In the fall of 2013, I sailed aboard AmaWaterways’ AmaLotus, traveling along the Mekong River through Cambodia and Vietnam. It was one of the best river cruise journeys I’ve ever taken. But it’s also a part of the world that still mystifies many would-be river cruisers, particularly those who have never been to Asia before.
Some of the more commonly-asked questions we get about the Mekong here at Cruise Experts Travel:
Q: We were wondering about the internet on the ship. Is it generally accessible?
Honestly, while it’s great they offer it (many Mekong-bound ships don’t), internet access aboard the AmaLotus should not be relied upon. In many instances, simply establishing a connection was an exercise in frustration. When it would work, it would drop out as quickly as it appeared.
However, once I got over the shock (what do you mean I can’t connect?!), I think I enjoyed the experience more. I mean, do we really need to update Facebook every second of the day? Probably not. Wrap-up any business you need to before you set sail, and you’ll be just fine.
Q: Does the ship provide rain ponchos, or should we bring our own?
Ponchos – and umbrellas – are provided for guests to use while aboard the AmaLotus and ashore.
Q: What was the age group of fellow passengers?
Ages ranged from teenagers to active travellers in their 80’s. In fact, I think the age group onboard was slightly younger than the typical European river cruise passenger. This is a very active itinerary, so you should be in good enough physical condition to climb into tender boats and spend time walking ashore. But there’s no limit to what age group would enjoy a river cruise along the Mekong.
Q: There is a huge debate on CruiseCritic about using USD in Vietnam as opposed to VND. Wondering what your experience was and whether you exchanged your money for Dongs both during the river boat trip as well as in Saigon, or whether you were able to use USD for all your tips, purchases, taxis.
If there’s one thing CruiseCritic can be counted upon for, it’s controversy. If you said the sky was blue, two people would argue with you that it isn’t.
However, in my personal experience, it depends on the place in Vietnam you’re visiting. Major stores and hotels will likely have pricing listed in US dollars, and you can certainly use them to barter and pay for goods in the Central Market. If not, you’ll have to do the conversion in your head. One US Dollar is equal to about 21,105 VND.
I personally wouldn’t change USD to VND unless absolutely necessary; you’ll lose too much in the transfer. Instead, you could take some VND out from a bank if you plan to stay in the country for a while, though I’d do this for practicality over what currency is “preferred”, and to make sure I’m not getting ripped off.
In Cambodia, the US dollar is widely used, so there’s no real point to using anything else. I can see where the debate comes in about which currency is “preferred” – here in Canada, we take U.S. Dollars, but give change in Canadian since we are, of course, in Canada. In many countries that don’t have this reciprocity, it is considered impolite to try to pay with US Dollars, and I’ve see a bizarre number of travelers absolutely melt down in countries like Germany and Italy when the almighty Dollar is refused.
Cambodia and Vietnam are not like that, however – think of the US Dollar as a perfectly legitimate currency choice that is readily accepted.
Q: We are considering this cruise and looking into AmaWaterways and Viking. We usually travel with Tauck, but they do not offer journeys along this river. Is there an advantage to one over the other?
I haven’t personally experienced Viking’s product along the Mekong (or offerings from Avalon or Uniworld, for that matter), but there is one area that gives AmaWaterways a definite advantage over their competitors, and that is the design of their ships.
AmaWaterways is the only line to offer climate-controlled, interior corridors to access their guest staterooms. They’re also one of the few lines to offer guests both a full-size, air conditioned Lounge and an outdoor Sun Deck.
On other lines, staterooms are accessed via the ship’s outer decks, and a few ships lack an indoor Lounge. If you can handle the heat, this may not be an issue for you. But I live in a country where the temperature falls below zero every winter; I am used to the cold, not the heat and high humidity. For me, having temperate interior spaces aboard the AmaLotus was an absolute lifesaver.