The Mekong River rises in China’s Tibetan Plateau and drains a large part of Southeast Asia, finally meeting the south China Sea in southern Vietnam. It’s a vital lifeline for the entire region too, with villages and towns dotting its entire length as it passes through, or defines the border between, all countries in this part of Asia, including Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, extended boat tours and river cruises are an extremely popular way to explore the area, from a few days to tours of a week or more than incorporate additional side-trips away from the Mekong.
When planning to take a longer cruise along the Mekong, it’s useful to note that the river’s course passes the capital cities of Laos and Cambodia, Vientiane and Phnom Penh, while the delta is easily accessible from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in Vietnam. That makes tours that depart from one place and end in another particularly popular, and perfect for longer trips or backpackers who want to incorporate the journey into an onward itinerary. There’s plenty of other factors to consider before booking however, such as the river cruise itinerary, value for money, comfort on board, and the health and safety record of the tour companies. Of the myriad tours available, here are five of the best based on those factors and more.
FROM: $340/per person
For a brief but enlightening education in Mekong River life, this three-day tour involves fast river transfers using speed boats and land-based accommodation for the two nights included. The first day starts with a four-hour journey from the Cambodian capital city, Phnom Penh, passing into Vietnam where you will disembark at Chau Doc. It is here that you can find a bustling riverside market and nearby floating village. There are plenty of other sights nearby, including colonial mansions and a nature reserve, before overnighting in Can Tho. From here you can explore the impressive and extensive Cai Rang floating market and the nearby waterways before taking a van transfer to Ho Chi Minh City.
From $483/ per person
If you’d prefer to spend your nights on the boat and get a more immersive taste of Mekong life, then this round-trip from Ho Chi Minh City is a great option. This river cruise involves two nights in an onboard cabin. Meals are served on the boat and you can watch the sunsets from the deck while getting a foot massage after a day packed with sightseeing. Cao Dai Temple, Cai Be floating market and walks through the traditional villages and pretty countryside are some of the highlights during your time here. This river cruise focusses solely on the Mekong Delta region and also includes bike hire and a ride on an iconic sampan boat, too.
From $1,999/ per person
Travelling from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City over eight days, this well-planned river cruise connects Siem Reap, via various waterways that feed into the Mekong, and on to My Tho in southern Vietnam. Your vessel is the modern Toum Tiou II Riverboat, which can carry up to 28 passengers. The itinerary here is exceptional, packing in many regional highlights and a couple of real bucket list sites like the sombre, yet important S21 Musuem and adjacent Killing Fields. Other highlights include Cai Be floating market, Chnok Tru floating village and Tra Su Bird Sanctuary. All meals are included apart from a small number of lunches when you’ll likely be away from the boat on a tour.
From $1,623/ per person
While the Mekong Delta is a hive of rural activity, there are many sides to this important river, and it takes a longer cruise to fully appreciate them. This seven-day, six-night tour ambles between Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Along the way you will see the more traditional, rural sides of these two nations, as well as colonial architecture and heaps of culture. Meals are provided by the onboard chef and you can watch the countryside villages bob by as you lounge on the top deck. Also included in the price is a flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap to end the tour, where you will find the legendary temple complex of Angkor Wat.
From $2,199/ per person
When a week doesn’t seem like nearly enough, there are a handful of longer Mekong River cruises available. Much like the experiences listed above, this fantastic option passes between Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City, but at a more leisurely pace, taking ten days to complete the journey. The difference here is that a sunrise tour of the mighty Angkor Wat is included, along with a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels left over after the Vietnam War. The itinerary is jam-packed with cultural shows and visits to sites near the river itself like Sam Mountain. Seven nights’ accommodation are provided on the boat, with two nights provided in hotels either side of the river cruise.