Travelling rivers through the stunning scenery of places where roads do not exist, exploring spectacular ancient temples and tiny traditional villages hidden in the jungle beyond the shores – it all sounds fascinating, but not something that you associate with luxury travel – or does it? Surprisingly, it is all possible, in the height of 5-star elegance, when you see Vietnam and Cambodia with Uniworld: staying in 5-star hotels and cruising the Mekong river on the River Orchid. I recently indulged in this delightful experience, and absolutely recommend it as the way to see these amazing countries.
Uniworld specialise in river cruising, and from a start in the European river cruise arena, have expanded to river cruises in other parts of the world – Vietnam, China, India, Egypt – anywhere where there is a magnificent river, rich cultures and many great things to see. More importantly, if you love to explore the more interesting parts of the world, but love a soft landing too, they specialise in 5-star plus service too. The Vietnam and Cambodia experience is definitely that – for 15 days you are treated to all-inclusive luxury, with visits to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, and Siem Reap in Cambodia, plus 8 days of relaxing cruising down the Mekong from Kampong Cham in Cambodia to My Tho in Vietnam.
Shore excursions are included (although there are sometimes additional optional ones that you can add the included excursions will have you doing something new and interesting every day), and almost all meals and drinks are included, whether dining on the ship, or in one of the specially selected restaurants ashore. The River Orchid is an enchanting combination of traditional Asian styles and materials, and modern luxury inclusions. The ship is rich in textures with teak panelling in the cabins, rich patterned and embroidered silks, fine cottons and brocades used for the curtains, bed covers and the superbly comfortable chairs in the bar and lounge.
With a maximum of 60 passengers, and a staff of nearly half that, this is an exclusive, intimate experience. Service is seamless and courteous, delivered by staff who genuinely like their passengers and enjoy interacting. Whilst you are out exploring, seeing parts of the country that can only be seen from the water, visiting artisan workshops, local markets and floating villages – all with the help of knowledgeable local guides – the preparations on board ensure you return to immaculately presented rooms and a delicious dining experience.
As you watch the ever changing river scenery pass, or chat with your fellow passengers, your meal is presented and served to the standard that you would expect in the best 5-star restaurants. When initially boarding the ship, each and every guest is consulted about their food sensitivities and preferences, to ensure that the kitchen can make every meal a perfect experience for you. My personal food sensitivities were dealt with easily, and I enjoyed every meal.
The food presentation is as beautiful as the rest of the ship, and the range of food choices is extensive, and tailored to the cultural preferences of each group of passengers, adjusted completely for each new cruise. As much as possible, foods are sourced locally, which ensures that they are as fresh as possible, and allows passengers to experience dishes and fruits that might not be available at home. Evenings on board start with a relaxing drink on the sun deck, or in the air-conditioned lounge, watching the spectacular intense colours of the sunset over the river – everything from deep orange and red to delicate pinks and purples, and silvery shimmers of light on the water.
Everywhere there were small traditional boats, and the silhouette of a small boat against the sunset captures the essence of the river as the life blood of the local people. For photographers this is a magical experience. Entertainment is provided most evenings, with a highlight being a traditional dance performance, presented on the ship’s spacious sundeck area, by the talented theatre troupe from the Cambodian orphanage which Uniworld supports.
It is the little things which really highlight the quality of service, and make this experience unique. Small gifts on your pillow every day, beautifully presented keepsake menus and postcard images from all of the restaurants that you visit. The personal connection with the local guides, who are so obviously passionate about showing you the best of their country, and the attention to detail from the cruise director and the staff, who are dedicated to making your experience as perfect as they can. Luxury is not the only way to explore the world, but from my experience, Uniworld does it best.