CroisiEurope's first “premium” ship in Asia -- and the fifth vessel in its fleet there -- touts amenities designed to satisfy the demand for higher-end conveyances on the Mekong River. And though Indochine II retains the French-colonial character of the line's older ships, this newcomer has cranked things up a notch with private balconies outside each of its 31 cabins, and a roomy top-deck swimming pool. Its sleek exterior is low and wide with large windows throughout. Outer decks sport rich, local hardwood. Interior flooring also features lovely Vietnamese cam xe wood (akin to Burmese teak). A graceful curved staircase rises from the center of the ship. And throughout, contemporary accents blend well with colonial trappings.
The ship sails between Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Ho Chi Minh City on 11-day itineraries from August to April. Its shallow draft enables it to navigate Cambodia's vast Tonle Sap Lake and river (a tributary of the Mekong) longer into the season than many river ships. At 213 feet long by 43 feet wide, Indochine II is proportioned to fit through the Cho Gao Canal in Ho Chi Minh City. That means passengers can overnight onboard at the start or end of a cruise for easy access to the bustling Vietnamese city, a convenience most other lines in the region don't offer.
Launched in Phnom Penh in September 2017, Indochine II's first official cruise was not without hiccups. The cruise director appeared overwhelmed. (Note to management: She could use an assistant!) Having just transferred from a CroisiEurope ship in Russia, the cruise director was still dusting off her English as the trip got underway. And some basic procedures -- like booking spa appointments or reporting cabin glitches -- didn't seem to be in place.
That said, the predominantly Cambodian crew is helpful and affable. And shore excursions are led by local professional guides who really know their stuff. With years of experience already in the region, CroisiEurope is in a good position to move quickly past any inaugural glitches to provide a more-than-satisfactory way to explore Southeast Asia, in style and comfort.
Cai Be, Antigua, Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh
The family-owned CroisiEurope targets an international clientele. But given that's it's a French company, it's not surprising that about half its customers are French. However, crew members who interact with passengers speak English.
Baby Boomers and their seniors predominate, with most guests in the 60- to 75-year-old range. But on Asia itineraries, passengers tend to be more physically active. To truly enjoy this cruise, it's necessary to confidently navigate rocky, bumpy terrain, climb in and out of tuk tuks (motorized rickshaws) and get in and out of small boats for transport to some excursions.
Daytime dress is strictly casual, and, in the steamy climate of the Mekong, light, breathable garb is advisable. Passengers dress up a bit for dinner, but you won't need to pack any finery. Sundresses, skirts or cotton pants for women, and nice slacks and button-down shirts for men are as formal as it gets. Do pack suitably modest clothing for temple visits. In some locales, most notably Angor Wat, knees and shoulders must be covered, and throwing a scarf or sarong around your shoulders or waist won't do. Sensible shoes are paramount, too, since you'll be climbing over stones and walking on uneven ground at temple sites. Packing waterproof footwear is a good idea, since the rainy season (May to November) can bring sudden, torrential downpours.
CroisiEurope prides itself on offering comprehensive packages at competitive rates. To that end, shore excursions and gratuities to shipboard staff are included in the cruise fare. Tips to excursion guides and drivers are not. To streamline that tipping process, the cruise director will collect gratuities at the start of the cruise (suggested amount is $30 per person for the 11-day itinerary) and distribute them along the way. (It's a nice gesture to make a small cash donation at temples and pagodas.)
Coffee, tea and cold bottled water are always available on the Sun Deck. Bottled water is also provided in the cabins. One beer, mineral water or soft drink is served gratis at lunch and dinner.
Wi-Fi in the ship's public areas is free, though it's not always fast or reliable.
The onboard currency is the U.S. dollar, which is also the preferred currency in Cambodia. In Vietnam, the official currency is the dong, and though some large shops might accept U.S. dollars, you might pay a premium. In off-the-beaten path spots in Vietnam, it's best to carry local currency.
CroisiEurope's La Belle de l'Adriatique, a 198-passenger oceangoing vessel, was purpose-built for coastal cruises and sails to Greece, Croatia, Montenegro and Cyprus.
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CroisiEurope's Princesse d'Aquitaine, a 138-passenger vessel based on the Gironde River, operates cruises through southwest France. It boasts spacious public areas and an emphasis on its French heritage.