Home > Angkor Wat, Travel > River Cruise Diary of Vietnam, Cambodia & Mekong: AmaWaterways Featured on Cruise Critic with Detailed Travel Log by 2Ftravlers

River Cruise Diary of Vietnam, Cambodia & Mekong: AmaWaterways Featured on Cruise Critic with Detailed Travel Log by 2Ftravlers

Ever since AmaWaterays introduced the Vietnam-Cambodia Mekong River Cruise program it has been a huge hit. In fact Gary Murphy, VP of National Accounts for
Ama, told a radio host that “in 20+ years in the travel industry he had
never seen a program take off so fast.” A river cruise that runs year
round, AmaWaterways added a second ship to the run and it continues to
be extremely popular.

On the website Cruise Critic, the travel writers 2Ftravelers
wrote a detailed account of their whole trip and gives the reader a
very good indication of the conditions, tours, sights, sounds, food,
drink and scenery they will encounter on one of these wonderful river
cruise vacations through AmaWaterways. On the rating for individual
aspects of the vacations, with categories like Dining, Public Rooms,
Cabins, Entertainment, Spa and Fitness, Shore Excursions, Embarkation,
Service, Value for Money and Rates, the writers gave AmaWaterways all
top scores.

Here is the complete travel log of the AmaWaterways Vietnam-Cambodia Mekong River Cruise by 2Ftravelers on www.cruisecritic.com  


SIEM REAP-ANGKOR TEMPLES

We arrived in Siem Reap after sunset to a full moon (very revered as it
was the first full moon of the new year) as we walked down from the
plane, across the tarmac and into the luggage area. Thinh had expedited
our arrival in Siem Reap with the customs agents. Once we retrieved our
bags from the luggage belt we were able to walk right through to the
bus where they were taken from us to be put in our rooms at the hotel.
There was some confusion since we thought we did not have to touch our
bags at all and would have them in our rooms after dinner but there
must have been some communication error. We arrived at our hotel, Le
Meridien, and went straight to dinner in the main dining room.

Our room keys were given to us at dinner, again the rooms were randomly
assigned. Dinner was very good and served buffet style with many
stations and a large selection. All of the food was fresh and delicious
and we were told that we could drink the water and ice. After dinner we
went up to our room which was large and comfortable. DH’s bag was not
there but was recovered from another room in 20 minutes. We decided to
check our emails and use our Skype account (the hotel charges $8 per 24
hours for internet access). That’s when we found out that our office
was frantically trying to reach us to find out about the junk that sunk
on Ha Long Bay the same night we were there. After emails assuring them
that it wasn’t us, we went to sleep. Luckily, our junk trip was not
cancelled. Had it been scheduled for the following night we would not
have been able to do it as the Vietnamese government cancelled all junk
trips for a few days to inspect all of the junks.

The next
morning we had the included lavish buffet breakfast in the hotel and
boarded the green bus with our Cambodian guide, Chantha, at 8:30 AM.
Our first stop was to get our 3-day pass for the temple sites for which
we had to have our pictures taken and wear it around our necks at all
of the sights. The first stop was Angkor Thom where we visited the
South Gate, Bayon, Terrace of the Elephants and the Leper King. The
complex is incredible as you approach and just beautifully carved with
intricate designs that are more than 800 years old. The bus had cold
water bottles all the time and it was important to wear sunscreen and
drink alot during the days as the humidity was high, the sun hot and
there was little, if any, shade.

There is alot of walking
involved and some steep climbing. For those that did not want to climb,
one of the other guides stayed with that group and walked around the
base area with them and we met up later. We had to leave our bus and
take a smaller shuttle bus to and from the entrance so on the return it
was very hot-drink lots of water! It is also advised to wear a hat and
bring an umbrella for shade which many people did. We went back to the
hotel at 11:30 for a lunch break for 3 hours. We opted to take the
green bus into town with some others so our guide could take us to a
laundry to drop-off our clothes. The charge is $2USD per kilo (2.2
pounds) and it is weighed right in the bag. It would be ready the next
day at 5PM (there are no dryers because electricity is so expensive so
you need to wait a day for them to dry).

Chantha also
showed us a great place nearby to eat lunch, The Ankgor Palm
restaurant. The meal was delicious, organic and cheap. We had a dish
called Amok which is a local fish steamed in a banana leaf with coconut
milk, ginger and spices with rice. It was wonderful washed down with
Tiger beer. Our friend decided to get a local haircut around the block
and was back 30 minutes later and $3 lighter. We took a “tuk-tuk” back
to the hotel. They are known by a variety of names-rickshaw, cyclo,
pedicab, etc. Some are powered by bicycle from the back (Hanoi &
Saigon) and others by motobikes in the front (Siem Reap, Phnom Penh).

The average price is $1 but can go as high as $5 depending on the
number of people (some can take as many as 4 people) and the distance.
You must negotiate the price before you get in. We met in the lobby for
the afternoon tour of Angkor Wat. The place is mammoth and the approach
is awe-inspiring. It was sunny, hot and humid (sunscreen, hat, umbrella
& WATER!!). After the tour, we had the option of going back to the
hotel or up Phonm Bakheng hill with our guide to watch the sunset. I
chose to return to the hotel but DH opted for the sunset.
Unfortunately, there was little sunset as a big, black cloud blocked
most of the sun.

That evening we were on our own for dinner
so the four of us went into town to eat at the Red Piano, recommended
by our guide on Pub Street. It was made famous by the cast of Tomb
Raider (Angelina Jolie) while filming in the area. Compared to our
lunch at The Angkor Palm it was very overrated. Pub Street has the
proverbial restaurants, bars and shops and is an interesting place to
walk around. There are the fish foot massage shops that have large
tanks of skin eating fish that love to nibble away the dead skin from
tourists’ feet for $3 for 15 minutes. We saw alot of that but did not
partake. We finished off with ice cream from The Blue Pumpkin and some
window (stall) shopping but did not buy anything. It had been a very
long day so by 10PM we were back in a tuk-tuk for the trip back to the
hotel.

The following morning started with breakfast at 7AM
and then back on the bus at 8 AM for the trip to Bantey Srei. This is
the temple complex featured in the movie “Indiana Jones Temple of
Doom”. The trees and roots literally grow out of, on top of, and around
the temple. There were some wonderful photo opportunities. We bought a
lovely watercolor of the ruins painted by a young artist from a group
of orphans and disabled people. He signed it and rolled it into a small
wicker tube. I was sorry that I didn’t get a picture of him with the
painting to keep together. I also should have bought another one-good
cause and very unique.

Our next stop was Ta Phrom, my
favorite of all the temples. Made of sandstone, Ta Phrom is also the
oldest (9th C.AD) and I think the most beautifully and intricately
carved of all we saw. It also seemed to be the least visited. It is
amazing that at all of the temples we visited you can climb on the
rocks, touch everything and access is virtually unrestricted. This will
most certainly change in the future. Several passengers had purchased
woven straw water bottle holders for $1 (everything seemd to cost $1)
at some of the sights the prior day so I was happy to find them here,
purchased one and brought it home. It’s a good souvenir and very
practical.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a
roadside village and watched palm sugar being made. It was quite
interesting. I actually bought some (3 wicker rolls for $2). I also
bought a locally made batik fabric for my daughter who is into that
kind of stuff. They are worn by the local women as skirts wrapped
around their waists to just above their ankles. This afternoon was to
be our last time with our guide, Chantha. On behalf of his local tour
company, we were given a small gift – a wicker gift box with a silver
trinket box inside. All of us had different shaped silver items. Ours
were a squash and an elephant.

These boxes are locally made
of Cambodian silver and are sold throughout Cambodia of differing
quality but a lovely and unexpected gift and remembrance of our time in
Cambodia. We returned to the hotel in time for lunch (on our own). We
sat in the lounge enjoying a cool drink and opted to eat at the hotel
for lunch. My DH stayed in the room for a nap while I decided to go for
a swim. Our guide offered to take those that were interested to the
local market (Old Market) for a couple of hours but I decided not to
go. I just couldn’t face another market and the heat. Instead, I went
into the hotel gift shop where I purchased for gifts 3 pair of locally
made silver earrings, 5 raw silk scarves and small wicker baskets
filled with bags of locally grown saffron and chili peppers. That night
the group had a lovely dinner at the hotel which included a BBQ of
prawns, satays, vegetables, squid and other seafood in addition to an
expansive dinner buffet. We were treated to a beautifully performed
traditional Apsara Dance show while we ate.


LA MARGUERITE-PHNOM PENH

We arrived in Phnom Penh on the third day and were docked there for 3
nights. The dock is along the waterfront street of Sisowath Quay Road,
lined with shops, restaurants, hotels, tourist shops, ATMs, etc.
FYI-ATMs in Cambodia dispense USD. When using the ATM you will be given
a choice of withdrawing money from checking, savings or universal.
Press the universal button.

Also, if for some reason the
ATM starts beeping (similar to a home burglar alarm), withdraw your
card immediately and either start again or find another ATM. While this
didn’t happen to us, we were warned by others that it may mean the
machine is about to “eat” your card. From the Marguerite to the street
you must walk up 75 shallow metal steps or up a metal incline attached
on the side of the steps. The port at street level is actually a
parking lot for cars, tour buses and tuk-tuks. The port closes
officially at 11PM but you can get back in by paying $1 (we were never
asked and just walked in as we pleased). We were able to leave the ship
the first night if we wanted but chose to stay onboard and watch “The
Killing Fields” which didn’t end until almost 11PM.

The
next morning we went by bus to the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the
National Museum returning to the ship for lunch. We were also given the
option to have the bus and guide take us to the Central Market (Phsar
Thom Thmei) to shop for an hour or so after our excursion. They waited
for us or we could take a tuk-tuk back to the ship. The market is
indoors as well as having stalls along the outside and at all 4
entrances, all selling gold, silver, jewelry, clothing, souvenirs,
flowers, food, fabrics, scarves, shoes, etc.

There is also
a Russian market that sells similar goods and is supposed to be cheaper
with more bargaining. I don’t know if any one actually went to the
Russian market to shop. We decided to find a laundry and found one a
block from the pier. Once again, it was $2 per kilo and it would be
ready by 5 the next afternoon. That afternoon there was an optional
excursion to the “Killing Fields” (Choeung Ek Memorial) and Toul Sleng
Genocide Museum, the Kmer Rouge’s detention center in Phnom Penh.. The
other option was to stay onboard or spend the time on your own. We
chose the former and were so glad we did. It is quite disturbing,
especially since the killing fields site we visited is only one of many
such sites where the Khmer Rouge did their dirty deeds. Nevertheless,
the sobering sites should not be missed as they put in context the
painful recent history of the Cambodian people. This evening we went to
Raffles by tuk-tuk.

On our final full day in Phnom Penh,
the ship had traveled downriver to a local silk-weaving village at
Chong Koh. Most of the green bus opted instead to visit a local
elementary school right near where we were docked to give out pens,
pencils and toiletries we had collected at our hotels and on the ship.
We visited grades K-6, met the teachers, principal and had a
translator. The children were adorable, appreciative and eager to meet
the group of strangers. Expect to be greeted by local women and
children selling scarves.

The children latched on to me
immediately and followed me everywhere. When I agreed to buy scarves
from them I was surrounded by all of them and the adult women. I
negotiated with them and handed off each scarf to my DH who also paid.
I would still be there had it not been for the ship’s horn and Thinh
patiently waiting for us to get onboard. I have wonderful pictures of
these children and great memories (and lots of scarves, too). This was
a highlight of our trip as were all encounters with the children.

The afternoon was free with an optional walking tour led by Teeny to
Wat Phnom, a park with a hill in the middle of Phnom Penh with several
pagodas on top, one honoring Madam Penh, the founder of the city. So
after lunch and before the walking tour, DH and I decided we wanted to
buy silver serving utensils as a gift to ourselves and went back to the
Central Market by tuk-tuk. The short story is that a shopkeeper
directed us to her cousin’s shop along Sisowath Quay in the hotel
district (across the street from Hotel Cambodiana) where we bought a
set of 4 beautifully carved, handmade serving pieces and were taken by
their English speaking young friend by tuk-tuk back and forth to the
store, an ATM and the pier. We decided to take the optional walking
tour during that afternoon during which Teeny introduced us to ripe
lotus seeds, hanging fruit bats and a group of monkeys, one of whom
stole her lotus seeds. That night after dinner we enjoyed the
traditional dance performed by the Cambodian children, said goodbye to
Teeny and met our Vietnamese guide, Dauo, who would be with us for the
remainder of the trip.

For media interviews with AmaWaterways spokesperson’s contact Promotion in Motion at 323-461-3921 or brad@promotioninmotion.net
Brad Butler
Promotion in Motion
Hollywood, CA
323-461-3921
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Categories: Angkor Wat, Travel
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