also introduces Hoeum, our Cambodian guide; we will meet our Vietnamese guide Sonny once we cross the border into Vietnam.

Next, we have a tour of the ship — from the cinema to the plunge pool on the back deck and the observation deck, home to meditation at sunrise and cocktails and sundown.

There is also a gym, spa and library. Our room is on the lower deck, with the river so close you feel you could reach out and touch it.

All the cabins are 30sq m, with floor to ceiling windows to make the most of the constantly changing view. There are a 10 interconnecting suites, perfect for families and with their own private balcony. None of the cabins have keys (although you can request one) Nakey says “there is no need and we want everyone on board to feel like family”.




Our final night is spent sunset watching, eating and drinking and attempting to take part in a traditional Cambodian dance.

The following day we are farewelled by the entire crew. We have become a tight little unit over three days and none of us want to leave. A trip aboard the Aqua Mekong is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but one I hope dearly to repeat.

Checklist

GETTING THERE

For information on cruising aboard the Aqua Mekong, go to bonvoyage.co.nz.

ONLINE
aquaexpeditions.com

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