River cruising in Asia is an increasingly popular proposition for seasoned river-cruisers and newbies alike.
Flying to Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar from Australia is easier than ever before and as tourism develops in the region – but not to the extent that rivers are by any means overcrowded – we’re seeing modern, boutique vessels offering an enticing range of itineraries and shore excursions.
Pandaw River Expeditions has been operating in Southeast Asia since 1995, when founders Paul and Roser Strachan revived the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company that had been established by Scottish traders in Burma in 1865. Pandaw’s own history is a colourful one, packed with a pioneering sense of adventure, hilarious mishaps and absolute dedication. Check out Paul Strachan’s book, The Pandaw Story, for the full, entertaining account.
These days, Pandaw operates 16 custom-built river ships on the Mekong, through Vietnam and Cambodia; the Red River and Halong Bay in Vietnam; the Upper Mekong through Laos, China and Thailand; and on the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers in Myanmar. And if you’re looking for a family-friendly holiday with a difference, this year
Pandaw has a great deal. Two children age 5 to 18 can travel free – in their own cabin – on select voyages with two adults. Fares include daily excursions, cultural performances, movie nights and mountain bikes to explore rural villages, temples and countryside.
Avalon Waterways, an internationally renowned river cruise company, also offers a terrific range of cruises on the Mekong and Irrawaddy rivers. In September, the 36-passenger, all-suite Avalon Saigon will be the newest ship on the Mekong, sailing between Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh along with its sister ship Avalon Siem Reap.
Avalon Saigon is a charming, colonial-style vessel that’s been specifically designed to take in the views from all decks and suites, whether you’re lounging on the top deck with a sunset cocktail or up at the crack of dawn checking out what’s happening on the river from your spacious verandah. And on the Mekong, there is always plenty to see – floating markets, temples, cargo vessels laden with local produce and villagers going about their daily lives.