Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

MEKONG MAGIC; KATE LALLY Takes a Relaxing Journey along a Watery Highway through Vietnam and Cambodia

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

MEKONG MAGIC; KATE LALLY Takes a Relaxing Journey along a Watery Highway through Vietnam and Cambodia

Article excerpt

Byline: KATE LALLY

ROM the moment I stepped out of Ho Chi Minh airport, I was enveloped in the familiar sights and smells of Asian life.

FEndless waves of people, street markets and no sense of order whatsoever seemed to sum up my arrival into Vietnam.

Crossing the road is an adventure in itself, as the vehicles mish-mash along, narrowly dodging one another, while tourists take a deep breath and try their best to navigate the chaotic roadways.

It's definitely entertaining. Vietnam's bustling second city is an intriguing mix of fast-paced hedonism alongside French legacy and old war relics, and I could have easily spent an entire week exploring Saigon.

But we had a boat to catch - and not just any boat. The RV Mekong Pandaw, built in 2002, is a replica of the heritage paddle steamers that sailed the Irrawaddy River from the 1860s to the 1940s. These vessels moved locals, colonists, soldiers, rice, livestock and literally anything else along the river.

After a short coach journey to the port of My Tho, the six of us travelling with Saga boarded the Mekong Pandaw (MP), joining around twenty other passengers to head north along the Mekong River for seven nights.

The MP is a relatively small ship, 60m long and 10m wide, with polished timber decks and around 24 cabins. But don't let her size fool you, there's plenty of room on board.

In fact, with her wide promenades and large dining hall, the MP has more public space per passenger than any known ship afloat.

On boarding we were struck by the incredibly warm welcome from the mainly Khmer crew - constantly smiling, they are truly the jewel in the ship's crown.

The top deck is used for lounging on sunbeds and there's a full-size billiards table, as well as a fullystocked bar that serves tea and coffee at sunrise, cocktails at sundown, and ice cream at any time of day.

The ship also has a gym, spa, library and 'spare' bar, known as the Saloon Bar, in case it's raining up top.

Food, as with everything else on-board, is of an exceptional standard.

The menu is a mix of familiar fare and local cuisine - I had a 'Vietnamese pizza' for my first dinner - and complimentary local beers, spirits and soft drinks are included.

And if we hadn't been sailing around such a beautiful corner of the world, the food could well have been the trip's highlight.

As we cruised upstream, through Vietnam and into Cambodia, the days rolled into an easy schedule of morning and afternoon excursions. On each outing, we were accompanied by members of the ship's crew and an incredibly knowledgeable local tour guide.

The week-long cruise struck a balance between the bustling Vietnamese delta and the tranquillity of Cambodia, and day-trips included visits to local communities which live right at the edge of the river, in homes built from whatever materials are available. …

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