The magic of the Mekong
by Zoe Osborne
In October of last year, travel agents from the UK journeyed to Southeast Asia with our Emerald Cruises sales manager, William Young, for a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Getting a taste of the Emerald Cruises guest experience, agents were able to fully immerse themselves in the heart of local cultures. They learnt first-hand about the exciting and inspiring itineraries we offer, visiting fascinating destinations and joining enlightening excursions that make our Vietnam, Cambodia, and Mekong river cruising itineraries so enriching for all our guests.
Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia
As the team walked up to our Southeast Asia-based Star-Ship, Emerald Harmony, there was a wow factor straight away, with agents describing her as ‘radiating pure luxury’. Delighted to be welcoming guests on board for the first time since local restrictions on travel eased, the friendly crew were all smiles. As soon as guests boarded the design-led Star-Ship, they were welcomed with an amazing greeting from a crew that couldn’t do enough for them. With capacity for just 84 guests and 40 crew members, there is the perfect staff-to-guest ratio on board, which ensured that all guests’ needs were catered for.
Emerald Harmony exceeded all expectations, with stylish and spacious public areas set across five incredible decks. Complementary dark wood tones and muted colours created a tranquil setting for guests as they sailed between each destination. Designed with total relaxation in mind, the team were able to take a dip in the refreshing alfresco pool on warm days or relax on the Sun Deck in the open-air space and admire the passing landscapes with a delicious drink in hand.
Each suite and stateroom provided a chic and modern sanctuary, fusing Asian style with contemporary design. With all the amenities of a world-class hotel, Emerald Harmony provided the perfect haven to unwind after a day of exploring each destination.
The team were able to savour a variety of Asian-inspired dishes—a wonderful way to conclude a day of exploration or prepare for one of their many included excursions. Dining in the Reflections Restaurant provided an array of culinary delights and the chance to reignite passions for fine dining and exotic flavours, with sumptuous spices and rare ingredients.
Pool Deck, Emerald Harmony
Locally inspired dining
Drinks in the Horizon Bar & Lounge followed, and the extensive menu infused with local ingredients like lemongrass and tamarind, to create special drinks that matched the stunning vistas.
On the first full day of the trip, the team took a short drive to the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, where a walk through the fields and a visit to a small museum provided insight into the darkest days of Cambodia’s history. Later that day, a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former school that was converted into the main prison and torture headquarters of the Khmer Rouge, informed guests of this sad chapter of history.
From Long Khanh Island, known for its scarf weaving and Hoa Hao Buddhist pagoda, the team sailed onwards to An Long. Here, the team joined our DiscoverMORE tour of Tràm Chim National Park, home to Tam Nong Ramsar Bird Sanctuary. With a system of swamps, grass plots, and natural canals, the park is an ideal habitat for 191 species of plants, 150 species of freshwater fish, and nearly 231 species of water birds.
As part of our EmeraldPLUS programme, the team visited My An Hung, a small village in rural Vietnam, recognised as a cultural and historical destination. The team enjoyed local singing, wandering through coconut farms, and learning about life in the village. In the afternoon, the team arrived in Cai Bie, where they enjoyed a local home visit, learning all about local life and listening to their music.
Locally inspired dining
After returning to Emerald Harmony by sampan (small boats), the Star-Ship continued onwards to My Tho.
Set for a full day of sailing this majestic river, the team watched as views of life in the Mekong Delta unfolded along the ever-changing landscape. Cruising past mangroves, narrow canals, fish farms, busy cargo barges, and local fishing boats alike, the river was alive with activity. Waving to the locals as we passed, everyone was smiling. At times, the ship was so close to other boats you could shake the hands of people going by—it was a truly incredible experience.
Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City at night was extraordinary. All the guests gathered at the bow of the ship, eager to witness the amazing skyline as they approached. Such a contrast to the small villages and rural life of the Mekong, Ho Chi Minh City provided a modern lifestyle in Vietnam with skyscrapers, cafés, and bars. Emerald Harmony is specifically designed to sail into the centre of HCMC, unlike many other ships which are too high to be able to pass under the bridges.
After discovering the city, the team travelled to Siem Reap. Once they arrived, they checked into the stunning Shinta Mani hotel, a trusted Emerald Cruises partner, for a three-night stay. This evening, there was time to independently explore the city’s night markets or Pub Street, both a short walk or Tuk-Tuk ride from the hotel.
The following day, the team explored Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. Originally constructed for the Khmer Empire as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, it was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.
Sampan ride on the Mekong
Cultural performance on board Emerald Harmony
Waking up at 4 am, the next day was well worth the early start to see the sun rise at Angkor Wat. Catching the reflections in the water, walking around the temple, and learning all the history of this unique area of Cambodia was an incredible experience that won’t soon be forgotten. After breakfast, the team visited Angkor Thom, the longest-lasting capital of the ancient Khmer Empire—more recently the location where Tomb Raider was filmed—an incredible walled city with trees coming out of the stonework. Sat in the centre of Angkor Thom, the towers and faces of Bayon Temple are an astonishing and mesmerising sanctuary, plus the local monkeys provided a fun experience for the team.
The magical trip drew to a close after an evening of cocktails and exquisite dining. the team left feeling enriched with new experiences, the warmth of the locals, and a wealth of memories to cherish. This ultimate Southeast Asia trip has been one of luxury with the cruise on board Emerald Harmony and an experience of authenticity, uncovering rural villages, hidden treasures and ritualistic cultures. Reflecting on their time here in Asia, the team felt this trip offers something for everyone and is the perfect opportunity to delve into the history and traditions that shape the way of life along the mighty Mekong River in one remarkable experience.
Cultural performance on board Emerald Harmony