River Cruise through Vietnam & Cambodia on the Mekong Princess Ship

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    Mekong Princess: River Cruise Ship on the Mekong from Vietnam to Cambodia

    Beautiful sunset on the Mekong River in Vietnam
    ••• I wanted sights like this: sunset on the Mekong. ©Gail P. Dubov

    Mekong River Cruise: Exotic Adventure by Day, Lavish Comforts by Night

    I’m a travel writer with a definite lust for adventure and authenticity. I’d rather hitch a ride on a hippo than a helicopter and sleep in a hut than a Hyatt.

    I’m back from a one-week cruise adventure on the Mekong River, sailing from Vietnam to Cambodia. And I have to confess: I’ve become a riverboat queen. River cruises are the hottest trend in waterborne travel and I just found out why.

    I Was Ready for Some Comfortable Adventure

    I wanted to travel interestingly but comfortably. I had lost my patience with “emerging destinations” after tough trips to Mongolia (hardly any roads), Myanmar (unreliable trains) and Cameroon (no-show planes).

    I Wanted an Exotic Trip, But I Wanted it Easy

    When a chance to sail on a small river cruise ship in southeast Asia came along, I jumped at it. The life of this region is centered in its coastal and riverbank cities. And that’s where I found the perfect vacation formula: Vietnam and...MORE Cambodia aboard a luxury river cruise ship.

    A little pricey, yes. But for a no-hassle, spoil-me-rotten adventure, it’s worth it. And I'd find out first-hand why river cruising is the biggest trend in cruises.

    I Wanted Adventure and I Wanted Luxury!

    It seemed clear that on a Mekong Princess cruise, I could venture off the beaten track during the day. And then return to a deluxe waiting boat, enjoy a gourmet meal, take a hot shower, and crawl into a bed with soft Egyptian cotton sheets.

    A Floating Boutique Hotel: Check in Once and Experience the World

    And the best part? A river cruise ship offers a new adventure every day, but in the same luxurious room. I’d  have to unpack my khaki capris and cotton tees only once. My luggage would be out of sight for a week. What a treat.

    I Found Out Why River Cruising Is a Mega-Trend

    Here’s my diary of a week sailing upstream on Haimark Ltd's Mekong Princess ship. We sailed from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Preak Kdame in Cambodia.

    But be forewarned. I was spoiled by this river cruise, and it could happen to you. From now on I will compare every travel experience to having my private butler serve me fresh dragonfruit juice on the deck of a tranquil small ship. 

    Next: Please deliver me from hot, sticky, frantic Ho Chi Minh City

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  • 02 of 21

    From Sweaty Ho Chi Minh City to the Dainty Mekong Princess River Cruise Ship

    Busy Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
    ••• Ho Chi Minh City's traffic and humidity were getting to me. ©Paul Arps/Flickr Creative Commons

    All Aboard in Ho Chi Minh City: My World Flips from Chaos to Calm

    My Mekong Princess river cruise adventure begins in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. It's the middle of an unusual heat wave, with temperatures nearly 100 degrees F. The humidity makes my hair resemble cotton candy.

    But I have a boat to catch. I’m in a blissfully air-conditioned taxi, weaving through relentless traffic toward the Saigon Port. I’m happy to leave the frenzy of Vietnam’s biggest city behind.

    A Nautical Vision to Behold

    After a brief security check at the port, I catch my first glimpse of Mekong Princess. Brochure photos don’t do it justice. Its soft white exterior shimmers in the sunlight, and it radiates class. This elegant vessel will be my home for the week as I sail up the Mekong north to Cambodia.

    The Mekong River is the I-95 of Vietnam and the four other countries it runs through. This nearly 3,000-mile waterway is the source of life for millions of villagers along its banks. They eat,...MORE sleep, work, and shop on the Mekong. This historic waterway is their world, and it teems with energy.

    I’m about to board a river cruise ship on the Mekong. Even I'm impressed.

    Next: love at first sight

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  • 03 of 21

    The Mekong Princess River Cruise Ship Is a Regal Beauty

    Mekong Princess luxury river cruise ship
    ••• The Mississippi? No, the Mekong: the luxury river cruise ship Mekong Princess. ©Haimark Ltd

    All Decked Out: a Beauty on the Water

    RV (River Vessel) Mekong Princess is a sight to behold. She seems wrapped in lace; that's what curlicues of white wrought-iron balconies will do.

    There’s an elegance to this ship unmatched by any other craft saddled up to the Saigon docks. Mekong Princess is a trim, 12-cabin, luxury riverboat owned by an ambitious cruise company, Haimark Ltd.

    She's a Young Princess

    Mekong Princess is a babe in the water, launched in September 2015. But she has a timeless feel, with the wrought iron, ceiling fans, shiny brass accents, and dark wood decks. French colonial touches like four-poster beds and detailed molding add sophistication. Haimark calls the ship "the first spa-concept vessel on the Mekong."

    And She's a Sleek, Agile Thing

    Mekong Princess’s shallow draft and narrowness lets her navigate canals and narrow passages. I sense imminent adventures to places rarely visited by outsiders. And that’s what had drawn me to Mekong Princess in the...MORE first place.

    Next: onboard, the livin' is easy

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  • 04 of 21

    Welcome Aboard the Mekong Princess River Cruise Ship

    Crew of Mekong Princess river cruise ship
    ••• Welcome aboard Mekong Princess. ©Gail Dubov

    Mekong Princess Welcomes Me Like a Queen

    As I walk up the gangplank, the staff is lined up to greet me, in crisp white uniforms. A young man holds a silver tray with glasses of fresh-squeezed dragonfruit juice. With a big Cambodian smile, he offers me one. I feel like I’ve just stepped through a portal to luxury.

    The Service Is Royal Aboard Mekong Princess

    The shipboard staff of 28 gives Mekong Princess a crew-to-passenger ratio that’s impressive. With a maximum of 24 passengers, that’s better than 1:1.

    Bottom line: there’ll be plenty onboard to pamper us. The shipboard hospitality promises to equal no-question five-star hotel service.

    I meet Chantal, our enthusiastic St. Lucian cruise director. She introduces the crew (who are Vietnamese) and hospitality staff (Cambodian). A graceful, soft-spoken Cambodian woman leads me to my room. It’s my first hint that I’m going to love these sweet, gentle people.

    Next: I hope my cabin's nice...

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  • 05 of 21

    My Cabin Aboard the Mekong Princess River Cruise Ship

    Stateroom cabin suite on Mekong River cruise ship
    ••• Luxury hotel room or Mekong riverboat suite? Hint: it's also referred to as a stateroom. ©Haimark Ltd.

    No Cabin Fever for Me: Perfectly Posh Yet Comfy

    My Mekong Princess cabin is a floating luxury hotel room. I’m struck by how bright it is. A wall of floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors ushers in sunlight.

    I've Come to the Mekong River. My Cabin Brings the River's Life to Me

    The glass wall makes me feel I'm amidst the river's hubbub. What a show! Two chairs facing the glass doors are the best seats in the house. A French balcony, just deep enough to step out on, frames the scene. 

    Everything I Need Is Right in this Cabin

    My Mekong Princess cabin suite, one of 12, is elegant but comfortable. It has a huge, mirrored closet. The queen bed is dreamy, with a Cambodian mural set above the down pillows. They're perfect, but a "pillow menu" is at my service if I want something downier.

    There’s a mahogany desk for writing in my journal and checking my iPad; wifi is free throughout the ship. The wall TV makes me think: why? The real show is right outside. 

    A Bath Fit for...MORE Cleopatra

    But the cabin's piece de resistance is the bathroom. It’s marble and gold, with a rain shower and the fanciest vanity this side of Versailles. Fluffy towels and high-end natural bath products sit neatly on the shelf along with bottled water.

    The bathroom feels so lavish, it’s easy to forget I’m not in a five-star hotel but on the Mekong River. And then I look out the bathroom window and see a fishing boat slip past our ship. 

    Where Did this Afternoon Go? Into my Memories

    The Mekong Princess glides along. I'm delighted to laze in my cabin, watching Vietnam's riverbanks, and sipping cool drinks brought to me by smiling staff. Soon it’s dinnertime.

    Next: I meet my shipmates

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  • 06 of 21

    Who Goes on the Mekong Princess River Cruise Ship?

    Restaurant dining room of Mekong Princess river cruise ship
    ••• I had many nice conversations in Mekong Princess' dining room. ©Haimark Ltd.

    I'm Ready for My Closeup

    A grand, dark-wood double staircase curves from Mekong Princess' cabin deck down to the dining room. Every time I descend, I feel like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard making her grand entrance.

    In the elegant dining room, I hesitate a moment, then take a seat at the table where other passengers are speaking my language.

    I Know We're Going to Be Friends

    There are only 11 of us on this voyage; the ship has a capacity of 24. There are three German couples, who are old friends vacationing together; four Americans including me; and one sociable Frenchman. The group is inter-generational; some have kids at home and some are grandparents. 

    It’s an interesting, well-traveled, congenial group. When language gets in the way, we all laugh. 

    What unites us? We were all looking for a cultural vacation with ample creature comfort, and we found it.

    Next: Southeast Asian food better than a restaurant's

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  • 07 of 21

    Delicious DIning Aboard the Mekong Princess River Cruise Ship

    Dining aboard the Mekong Princess river cruise ship
    ••• Dessert aboard Mekong Princess tastes as good as it looks. ©Haimark Ltd.

    What Do We Eat? Well, It's Pho in the Morning…

    Breakfast and lunch on Mekong Princess are buffet-style, serving Western and Asian dishes. I believe in the “when in Rome” theory of eating when I travel. I opt for pho, the traditional Vietnamese soup of noodles with beef or chicken.

    A steward ladles up some pho for me. Several of my fellow passengers stop by the custom omelet station. 

    The buffet is a riot of color and variety. Exotic fresh fruit that I’m starting to learn the names and flavors of: jackfruit, dragon fruit, sapodilla, rambutan. I promise myself I'll try everything, no matter how strange it might look.

    …And Curry in the Evening

    Dinner is the formal meal onboard. Formal, as in no one’s wearing shorts. The dress code is comfortable. We all comply. 

    The German ladies wear simple but elegant outfits each night. (I wonder along with Regina, my new American gal pal, if they brought trunks full of Jil Sander and Karl Lagerfeld designs.) I do my best with my L.L.Bean wardrobe...MORE and a few accessories. 

    My First Taste of Dinner Aboard Mekong Princess

    Richly appointed tables with fine china and crystal glasses set the stage for an impressive supper.

    Tonight I choose Cambodian Chicken Curry with Banana Flower from the menu. My companions pick Malaysian Green Fish Curry. From all reports, their dish is as outstanding as mine.

    Mekong Princess: Floating Luxury Hotel & Gourmet Asian Restaurant, Too

    Each meal aboard Mekong Princess is as good as any fine restaurant in Asia. I'd call it an ideal blend of traditional flavors and Western accents. 

    Fresh rolls, breads, and desserts are baked daily onboard. For drinks, we have complimentary spirits, beer, and adventurous local wine.

    This quickly becomes a ritual: at the end of each dinner, we all vow to hit the treadmill or bike in the ship's gym in the morning. 

    Next: my chance to learn to cook Cambodian: can I do it?

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  • 08 of 21

    Cooking Class Aboard the Mekong Princess River Cruise Ship

    River cruise ship cooking class aboard Mekong Princess
    ••• A special guest chef led our cooking class aboard Mekong Princess: Dirk Schroeter, corporate chef of the Haimark Ltd. cruise line. ©Gail Dubov

    A Cooking Class Run Amok

    Today we sail most of the day, so an onboard cooking class is scheduled. I have my doubts. But if I can bring home one Cambodian recipe to show off, I’ll be delighted.

    Our Cambodian chef, Duk Da, leads our class along with Haimark's corporate chef, German-born, Bangkok-based Dirk Schroeter. Our class menu: we’re making green papaya salad with shrimp and a signature Cambodian dish.

    Our Meal's Headliner: Cambodia's Classic Fish Dish 

    Our main dish is amok trei, which translates to "fish curry." It's a traditional Cambodian dish and a mainstay of Khmer Cambodian cuisine.

    The dish is new to all of us. But, as with all unfamiliar recipes, you just go step-by-step and pay attention to each one.

    Perfecting Banana Leaf Bowls

    Chef Duk Da shows us how to make banana leaf bowls for our amok trei. You cut circular pieces out of a banana leaf and pinch it to make four corners that you secure with toothpicks.

    After a little practice, our banana leaf bowls are...MORE looking good.  We fill them with amok trei: fish marinated in coconut milk and a spice mixture of fresh galangal, lemongrass, turmeric, and paprika. The bowls disappear into the fish steamer and emerge cooked. 

    Our amok trei is exotic, delicious, and a complete success.

    Next: candy is dandy, but a sampan is quicker

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  • 09 of 21

    A Sweet Expedition from the Mekong Princess River Cruise Ship

    Making coconut candy in Vietnam
    ••• Vietnamese coconut candy: combine fresh coconut, sugar, and lots of steam. ©Gail Dubov

    All Aboard a Sampan! Our Mission: Coconut Candy

    Today we’re in the northern Mekong Delta in Ben Tre province, known for its traditional coconut candy. We will get there via a local sampan, a flat-bottomed wooden boat with a small canopy for shade.

    The sampan sidles right up to Mekong Princess. This one has a motor, and a local fisherman is our captain. We putter through a narrow channel lined with dark-green mangroves dense enough to hide the sun. 

    Our sampan heads for a small family-owned factory that produces coconut candy, a popular Vietnamese confection.

    A Family Secret

    Like the recipe for Coca-Cola, the exact ingredients for coconut candy is a closely guarded secret. It’s entrusted only to family members.

    I stand by one of many large steamy cauldrons in a rustic, open-air factory. Workers with long paddles stir a mixture of coconut milk, coconut cream and sugar. The liquid thickens and is poured into molds.

    I’ve been handed samples. It’s chewy and sweet, a kind of coconut taffy.. But I...MORE fear it's perfect for pulling out fillings.

    Water Hyacinth: a Botanical Invader...

    As we sail upstream, clusters of green water hyacinth are everywhere. This is a thick aquatic vine with fleshy, glossy leaves and lovely purple flowers.

    However pretty it is, water hyacinth is an invasive species that is growing fast and choking off the native flora. There are islands of water hyacinth floating in the Mekong. In some places, they’re so dense, they block river traffic.

    ...and a Boon to Villagers

    Water hyacinth may be an environmental challenge, but it’s helping rural villagers make a living. By making beautiful baskets.

    I follow Khanh, my Vietnamese guide, to a small, dusty village not far from a Khmer pagoda. Here. local women sit on the floor chatting. Their hands seem to fly trough the air like the thumbs of a teenager texting on an iPhone. I take a closer look and realize they’re weaving dried water hyacinth vines into baskets. Finished products are stacked up in the corner.

    These ladies have their production line going. Next step, selling them at the local market. (You can grow water hyacinths at home. Just don't let them near your local river.)

    Next: we experience the legendary floating markets of the Mekong

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    Not Your Usual Run to the Store: Floating Markets on the Mekong

    Floating market in Vietnam
    ••• A beverage store in the famous floating market of Cai Rang, Vietnam. ©Gail Dubov

    The Floating Market: Early Morning Shopping Like You’ll Never Do at Home

    The ship's five-minutes-to-go gong sounds, reminding me to head for the waiting sampan.

    It’s early. But I want to catch the morning excitement at the famous Cai Rang floating market, the biggest in the Mekong Delta. I’m told it’s a colorful look at daily life on the river, and promises great photo ops. I grab my camera and climb into the sampan.

    We weave in and out among scores of boats at the market this morning. Sellers and customers alike are on boats. The scene is so lively, it's electric.  

    Farm to Boat to Table

    Farmers from surrounding areas are here selling and trading produce. Their boats are heaped with watermelons, eggplants, yams, Asian pineapples. Each boat has a tall, skinny bamboo pole with a sample of the produce the vender is hawkiing. It’s primitive advertising but it works.

    The Pineapple Vender Is a Machete Mama

    The pineapple seller comes straight for our sampan. With a few quick slashes of her...MORE knife she plucks out the eyes of the pineapple, then quarters the fruit. With a big toothless grin, she reaches over from her boat to hand me a quarter pineapple on a stick. I’ve never tasted any fruit sweeter.

    Next: where a shoeshine becomes a sneaker-refresh

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  • 11 of 21

    Private-Butler Life Aboard the Mekong Princess River Cruise Ship

    Staff of Mekong Princess river cruise ship
    ••• Sometimes you really need a chilled washcloth, and Mekong Princess' crew is ready. ©Gail Dubov

     

    Returning to the Ship: The Royal Treatment

    By the time our sampan returns to the ship, it’s 94 degrees and sticky. Returning to A/C is a relief.

    I step on the deck of Mekong Princess and remove my shoes. They’ll be cleaned in a flash and placed outside my cabin door. There’ll be no river mud or village dirt to sully these spanking-clean decks!

    Shoe service is only one of the private butler hospitality flourishes we’ve come to enjoy after every excursion. Another ritual: I’m offered an ice-cold scented washcloth from a silver tray. Nothing could feel more refreshing at that moment.

    I grab a cold glass of fresh lemongrass with honey and lime and head to the spa. Time for a massage.

    Next: aah, the spa aboard Mekong Princess

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    Spa Aboard the Mekong Princess River Cruise Ship

    Spa on Mekong Princess river cruise ship
    ••• At only $40 per hour-long massage, Mekong Princess' spa treatment room was frequently booked. ©Gail Dubov

    My Masseuse: Petite Yet Powerful

    Mekong Princess' small but well-designed spa treatment room has a serene Asian Zen vibe. Kahna, my masseuse, is a tiny Cambodian lady with a big smile. First, she prepares a blend of natural oils for my massage. Then I savor an hour of pure bliss.

    The Cost of these Massages? Free to Cheap

    How can someone under five feet tall and nowhere near 100 pounds perform the most muscle-relaxing massage any of us have ever had? At $40 U.S. per massage, we keep Kahna busy all week. 

    What makes it even better? On Mekong Princess, your first massage is on the house.

    Next: croc around the clock

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  • 13 of 21

    Mekong Princess River Cruise Visit to a Crocodile Farm

    Huge, hungry crocodiles in Vietnam
    ••• This crocodile species is the biggest reptile on Earth, and possibly the hungriest. ©Gail Dubov

    This Excursion Was Not What It Was Croc’d Up to Be

    The temp is in the high 90’s and the air is densely muggy. But the thought of visiting a crocodile farm -- today's excursion -- perks me up. I’ve never seen a croc outside a zoo. So soon I’m in a sampan, heading to Long Xuyen City's crocodile preserve.

    Crocodiles Rock

    If you’re not an Aussie or Southeast Asian who grew up in croc habitat, Blue Sky Crocodile Farm is mind-blowing. It shelters thousands of saltwater crocodiles. They are the largest reptiles on Earth. They thrive in fresh and brackish water as well as saltwater, and once ruled the Mekong.

    Crocs in all Shapes and Sizes

    Wallowing in shallow pools are cute little crocs and whoa! big scary guys about 15 feet long. They have eerie yellow-and-black eyes; crooked, toothy smiles; and dinosaur-like ridges along their backs. Our group is transfixed.

    We watch  feeding time: chunks of red meat get tossed to the crocs. The giant reptiles awaken from their cold-blooded stupor and snap...MORE open their gigantic jaws, angling for meat. They're primeval, like living dinosaurs. I think of how far crocodiles are from us on the evolutionary tree.

    Humans 1, Crocs 0

    Perhaps it was the heat that confused me. But I thought this place was going to be a crocodile preserve.

    Nope. These crocs are livestock animals raised for their leather--and their meat. The restaurant on the property has a menu of croc dishes. Fancy a croc burger? Or sweet-and-sour croc? The meat is low in fat, high in protein. Still no takers for croc curry?

    You can end your experience at the croc boutique with an expensive crocodile bag and matching shoes, or maybe a belt or card case.

    I guess this place wasn’t a crocodile preserve after all. But the crocs were so cool to watch.

    Next: crossing from Vietnam to Cambodia

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  • 14 of 21

    Loom with a View: the Vietnamese Weaving Village of Hung Ngu

    Weaver of Vietnamese checked cotton scarves
    ••• Hong Ngu village weaver specializes in Khmer krama scarves of checked cotton. ©Gail Dubov

    Heading to the Border Crossing

    Later today we'll cross from Vietnam into Cambodia. Before border formalities (and saying goodbye to our Vietnamese guide), we visit the local island village of Hong Ngu.

    Looming Large: a Village of Weavers

    As I walk down the main path of the village, I’m struck by the colorfully painted, well-kept homes. Hing Ngu is much brighter than other villages, where the only flash of color comes from tropical flowers.

    A Cottage Industry on an Island Village

    I hear the rhythmic sound of looms cranking away. Here, villagers weave traditional Khmer krama scarves, to be exported to neighboring Cambodia.

    I pass a man vigorously washing raw white cotton while his wife hangs it on a line to dry. They are processing the fabric to be dyed and woven.

    Khanh directs us to a home where a few looms rattle away. Stacks of finished  scarves, in colorful gingham checks, are neatly folded on a table. We all agree they’re kind of hipster cool. And at two dollars apiece, we’ve all...MORE scored bargains. 

    Smiles abound. Buying handmade souvenirs not made from animals or endangered wood is responsible tourism. The weaving family has made a bundle, and we've found inexpensive, authentic, and packable gifts for everyone at home.

    Next: we explore the Mekong's celebrated "floating village"

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    The Mekong River's Ancient Floating Village

    Cambodia's floating village of Tonlé Sap
    ••• Connected front porches form the streets of Cambodia's floating village, Kampong Chan. ©Gail Dubov

    The Tonle Sap River's Floating Village: a Historic Treasure

    Our sampan skips along, heading for the floating village of Kampong Cham. We’ve detoured off the Mekong to the Tonle Sap, a river that uniquely changes direction twice a year. (Here's a helpful map of Cambodia.)

    From June to October, the river fills the Tonle Sap Lake with water. It then becomes the largest freshwater lake in Asia, with UNESCO biosphere status.

    The floating village is just that: hundreds of houseboats right in the middle of the river. They resemble houses more than boats. It's an old tradition; archeologists think that people have lived on the river since the Khmer Empire, some 1,000 years ago.

    I see gardens, gates, hammocks, dogs sitting on front porches. Small boats zigzag everywhere. If you live in the middle of the river, your boat is your bicycle and your car.

    Days Are Numbered for this Floating Community

    The Cambodian government has declared that as of 2019 floating villages will have to leave the...MORE river. They’re creating too much pollution.

    This will be the end of a traditional culture. But the beginning of a healthier Mekong River.

    Next: Phnom Penh lives up to its glamorous reputation

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    Mekong Princess Sails to Cambodia's Beautiful Capital, Phnom Penh

    Must-see in Phnom Penh, National Museum of Cambodia
    ••• The National Museum of Cambodia radiates beauty inside and out. ©Clay Gilliland/Flickr Creative Commons attribution license

    Charming Phnom Penh, the City the French Built

    We pull up to the dock, right in the center of Phnom Penh. It's evening, and Cambodia's fabled capital glitters with lights. I head straight from Mekong Princess to a busy "night market" across from the dock. I can't wait to take in its exotic sights, sounds, tastes, and fine silk scarves.

    The ship spends the night docked in Phnom Penh. The next morning I climb into a waiting cyclo, a three-wheeled bicycle taxi. My driver peddles through traffic up Phnom Penh’s broad boulevards to the Royal Palace, an ornate Khmer treasure.

    All this Gold Leaf…But It’s the Silver that Floors Us

    The Palace’s towering gold spires are beautiful against the bright blue sky. But the famous Silver Pagoda next door wins the day. 

    Its floor is solid silver. Five thousand handcrafted silver tiles -- that this tourist crowd is walking on! In socks or barefoot; you must stop at a wall of cubbies outside and leave your shoes (flip-flops or sneakers in...MORE this climate). 

    National Museum of Cambodia for the Best in Khmer Art

    My cyclo driver pulls up to the National Museum of Cambodia, which shelters one of the world’s most illustrious collections of Khmer art.

    The building (shown) is modeled after a Khmer temple, with a central open courtyard. In fact, the entire museum is open to the outdoors. Birds fly in and out as I admire magnificent Buddha heads and Khmer ceramics.

    This is a far cry from my usual New York museum experience. No wildlife sightings there.

    Next: dinner in one of Phnom Penh's most celebrated restaurants

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    A Celebrity-Chef Dinner in Phnom Penh

    Malis restaurant in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
    ••• Malis Phnom Penh occupies an airy courtyard lorded over by a dramatically lit Buddha statue. ©Malis Phnom Penh

    Local Cuisine, Celebrity Chef: Winning Combo for a Memorable Meal

    A group of us decide to dine off-ship and try a local restaurant tonight. It’s our one dockside stop in a city and we’re itchy to explore.

    We head for the restaurant Malis Phnom Penh, which also has a branch in Siem Riep. Malis' founder, Luu Meng, is famous for what he calls "living Cambodian cuisine": a fusion of traditional and contemporary Cambodian dishes.

    We're greeted by a huge stone Buddha in a twinkling courtyard garden. I start with Moringa Soup with pumpkin flower. A leafy green, Moringa is considered a "superfood" like blueberries, broccoli, and açai. Moringa soup is light and flavorful, resembling spinach consommé.

    My entree is baked goby fish from the Mekong with mango dip. The fish is marinated with lemongrass and garlic, then topped with sweet-and-hot green mango chili. The flavors are complex and intriguing. I muse: so is Phnom Penh.

    Next: was I up for the Genocide Museum?

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    Be Strong for the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Phnom Penh's haunting Genocide Museum
    ••• Memorials to the murdered at Phnom Penh's Genocide Museum. ©Glenn Forbes/Flickr Creative Commons

    The Killing Fields: Do We Go on this Excursion or Not?

    The afternoon expedition today is somber: first, a visit to the infamous site of mass killings during the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot during the 1970s. It is believed that one-quarter of Cambodia's population was murdered during these times.

    The "killing fields" trip will be followed by a visit to Phnom Penh's Genocide Museum.

    I can’t go. None of the other Americans can bear it, either. Are we all scarred with guilt by what we know of the U.S. government's covert support of the Khmer Rouge? Do we feel horrible about the war in Vietnam, the country that just welcomed us so graciously? Or is 9/11, or the Holocaust, too much on our minds already? We don't know why we feel full of sorrow. But we do.

    Our Cambodian Guide Has His Own Personal History

    Our Cambodian guide for our days here, Sean, tells us his own genocide story. When he was six, his parents were summoned to a government meeting in a nearby village. They...MORE never came home.

    Sean's grandparents grabbed him and fled on foot across rice paddies to escape the same fate. They blended into another village and brought up the little boy there. 

    No Bitterness, the Buddhist Way

    Amazingly, Sean has no anger, no hostility. We have a thought-provoking discussion about the Buddhist teaching to let go of such feelings.

    Many Cambodians have stories like Sean's, of murder and grief at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Yet Cambodians are remarkably generous, kind people. They are an inspiration. 

    About's Southeast Asia Travel Expert can tell you more about the Genocide Museum.

    Next: time to bid adieu to Mekong Princess

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    Dancing the Night Away: Our Final Evening Aboard Mekong Princess

    Pretty Cambodian dancers
    ••• Young Cambodian dancers graced Mekong Princess our final night aboard. ©Gail Dubov

    A Festive Final Night Aboard Mekong Princess

    It’s our last night on this welcoming ship, our home for a week. We passengers are treated to a visit of demure children from a local orphanage, who joyfully perform Cambodian dances on our sundeck. The mood becomes even more festive as dancers pull passengers in to shimmy with them.

    Beneath the party air, the night is bittersweet. Because our week together has been so enchanting, and tomorrow morning we go our separate ways.  

    Goodbye to Mekong Princess' Extraordinary Crew

    The crew poses for photographs, and all us passengers snap away. The Mekong Princess' crew and staff added so much to our trip with their sweet nature and genuine pleasure in serving.

    And Farewell to the Lovely Mekong Princess Herself

    The rhythm of Mekong Princess has soothed me as sure as the TLC of her staff has pampered me. I step off the ship already knowing this vacation was unforgettable.

    It was an exciting, adventurous, and active trip, but neither exhausting nor...MORE daring. Mekong Princess was my comfortable, secure, and loving home. 

    I'm Already Thinking: What River Can I Sail Next?

    For the first time all week, I reach for my trim black duffel and start packing carryon-only for my long journey home.

    Somehow I'm sure that this trusty bag won't collect dust in my closet back in New York City. I want my next trip to be another river cruise...perhaps to the Amazon. Or maybe the Ganges. I’m hooked and officially a riverboat queen, thanks to Mekong Princess.

    Next: I've thought about all the reasons to take a river cruise 

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    River Cruising Is a Huge Phenomenon. Will It Be Your Style?

    Luxurious cabin bathroom aboard Mekong Princess Cruise Ship
    ••• Tne un-cruise bathroom: this is only part of my suite's restroom. ©Haimark Ltd.

    Why Take a Small-Ship River Cruise?

    • Relaxed pace and a laid back intimate environment
    • Unpack once and you’re set. Let the adventure begin
    • Ever get seasick? No chance on a river cruise. No waves, just smooth sailing
    • No lines to embark or disembark
    • Every cabin has a window on the river
    • No wait for meals or excursions on such a small ship
    • You dock right at the city’s edge and walk right off
    • You sail with like-minded travelers
    • You visit areas that are not connected to road systems
    • You get deeper into one region
    • Your cruise fare's all-inclusive pricing includes meals, booze, excursions, etc.

    Who’s Right for a River Cruise Ship Like Mekong Princess? 

    • A traveler who...is sophisticated and inquisitive, and seeks a genuine experience
    • Insists on luxury-hotel-level accommodations
    • And has high dining standards
    • And loves five-star hospitality service (and butlers)
    • Likes being moderately active, and walking around towns
    • Is open to "soft adventure" (nothing risky)
    • Wants...MORE activity-filled days and early nights
    • Can get into a good massage
    • Wants to relax and would welcome downtime and a slow pace
    • Is thirsty to learn about new places, and enjoys museums, performances, and experts' lectures

    Who’s Not a Perfect Fit for Mekong Princess

    • Couples with young kids or teenagers
    • Independent travelers who want to dine and explore on their own
    • Adrenaline junkies
    • Nightowls seeking after-dinner excitement
    • Travelers who'd get bored by daytime hours on a ship
    • Individuals with limited mobility
    • Anyone who needs a 24/7 wifi connection 

    Is It a Go? What to Pack for a Tropical River Cruise

    • Casual, comfortable outdoor wear
    • And a casual-chic dinner outfit
    • Sneakers or deck shoes and light hiking boots or good walking shoes
    • Extra memory cards for your camera
    • Long pants and sleeved shirts for temple visits
    • And a pashmina or sweater for frosty air-conditioning
    • Sun hat, ample sunscreen, insect repellent
    • A backpack or tote for excursions

    Next: connect with Mekong Princess

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    Find Out More About & Follow the Mekong Princess River Cruise Ship

    Vietnamese boy doing homework
    ••• You'll have your own unforgettable sights on a Mekong Princess river cruise. He was one of mine. ©Gail Dubov

     

    Find Out More, Follow, or Get in Touch

    • Haimark Ltd.'s luxury river cruises
    • On Facebook
    • On Twitter
    • By phone 800.798.4223
    • The ship I sailed, Mekong Princess and e-brochure

    As is common in the travel industry, the Guest Author was provided with a complimentary visit for the purpose of describing the resort. For details, see our site's Ethics Policy.