Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Along the mighty Mekong river

Aug 03. 2015
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Every aspect of the cruise is organised to suit the needs and tastes of the well-travelled connoisseur.
Rain is pelting the observation deck, falling in sheets so thick we can barely see where the Mekong meets the shore.
It is cosy weather and I could be reclined on a leather lounge chair, watching one of the 400 movies in the vessel's eight-seat cinema.
I could also be playing foosball in the game room, reading a book from the library or enjoying a massage in the full-service spa.
Instead, I am sitting on deck, cocooned in a towel against the fierce spray of water blowing in under the canopy, and watching the slate-coloured sky release thunderous amounts of rain into the delta.
The Mekong flows 4,350km through six territories, from Tibet to the South China Sea. To soak in this fluid perspective of the region, I am aboard the Aqua Mekong, a luxury river expedition vessel which has plied the southern waters of the Mekong river since last October.
The four-night, 290km cruise takes me up the river from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
At the moment, we are anchored at the border of Cambodia, and for the next couple of hours we have nowhere to go while immigration officers are on board, sorting through the passports of guests and crew.
There are worse places to be than a floating luxury boutique hotel.
The 62.4m ship has 20 spacious air-conditioned suites, each with a double-sink en-suite bathroom, king-size beds and floor-to-ceiling windows for full views of the river. Eight suites have balconies with a divan and table for two, where guests can sit with a bottle of wine and watch the world float by.
Instead of a balcony, my suite has a 4m-long sofa next to panoramic windows, where I can put up my feet and relax.
Every aspect of the cruise is organised to suit the needs and tastes of the well-travelled connoisseur. The rich decor of dark wood, clean lines and silk, accented by lotus blossoms and Buddha statues, is contemporary Italian meets Cambodian-luxe.
The bar is stocked with top-quality international wines and unique Mekong-inspired cocktails, specially created for the Aqua Mekong by award-winning mixologists from the 28 HongKong Street cocktail bar in Singapore.
Highlights include the Mekong Colada, with fresh passionfruit, mango, lime and coconut; and the Mu Pho Mary, a slightly sweet version of the Bloody Mary infused with star anise and other spices of Vietnam's famous pho noodle soup.
The friendly, attentive service is top-notch and the staff are quick to learn the names of every guest on board.
There are 40 Vietnamese and Cambodian crew members, including a cruise director, paramedic and four English-speaking guides, allowing a one-to-one ratio to the ship's maximum guest capacity.
Eventually, I move through the plush lounge on the upper deck and down a sweeping spiral staircase to the restaurant, where head chef Adrian Broadhead and sous chef Sa Em are leading a cooking demonstration.
A handful of guests have gathered to learn about and taste tropical fruits such as mangosteen and snakeskin fruit, which are new to some, before we try our hand at making Vietnamese spring rolls.

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