Of the world’s many incredible journeys, sailing from Vietnam to Cambodia featured prominently on my list. And while floating up the Mekong River on a luxury ship might sound leisurely, there was still something truly adventurous about it.
Picture this: you’re aboard an exquisite colonial style wooden ship, sailing up one of the world’s longest rivers. While your final destination will be Cambodia, you know that if you keep following the river north, it’ll lead you all the way to China.
While you board in one of the most cosmopolitan and bustling cities in Asia, the landscape up river quickly changes. The skyscrapers of HCMC change into a countryside dotted by rice paddies, fish farms, and tropical fruit orchards.
Inbetween major ports, daily life comes alive in undeveloped and unexplored parts of the region that you wouldn’t have been able to access by land; remote, seemingly untouched villages, where locals may have never seen a foreign tourist, and rush to shake your hand.
There are many reasons to take a Mekong River Cruise, though today I want to dive into the specific highlights; individual experiences that are so full of magic, they become some of your most cherished moments.
I had never taken a river cruise, and, to be fair, this was my first trip to both Vietnam and Cambodia, though I was fairly certain that a river cruise was the best way to see each country. I had a feeling in my gut that traveling independently by land would mean missing out on half the adventure.
One of the world’s longest rivers, covering 4,000 km from its source high on the Tibetan Plateau, the Mekong River is the lifeblood of Southeast Asia. It flows from China to Vietnam through six countries (China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam), and is key to the survival of some 300 million people.
From fishing boats to floating markets, river life along the Mekong is vibrant, and has been for thousands of years. And it captures a diversity that you wouldn’t experience by land; a juxtaposition of ancient temples with modern palaces, of imperial cities with traditional villages.
I didn’t want an incomplete picture of from my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. I wanted to see the major tourist sites, sure, but I also wanted to see daily life come alive in undeveloped and unexplored parts of the region. I wanted to immerse myself in new languages and lifestyles, to shake hands with locals who had never seen a foreign tourist, and really witness local life as we drifted along the Mekong Delta to Cambodia.
And one company stood out in particular.
I genuinely believe that accommodation should be an experience. A culturally immersive and authentic affair, that transcends the idea of being just a place to rest your head.
In Mongolia, that means staying in yurts (portable, round tents covered in skins and felt, still used by Mongolian nomads); in Tunisia, an ancient cave house. From reed houses in South America, to igloos in Scandinavia, and turf houses in Iceland, traditional living has never been cookie cutter.
So why should our hotels?
Hotels in Siem Reap are ridiculously cheap. But I wasn’t looking for something forgettable this time around. I had traveled more than 5,000 miles to immerse myself in ancient temples of the Khmer Empire, and I didn’t want to shatter the experience by returning each night to a bland, generic hotel.
But where do you search for authentic accommodation? Through Glamping Hub we found an eco lodge with Unique Bungalows near Angkor Wat Temple, Cambodia, luxuriously refurbished inside, with perfectly preserved architectural heritage on the out.
We would stay in a traditional Khmer stilt house.
There’s a certain magic about Siem Reap; as the gateway to Angkor Wat, this small, compact tourist town is where modern and ancient worlds collide.
Cosmopolitan cafes and modern markets form the epicenter of chic Cambodia, though a short tuk-tuk ride and you’ve stepped back in time.
Siem Reap was built around an empire of ancient temples, and from those reclaimed by the roots of enormous banyan trees, to complexes that were once the royal capital city of the Khmer empire, the city of Siem Reap is an incredible base for authentic adventure.
There’s plenty to do in Siem Reap beyond the temples of course; from the Cambodian circus, to Buddhist monasteries, and back country adventures to explore rural villages fringed by endless rice paddies, swaying sugar palms, and water buffaloes.
But before you focus on things to do (and you won’t be short of things to do!), the first thing to figure out is how to get there; by plane, bus, or boat.
Siem Reap is a city that started slowly, but has flourished in recent years as the gateway to the Temples of Angkor. And while many travel to South East Asia and rely on tour guides on the ground to provide historical context, there is something to be said about traveling with a knowledge of your destination before you arrive.
You understand your destination on a much more intimate level than other tourists who plan on only half listening to their guide. You have a greater appreciation of the culture, people and place, and can let your hands explore the stone relics of ancient civilizations knowing exactly what it took to carve and chisel these wonders of the world.
The following is a brief history of Siem Reap (the gateway to Ankor) to provide historical context before your trip.