River cruising in Southeast Asia brings you up close and personal with a primarily Buddhist population who have witnessed war in their lifetime, yet welcome international guests as they move forward with their lives.   After completing a land tour of Indochina, I experienced seven nights cruising from Saigon, Vietnam to Siem Reap, Cambodia aboard the Avalon Waterways, Siem Reap.  There were just over thirty passengers and a crew of about twenty.  What a passenger to crew ratio! By day 2, the staff always addressed me by my name.  In addition to our shipboard cruise director, we were hosted by a licensed guide from both Vietnam and Cambodia who accompanied us on each shore adventure, briefed us daily, and was always available for further questions.

When we arrived at a remote landing point, the entire Avalon crew would help us safely get on and off the vessel. We were always welcomed with a cool drink and towel. Crew even took our shoes to clean!

Avalon hires a local country guide to cruise with us on the ship. Our Vietnam guide shared his personal story and was able to ask locals our specific questions. Additionally we have our onboard cruise director who handled all of our logistics.
Our cabin awaited us with all of the amenities imaginable.

Leaving the modern city of Saigon behind us we cruised into the countryside where nearly 70% of the Vietnamese population farm and fish. Hunger is not an issue.

Water buffalo are still the norm for small family rice farmers. Our river cruise allowed us to get this close for photography!Life along the river is busy as fishing and commerce take place.

Our shore excursions sometimes meant boarding a smaller vessel to get a closer look. Here in Vinh Long we took a sampan upstream to see villagers at work fishing and working outside their modest homes.
Houseboats and barge owners painted eyes of the front of their boats for safe travel.
Sampan boats crisscross Vietnam’s Mekong and all the its small tributaries. We boarded one in Cu Lao Gieng to see a village of Vietnamese boat carpenters.
A diffused sunset over the Mekong River. Just one of the gorgeous Vietnam sunsets I witnessed onboard.
Sunsets were stunning along the Mekong from the covered deck of the Avalon Siem Reap

Our crew was primarily Cambodian and they were honored when we entered into their borders. With two days in Pnom Pehn we were able to see the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda while seeing much post war construction.

The grounds of Cambodia’s Royal Palace were well groomed, exotic, and welcoming.

The sun was strong as we visited Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace and Museum. Brilliant colors and shimmering gold leaf adorned the roofs.
Avalon hired private cyclo drivers to take us to the Cambodian Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.
Gates of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

We did have a reality check in Phnom Penh as our guide shared the atrocities inflicted on the Cambodian people by the Khmer Rouge regime.  The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and a walk through the Killing Fields was an important educational component.

The Khmer civilization brought so much culture which is still available for discovery.

Khmer dance entertainment right on the deck of the Avalon Siem Reap.

While docked in Phnom Penh students from a local orphanage taught volunteers (including my daughter) the bamboo pole dance.
In Phnom Penh, Avalon supports a local orphanage buy hiring talented youth to dance and sing on board the ship. Here is one of their teachers with one of the Avalon crew.

Generations of families live together and care for their senior citizens.  English is the second language taught in local schools.

This Cambodian has lived in the same village for 90 years. He graciously allowed us to visit his home.
We visited a school in Cambodia where the head teacher welcomed us to listen to the children practicing their English.

The Mekong flows into the Tonle Sap lake before reaching the spiritual capital of the country, Siem Reap, where we disembarked to visit Angkor Wat and other temples, shrines and pagodas.

This cruise was a birthday gift to my daughter, Jenni. The Cambodian crew all got to know her and made every day special. Saying goodbye after our 7 night cruise was heart felt.

Linda Meadors

Linda Meadors has been affiliated with Blue Horizon Travel, Orion IL since 2002 with a focus on affinity groups which has included jazz clubs, heritage groups, school fund-raisers, celebrities with followers, reunions and church fellowship groups. Many individual clients started as group members. Linda has served as the MAST International Travel Writer since 2012. In 2018 her group and personal travel destinations will include: Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Spain, Italy and England. A year of college study abroad at the University of Vienna set her wander lust in motion to work in travel, convention planning, marketing and most importantly, communications.