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On Avalon Mekong cruise now, Nov 10-28, 2023


ljandgb
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As the title states, we’re on the Avalon Saigon for a Mekong cruise now. We arrived in Viet Nam November 10 for extensions in Hanoi, Ha Long bay, and Ho Chi Minh City. We also did 48 hours in Taiwan prior to all that since we flew EVA Air. 
 

We embarked November 16 in Ho Chi Minh City and are currently in Phnom Penh. We’ll be doing the Bangkok extension at the end as well. 
 

I’ll do more thoughts when we get home but if anyone has specific questions I can try to answer them. Wi-Fi and cell has been very spotty on the ship but we’re docked in the city for a bit yet, which helps. 
 

it’s been hot, low 90’s in Hanoi and HCMC but it’s been a bit cooler here. The ship is great, 36 pax, mix of Americans, Canadians, and Aussies. Crew fantastic. People everywhere super friendly. We’ve done a few OYO food tours which have been huge winners. This trip was my husband’s idea and I’ve not had a huge draw to come to this part of the world but so far it’s been fantastic. It’s really exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations. 

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On 11/19/2023 at 6:43 PM, ljandgb said:

 This trip was my husband’s idea and I’ve not had a huge draw to come to this part of the world but so far it’s been fantastic...

We went in February this year - bucket list trip for my DH.  It was an awesome experience.  I would go back - but the travel time is brutal, and don't want to sit on a plane for that many hours again.  We also flew with EVA air - but 13+ hours just to get to Taipei was really pushing me out of my comfort zone  Glad we went - but doubt we will book another trip that would take us over 20 hours to get to our destination.  Maybe if I was younger....

 

Fran

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On 11/20/2023 at 9:41 PM, Kristelle said:

Franski, that was my equation coming for Europe river cruise- 20 hours flight time,with long stop over in Singapore.

Getting to Mekong River cruise will be a breeze 😁

 

 We have met a few Aussies on our river cruise travels...  Most took very long holidays (many booked 4-6 weeks) to justify the travel time.

 

I did both of my degrees (undergrad and grad) distance through Charles Sturt.  I told my DH that if he truly loved me, he would send me to NSW for convocation...  Too bad CSU sent the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor to Canada and did the ceremony here...

 

Fran 

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Back from our trip and still fairly jet lagged.  I'm not going to do a full daily trip report, but will note any important points or differences from European river cruises as I think of them.

 

We chose Avalon for the small ship size, which was perfect.  The ship was in great condition and the crew were wonderful.  Our friends that traveled with us were amazed at the large size of the room in comparison with their Viking Danube cruise (not sure which ship they were on.)  It was a small enough group that it wasn't too unwieldy to get on tenders, walk thru town, etc.  We were told that because the ship is smaller, it could go on a few branches of the river the larger ships can not.

 

There were 8 of us that did the Hanoi/Ha Long Bay extension, 7 more that joined us for the HCMC extension, and 19 that did just the 7 day cruise.  Then we peeled off folks in reverse order - 15 of us went to Siem Reap, and the first small group of us went on to do the Bangkok extension.

 

The Hanoi/Ha Long Bay and Bangkok extensions were outsourced completely to local travel companies.  We did not meet our Avalon guide until we got to HCMC, and he stayed with us thru Siem Reap.  Our Hanoi/HLB guide was good.  The Bangkok portion was disappointing as far as Avalon was concerned.  Avalon provided transfer to the hotel, in 2 different vans, so only the group that traveled with the local guide got any info, and then one half day tour of the city.  The other 1 1/2 days were completely OYO.  The local guide was just OK.  We planned our own tours for the free time, but there were some more newbie travelers that were somewhat at a loss.

 

**side note - two of the "newbies" tagged on to our time in Bangkok.  I usually arrange tours thru the provider but our friends wanted to book thru TripAdvisor/Viator.  I did what she wanted and regretted it.  It was impossible to add the 2 extras on thru TA/Viator, so we did by just contacting the provider directly thru WhatsApp and paying cash at the time of tour.  Also, one trip cost HALF to book directly thru them.  I look at it as a lesson learned.  The tours themselves were awesome.**

 

Interestingly, the 7 that joined us for the HCMC extension had just COME from Bangkok, and were going to Hanoi/HLB AFTER Siem Reap.  I had no idea that particular combo was an option, the main differences being that we had 2 nights in Hanoi, and one in HLB at a resort on its own small private island while the other group did 1 night in Hanoi and 2 nights on a cruise ship in HLB.  Since they were going after they left us, I can't tell you any more about the specifics.

 

The hotels for the extensions were fabulous.  Like, spectacular.  The pool at the Park Hyatt Siem Reap is one of the nicest I've seen.

 

Our Avalon guides were also fabulous.  We had Khahn, a Vietnamese local, who was our coordinator for the trip, then Chung as the local guide for the Vietnamese portion and Sokun for the Cambodian portion.  I can't speak highly enough about them.

 

The cruise itself was a bit more low key than European cruises.  Due to the heat, I'm ok with that.  We had 3 days of afternoon sailings.  Our excursions were mostly to VERY small villages along the river, with demonstrations on weaving, noodle making, farm life, etc.  Avalon made sure we experienced a variety of transportation modes - tuk tuk, cyclo cart, and ox cart included.  There were few piers, and we mostly tendered.  I will say that anyone with mobility issues would not do well on this cruise.  The transfers at shore were frequently steep, irregular, and mobile as the tender rocked a bit.  The tender frequently just pulled up to a small trail on the shoreline.  We also rafted once, in Phnom Penh, at a large pier.

 

My favorite excursion was surprisingly the trip to the English school.  I'm not one that loves kids in principal, but they had the kids (ages 7-12-ish) set out with work books and we were paired with one kid to basically just go thru their work book with them.  It was like going thru homework with my kids and actually quite fun.  That portion went on for about 30 minutes then they had some of us stand in front of the class to answer questions from the kids.  Most people felt the same way I did - it was a highlight of the trip.

 

The food was very good.  Buffet at breakfast and lunch, menu at dinner, local dishes predominantly.  There was always a choice of sandwich or burger for lunch and chicken, steak, or fish for dinner.  Free wine and beer at meals, a happy hour drink of the day free in the evenings.

 

I loved all the countries, but Cambodia was my favorite. I think because they have come so far after so much tragedy.  We also loved Siem Reap out of all the extensions due to the temples.  Truly, they were worth the entire trip, and Siem Reap itself is just a nice sized city to navigate.  Hanoi was great, and so bustling.  HCMC started to feel a bit too large to my taste, and honestly I did not care much for Bangkok.  Crowded, loud, a lot of air pollution, and so difficult and inefficient to get around if what you want is not next to the subway or sky train.  

 

Not Avalon related, but we did several OYO tours, most street food related.  Hanoi thru With Locals, HCMC thru Street Food Man, Phnom Penh with Kingdom of Wonderlust (this was booked just the day before we got there and we had the owner himself,) and Bangkok with Bangkok Food Tours.  All were very good but the HCMC was our hands down favorite as we went places I would NEVER had gone on my own, and had food that you can not get at any restaurant.  We really felt like we were living like locals.  Our Phnom Penh tour was a close second, for the same reasons.  When we were in Siem Reap, we asked the hotel desk where we could get some of the same dishes and he just shook his head and said it wasn't possible unless we went back to the food stalls near the temple. LOL  HCMC and Siem Reap were private tours.

 

We also did a private tour to Kanchanaburi Erawan Waterfall and Elephant Care thru Idaytrip in Bangkok.  This was a 12 hour day and one of our favorites of the trip.  It was sooo nice to get out of the city, and it really made me think I'd love to go back and see the rest of Thailand that isn't Bangkok.  We swam in the waterfalls at the Erawan national park, and got in the river with elephants to bathe them.  We got soaked, had a blast, and got some amazing pictures as they had us give one of our cameras to a guide while we interacted with the elephants. 

 

We got a Vietnam e-visa no problem.  If you're getting one, check your dates carefully.  One of the travelers got the date wrong on entry.  Fortunately, they arrived at 11:30pm and she only had to wait 30 minutes to wait before going back to immigration.  The Cambodian visa you can not get online despite what your travel agent might say.  The ship did ours and just charged the $50/person to our ship account.

 

Money was in local currency at each location except Cambodia, where vendors would happily take $US for small transactions.  I did not have any issue with getting our money turned down due to condition, but our bills were in decent shape.  You can even get US$ at the ATM, but only in $100 bills, which was not super convenient.

 

Getting around in towns on our own we used Grab, the SE Asia version of Uber.  It worked well everywhere but Bangkok where traffic is so bad it just took forever to get anywhere.  Our cell service, AT&T, did not work well in Hanoi though, so we ended up having to have a random restaurant employee give us his wifi hotspot long enough to call a grab to get back to the hotel. Using the app worked fine on wifi.  If I were going to spend any amount of time in Vietnam on my own, I'd get a local SIM card.

 

We travel carry on only, and much of my travel wardrobe is performance fabric which washes and dries easily.  I always bring detergent sheets and a 10L dry bag to wash clothes in, but don't usually wash all that much.  This trip was different.  We were so hot and sweaty any time we left the ship that those clothes were not usable again.  I found myself washing every 2-3 days.  I also sent pants to be washed on the ship.  It was $2-4/item and returned in 24 hours in good condition (one group mentioned fears of t-shirts shrinking in the dryer, but that did not happen.)

 

Every lady in the group found themselves eventually getting elephant pants.  They really are the coolest (temperature wise) to wear there.  My friend said 'it's like wearing air conditioning on your legs." LOL

 

Generally, you could wear shorts if they were close to your knees (no shorty shorts on women) and short sleeved shirts.  Most places would let you cover with a scarf to correct that if needed.   The Bangkok Royal Palace required long pants, shoulders covered, and no mid-riff showing, scarf cheating not allowed.  We saw guards turning some young ladies away saying "this is no sexy area!"

 

That's all I can think of right now.  I'm happy to answer any questions anyone might have.

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