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Taming the Mighty Mekong

Running 2,700 miles, the Mekong River is the longest in Southeast Asia and the 12th longest in the world, flowing from the southeastern Qinghai province in China all the way to the South China Sea just outside of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

So much sediment is carried by the Mekong (about one billion cubic meters annually) that the water color is a mix of brown, orange and tan, reminding me of our own rivers and lakes with their clay beds. 

For AAA Members wanting to explore this unique and beautiful part of the world, AmaWaterways has discovered a way to deliver the authentic Mekong Delta to their travelers in a manner that is both luxurious yet still aesthetically true to the area. 

You embark on your floating journey from Prek Kdam, Cambodia, a small village on the Tonle River. Depending on the tides you may hop onboard directly from someone’s back yard. Our adventure began this way with little children running outside to greet us as our motorcoach arrived.  They called out “Hello! Hello!” Their enthusiasm was contagious and indicative of the warm, friendly welcome locals shared throughout the cruise. I can’t imagine a more enjoyable start to any journey.  

The 124-passenger AmaDara river cruise ship was built in Vietnam in 2015 and features elegant French Colonial décor accented by authentic Mekong artifacts and design elements. Each of the 62 outside staterooms (14 are suites) are among the largest on the Mekong ranging in size from 251 to 502 square feet. They include private twin balconies consisting of a French balcony with a second full-sized, step-out balcony.  

While the true stars of this trip are the people, culture and immersive experiences, the dining is also wonderful. Serving Western-style cuisine while keeping with AmaWaterway’s passion for regionally inspired dishes, one highlight was the pho station available at both breakfast and lunch each day. This Vietnamese noodle soup consists of broth, rice noodles, fresh herbs and meat (which changes daily from beef, chicken and pork) and is made to order with additional items such as bean sprouts, hoisin sauce, hot chilies, lime wedges and other garnishes available to customize as you wish. While coffee is still my main choice when starting my day, my son decided pho was his “morning coffee” each day.  

The destination truly makes this trip incredible. From the top deck you can view dense jungle terrain and spy the magnificent roof decorations of a Buddhist temple tucked within. The floating villages we encountered along the way were equally astounding. Complete with neighborhoods, play areas, schools and shops, these villagers serenely float together as a working economy and go where the river tides may take them.  

The diverse itinerary features a tour of a Buddhist monastery, an oxcart ride through Kampong Tralach, and a visit to a local school. It also includes a tour of Phnom Penh, the bustling capital of Cambodia. You may learn more about the grim history of the infamous Killing Fields one day and then enjoy being VIP of a unique parade as hundred of excited children greet you and your fellow travelers as you make your way through Tan Chau via Trishaw.

Family life along the Mekong is varied. There are those who make their living on the land through farming or a specialty trade such as metal working, candy or silk making. Others earn their living on the water with fishing or water transportation. All of them seem to converge at one point — the markets. Whether a floating market on the Mekong, a bustling market in Phnom Penh or the local version of a farmers market in a village, each gives you unique insight into the people of the region and their way of life. In the city markets you’ll find electronics, jewelry, clothing, T-shirts and so much more. At the floating and village markets you’ll see more food-related items — from the familiar such as okra, bananas, and fish to the less familiar spiders, ants, beetles and even rats (which is said to taste similar to rabbit). AmaWaterways does a spectacular job of  delivering a taste of the region to travelers who join them on their “Vietnam, Cambodia & the Riches of the Mekong” itinerary. 

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