We just got back from a wonderful trip on the Siem Reap Riverboat from Siem Reap to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in February, 2017. There weren’t many reviews of this boat and I had so many unanswered questions prior to leaving that I really wanted to help others thinking about taking this trip. This review is long, but I have broken it down into sections so you can skip to what interests you. First, it’s important to note that my husband and I have primarily gone on ocean cruises. We did take a short Riverboat cruise on the Yangtze though.
Generally, this trip was very interesting and enlightening. The quality of the facilities and excursions were excellent and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in visiting this area. I think that seeing the two countries from the vantage of the Mekong River was a great way to tie the trip together. It was an unforgettable journey!
Passenger Composition: We were 31 people on the tour; mostly Americans, with around 6 Canadians, 3 from New Zealand, and 1 German (although 1 Canadian and 1 Kiwi were originally from Germany). Three of the men were former service men who served in Vietnam during the war. Most of the people were over 55, however, there was one younger couple. It was a very cohesive group. Avalon likes to think of their passengers, as it is a small ship, as a “family” and, in fact, it does start to feel that way.
Tour Guides: We had a wonderful Avalon Guide/Manager the entire trip. Ho Huu Phiem is an incredibly organized, professional, knowledgeable and genuinely caring person who goes out of his way to make sure that everyone’s needs are addressed. He notices everything. This is so important and is one of the reasons the trip was so fantastic. Phiem is the Avalon representative on only the South-bound journeys. There is always another guide with the group as well, who is a specialist in the country you are visiting. Those guides were good, not great.
General: The Siem Reap is a small and well maintained boat. The Staterooms are all the same, the only difference is the floor you are on. We had #108 on the first floor. The layout of the room is beautiful. The bed faces floor to ceiling windows which open completely, you really feel like your whole room is a balcony. The linens are lovely, the bathroom is fairly large and there is plenty of storage. The boat is very clean and in fact, after walking around along the river (shore excursions), the crew takes your shoes and cleans them before you can enter the ship. The public spaces are very nice to gather in and there is room to sit on your own or gather and visit with new friends, both inside and outside.
Crew: The Siem Reap has an incredibly wonderful crew who go out of their way to please everyone. If they don’t understand your request, they ask Phiem to help them, because they really want to do a good job.
Food: With a mixture of both local and western choices for all meals, it would work for the most finicky or adventurous eater. I have a very touchy stomach and the chief would make special bland food for me. My husband, who has an iron gut always asked for a bowl of chilies to add to his food! We also had a Vegan and a Vegetarian; there were always choices that looked delicious for them as well. There were lovely baked goods and the tropical fruit choices were fantastic.
Internet: I was really concerned prior to the cruise that I wouldn’t be able to access the internet. I know it’s a vacation, but there was an issue at home I needed to keep abreast of so I was worried prior to the cruise after reading Avalon’s information that said it was spotty and they may not have access. However, every day I was able to access the internet. Sometimes it wasn’t as fast as others, but I could get an email every day. The internet was generally available only in the lounges; however, those with Staterooms adjacent the lounge may have access. We were below and adjacent the lounge and most days I could access the internet from the Stateroom.
Itinerary: I really enjoyed this itinerary. Because of the heat and humidity, Avalon generally had two – three hour tours; one early in the morning, then a break and another tour of the same duration in the afternoon. Having a break to rest and refresh was well thought out.
The first two days of the trip were in Siem Reap with tours of several temple complexes. What an incredible site! I do think if you can arrive a day early than the official start date of the tour and sign up with an independent guide to see Angkor Wat at sunrise is well worth the extra time. The Avalon Tour goes after sunrise and I am glad I went to see that wonderful view of the temple at sunrise!
The excursions on the Riverboat were fantastic. We went to different villages, on all different modes of transportation. We had an opportunity to engage with some of the people in the villages both planned by Avalon and spontaneous. One important note is that since Avalon is a small ship with only two stories, it can go down portions of the River that the larger ships like Viking and Ama Waterways can’t access. Therefore, there weren’t other ships visiting the villages we visited.
Some of the excursions were difficult and made your heart ache for what man has done to man, but at the same time, you get a real flavor of the strength and endurance of the people. It was an experience that I am so glad to have had.
Since it was very hot and humid, Avalon made sure that everyone had plenty of water and encouraged everyone to stay hydrated. Additionally, they frequently handed wet towels to refresh us.
Dress: It was really all over the map. Some people were casual the entire time. Others dressed a little nicer for dinner. Really, you could do as you pleased. Laundry was available for a fee in the hotels and on the ship. It should be noted that it wasn’t inexpensive. For example, on the boat it was $1.50 to wash a T-shirt or ladies panties.
Land Accommodations: Both hotels selected by Avalon were of very high caliber and were centrally located.
Flight Arrangements: We arranged our own flights as when we compared prices with Avalon, we could do it for less money and the schedule we wanted. We did arrive a day and half earlier than the trip officially began.
Lovely cabin, just like everyone's. I liked being closer to the river.
A highlight - go early!
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