One of the world’s longest rivers, flowing through six Asian countries, makes for an exotic Emerald river cruise to remember – and one that will let you strike a few items off your travel bucket list!
The Mekong River is a majestic waterway that winds its way through Southeast Asia. Dubbed “the Mother of Water,” the Mekong river is the lifeline for millions of people in the region, providing water, nourishing the surrounding land, and supporting the livelihoods of the people of distinctly unique cultures and lifestyles who live on the river and along its shores.
The Mekong River basin encompasses a wide range of ecosystems, from tropical rainforests to arid plains. It is home to amazing biodiversity, including numerous species of fish, birds, and mammals, some of which are endangered.
Stretching over 2700 miles, the Mekong flows in a southerly direction through six countries: from China in the north, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, where it drains through the Mekong Delta into the South China Sea.
This mighty river plays a central role in the livelihoods of the people of every country is passes through. The Mekong provides water for drinking, agriculture, and fishing. And the Mekong Delta in Vietnam is often referred to as the 'Rice Bowl' of Southeast Asia.
An Emerald Cruise on the Mekong River focuses river navigation on the lower part of the river; from Cambodia to Vietnam, anchored by Ho Chi Minh City on the end.
Different itineraries extend the river cruise by land to other iconic Southeast Asian destinations; but on every Emerald Cruise Mekong itinerary, the river is the heart of the journey, and here’s why:
1. The Emerald Harmony was custom-designed and built for her life on the Mekong River, and in particular, to sail into the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, where she docks right downtown. On other cruises that call in HCM City, the ship must anchor off shore and tender guests into town. On the Emerald Harmony, guests are part of the marine heart of Vietnam’s most famous city.
2. Emerald Cruises give you a deep dive into the local cultures of urban and rural river life in Vietnam and Cambodia. From onboard dragon dance performances, to receiving a traditional Buddhist monk blessing, from opera in preserved colonial buildings to traditional puppet shows performed in flooded rice fields, you get the best of both worlds and cultures along the Mekong river.
3. The Mekong is a river of many markets, and your cruise itinerary lets you experience a wide variety of iconic Southeast Asian markets, from the incredible floating market on the river at Cai Be (pictured, top), where vendors on boats peddle produce, prepared foods, flowers and household items (we even saw coffins!) to buyers in an organized chaos of boats, color, and people. HCM City itself is home to a number of markets, and you won’t want to miss the unique night markets, with special atmosphere and less bustle than daytime business.
4. A river cruise along the Mekong gets you up close to some of the river’s diverse wildlife as you sail through rural areas. Watch children riding on the backs of water buffalo, or if you’re lucky, get a glimpse of an Asian water monitor, one of the longest lizards in the world, along the bank or in the shallows, a gibbon dangling from the branches of trees alongside the river, or even an Asian elephant, although they are sadly rare outside of reserves.
5. The flavors of the Mekong come alive along the river. Not only can you indulge in homemade market delicacies, Emerald gives you opportunities to sample the wide variety of local tastes and cuisines. In one very special onboard event, guests celebrate crossing the border between Vietnam and Cambodia with a Cambodian-style family dinner served onboard.
6. Diving into history is easy as your journey along the river connects places, people, and moments in time, from ancient cultures to recent historic events. A Mekong river cruise takes you to both Cambodia’s ancient Royal Khmer Palace, with ornate gilding dominating the skyline, and to a visit to pay respects to the victims of the horrors 20th century “Killing Fields” and Tuel Sleng Genocide Museum. In Vietnam, evocative reminders of European colonialization and a decades-long war in that country are reflected in preserved colonial-era landmarks, our familiarity with many Vietnamese place names, war museums, Vietnam war sites, museums and HCM City’s Reunification Palace.
7. Your cruise along the river can also be a spiritual journey. Temples, pagodas, robed monks and religious tributes are still a daily way of life along the Mekong river’s communities, and visits to places like Giac Lam Pagoda, the oldest temple in Ho Chi Minh City, Cambodia’s Silver Pagoda, where the floor is covered in silver, or the newly-restored Cao Dai temple, bring Emerald’s river cruise guests to a variety of forms of worship in the region, and an enhanced awareness of a spiritual outlook that has shaped the warm character of the people of the Mekong river.
Start Your Mekong River Cruise!
Cai Be market: Getty
Emerald Harmony: Emerald Cruises
Story: Lynn Elmhirst, cruise/ travel journalist and expert.