10-time AmaWaterways cruisers Larry and Linda Offenberg share their unforgettable experience on the 16-day Charms of the Mekong itinerary.

We recently returned from Vietnam and Cambodia with memories seared in the very core of our beings. This was our 10th AmaWaterways cruise, the previous nine all having been in Europe. They have all been great in their own way, but the Charms of the Mekong was truly exceptional! We think it was the local guides that made it so touching. Our guide in the southern part of Vietnam, Sony, lived through the war. Our guide in Cambodia, Somnang, survived the unthinkable conditions during the Pol Pot regime. And our guide in Hanoi, Tea, provided us with the unique perspective of a young man living in current-day Vietnam.

Pre-Cruise in Ho Chi Minh City

Our pre-cruise started in Ho Chi Minh City at the excellent Sofitel Saigon Plaza where we met Tung, who would be our Cruise Manager for the next 16 days. Tung is outstanding, and every detail of the entire trip was perfectly coordinated. The time in Ho Chi Minh City gave us the opportunity to tour many of the historical sites, particularly those related to the Vietnam War. We also had time to explore the bustling city on our own. The breakfast at the Sofitel was a highlight.

Cruising the Mekong and “Sticky Rice”

Following our stay in Ho Chi Minh City, it was time to embark on the AmaDara to cruise the Mekong River. The ship is beautiful and the hotel manager, Marcus, is exceptional. Marcus handles his responsibilities professionally and with a wonderful sense of humor. Did we mention that the food and service on board is exceptional? The excursions along the Mekong were fascinating. We visited historic houses, workshops and local markets. And the trishaw ride in Tan Chau was great fun. All along the way, Sony kept our excursion group safe. As we needed to stick together, “sticky rice” became the catchphrase whenever we crossed a street.

Meeting Survivor Somnang

After we crossed into Cambodia, we met Somnang, our new guide. We toured beautiful places, such as the Royal Palace, and interesting places, such as the Oudong Monastery. We also had fun on our oxcart and Tuk Tuk rides! However, the most memorable excursion took us to the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Detention Center. Somnang and his family suffered through the Pol Pot regime which made his stories emotional and bone-chilling. They were often difficult to hear, but they needed to be told. On a lighter note, wherever we went, Somnang went out of his way to interact with the local people, which helped give us a unique perspective on life in Cambodia.

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

After disembarking the AmaDara, it was off to Siem Reap and the Angkorian temples. Of course, the highlight was visiting Angkor Wat at sunrise. The overcast skies could not put a damper on the experience of watching the day dawn over the amazing temple. The grounds and the service at the Siem Reap Sofitel were exceptional.

Hanoi and Beautiful Ha Long Bay

Next it was off to Hanoi where, again, we had an extraordinary guide. Tea had family stories and photos to share. We could really identify with the things he was explaining to us. Tea also has a great sense of humor. If he ever gives up guiding, he can become a stand-up comedian! We proved to be blessed when a cyclone, which had threatened our trip to Ha Long Bay, went through quickly, leaving us with beautiful, clear weather for our stay on the “junk”. The boat was modern and charming and the scenery in the bay was exceptional. And we were rewarded with a great sunset. We had one last night to enjoy Hanoi before heading home. It was a Saturday night and the roads around the central lake were closed to vehicles, which made for a great atmosphere as much of the city seemed to be out enjoying the evening. It made for a fitting ending to an amazing trip.

All three guides taught us about resilience and forgiveness and moving forward. We don’t think we will ever forget being blessed at the Buddhist temple, being at Angkor Wat at sunrise, talking with a 13-year-old monk, or hearing from a survivor of Pol Pot’s prison.