We recently took the plunge, no pun intended, on a 3 day / 2 night river cruise down the Mekong River in Cambodia from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. We boarded a river cruising vessel called the Toum Tiou II. I have to admit to being a bit skeptical at first, although the price was actually quite reasonable, it was the idea that it was going to be an organized tour. I warmed up to the idea after we booked which was about a month before our departure.
After arriving in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and after being on board the boat for an hour, it was then that I realized that we were in for a special trip, one that could not be done without an experienced crew, nor without the specialized boat that has been adapted for the Mekong River, which, as far as river go in the entire world, is totally unique. Honestly, that’s an understatement. To understand how unique the Mekong River is, you have to cruise on it. I am talking about a river that can actually flow in 2 directions, how is that for unique? The Mekong should be a wonder of the world. More on that later… but first, I would like to show you our boat, the Toum Tiou II. Here’s a few pics!
I saw bigger more luxurious river cruisers go by during our voyage but what Toum Toui II lacks in luxurious trappings, it makes up for with its down to earth river cruising style. It has all the cozy comforts and personalized service you need or want and you experience the river more intimately on Toum Tiou II than you would on a much bigger vessel because the Toum Tiou II floats along the surface of the Mekong in as little as 2.5 meters of water. The big boats just cannot go there. I didn’t know this when we booked, we just got lucky but it makes a big difference. Time for more pics!
Our cabin had a huge windows right beside one of the beds which was good for view watching. Blinds or dark curtains provided total privacy. Our private bathroom was fine, everything in the cabin is made from Teak wood, the shower stall was big enough for two. No complaints there and our cabin included a desk and a closet. Topside was a nice lounge area and the dining room was at the stern and one level down. All meals were in the dining room at our table for 16 which was the number of people on our 3 day cruise and meal time was fun, lively, talkative and friendly. Guests were from France, Australia, USA, Canada and the UK. We could order wine if you wanted too. Wine in Cambodia is not expensive, bonus! Wine was about $20 and beer was about $2.50 which made me happy. Most people enjoy the top deck while floating downstream with the river. In this next not so exciting picture you can see the closet, in room safe and the desk.
I’m not big on bathroom photos but I realize its important for people to have an idea, so without further adieu…… the large shower is to the right of the teak wall with slats.
Now on to more exciting endeavors such as lounging topside, having a cold beverage and watching the incredible scenery float by. The Mekong River can be quite surreal. For some weeks or months of the year, its like a never ending water world as the river swells into gigantic proportions. It all depends on how much rain falls during the rainy season, June to September. Tonle Sap (lake) which the Mekong flows into swells by a factor of 4 to 5 times some years. This changing everything! There is so much water in Tonle Sap that during some years, most years actually, the water flows out of Tonle Sap, back into the Mekong River, causing the flow of water in the Mekong to actually reverse- bizarre or what? If that’s not interesting enough for you, then check out how the many thousands of humans who live on the Mekong River or on Tonle Sap adapt to this ever changing dynamic natural phenomenon. Hope these photos help but they can’t begin to do it justice.
We did excursions everyday, usually one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We saw plenty of villages like this and had a chance to meander around rice fields and farmlands.
A village of Vietnamese migrants living at the mouth of Tonle Sap. Their lives are determined by the river’s ebb and flow. If water levels are high, they eat a lot of fish. If water levels are low or temporarily dry, they quickly plant crops and grow vegetables but there are no roads. There are only boats.
All in all it was really a terrific travel experience. The food was plentiful with 3 meals per day, some snacks and the food was Khemer food, not spicy, but a healthy mix of soups, salads, fish, pork, chicken, rice, noodles, fruit and much more everyday. We ate a lot of food as it is in abundance, you want for nothing. The cruise is available here now.
If you are looking at this tour, you may also consider doing Phnom Penh to Saigon or Saigon to Phnom Penh. Those trips are 5 days / 4 nights. The Mekong River Delta in Vietnam is a feast for the eyes in terms of human activity compared to Cambodia’s quiet peaceful countryside!