For those who want an adventure-focused trip to Southeast Asia — with all the creature comforts — a river cruise is a great way to travel. Cruise companies have been offering voyages to Vietnam and Cambodia along the Mekong River for many years, but the new Scenic Spirit sets itself apart because it has been designed with an impressive attention to detail. The 68-passenger vessel offers an understated celebration of the region: the foyer is filled with gorgeous local flowers, from a giant vase of tight, pink lotus blossoms to huge urns filled with deep purple orchids. Dark, polished teak seems to line every surface, and the shady aft pool (not a feature you can take for granted on river ships) is home to a bar, Bonsai trees, and a Balinese-style day bed that’s suspended from the ceiling. And while the design is elegant, the dress code onboard is relaxed and casual.
The ship sails overnight, docks everyday, and most of the trip takes place on land rather than on the river. After watching cars and motorbikes whiz around you from a tuk tuk in Cambodia or wandering through dense food markets filled with intense sights, sounds, and smells, returning to the serenity of the ship offers a welcomingly peaceful respite.
Scenic Spirit sails year-round except for the summer months, offering a variety of land extensions that take you even deeper into Cambodia and Vietnam. The Mekong, however, has gotten more crowded over the last five years. While Scenic’s sailings are more expensive than others — fares start at $3,145 for the eight-day sailing, a trip that starts in Siem Reap and ends in Ho Chi Minh (or vice versa) — those longer trips may be a better deal. They often include hotel nights in gorgeous properties as well as private special events, such as a dinner in a temple, that would be impossible to arrange on your own. The 13-day tour, for example, is just $2,000 dollars more than the eight-day sailing and includes airfare as well as several days in Siem Reap (allowing guests to see Angkor Wat) and Ho Chi Minh on either side of the cruise.
Read on for an inside look at sailing on this gorgeous new river ship.