About Us: Luxury Cruises Along the Mekong Delta

Mekong Meandering

The dark wooden vessel slices through the water, winding past mangrove-lined shores interspersed by modest villages, and offering rare glimpses into Cambodian life, from the day’s fresh catch to palm sugar harvests. Aboard the three-day lavish Toum Tiou II cruise, 15 passengers are wined and dined as we travel from the expansive Tonle Sap Lake at Siem Reap’s outskirts to the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers at the country’s capital, Phnom Penh. The journey is an experience of immersion and escapism, with daily excursions through riverfront pagodas and markets offering intriguing and sobering insights to the country.

In recent years, river cruises in Southeast Asia have been increasing in popularity, following the success of other Asian waterways such as India’s Ganges and China’s Yangtze rivers. River tours are the fastest-growing element within the global cruising industry, which has grown from 12 million passengers in 2003 to 21 million in 2013, according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

In 2013, 5 percent of tourists arrived at their destination by water, cruise and ferry, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reports. The Asia-Pacific region accounts for 10 percent of the global industry’s capacity, with Southeast Asia’s slice making up 18 percent of this, CLIA states. The association also found a high interest in river cruising among 61 percent of their clients, and “exotic rivers” were amongst the organisation’s predicted hot destinations in 2014.

“River cruising is fast becoming a major tourism trend,” says Naidah Yazdani, Asia director for CF Mekong River Cruises, which owns Toum Tiou II and has operated Cambodia’s rivers for 13 years. “People used to explore countries via land packages, then ocean cruising became big. Now, more and more people are gravitating towards river cruising.”

The appeal to these cruises is in part the proximity they provide to remote areas and communities, potentially offering more insight into traditional life, as rivers often run where roads do not. “Many of these sights are inaccessible to those visiting by land,” says Yazdani.

Successful cruising requires not only beautiful destinations, but also rivers that run past those destinations — a benefit that both Vietnam and Cambodia enjoy. “The advantage of a cruise is you can go around these countries, but with a river cruise you can go right inside,” adds Niall Crotty, sales and marketing manager for Mekong Dawn Cruises, which began operating last year.

Another draw is that these experiences can take place at no cost to comfort, which is particularly attractive for older travellers. “If you want to break away from the tourist trail, this is probably the most civilised way of doing that,” says Kourosh Aghassi, former cruise director for CF Mekong.

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