Exotic Cruises on Asia’s Mekong and Ganges Rivers

Experienced cruisers who’ve sailed along European or North American rivers often progress to an Asian river cruise vacation that’s more far-flung and exotic. For example, traveling within the Mekong River region is a fantastic way to experience Southeast Asia’s eco-beauty, bustling local markets and “bucket list” UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the Angkor temple complex in Cambodia.

The region also beckons with quaint villages, golden beaches, friendly locals, bustling cities, and dramatic geologic formations such as those within Vietnam’s stunningly gorgeous Halong Bay. So, here’s a sampling of luxurious river cruises on the Mekong, and for travelers who’ve “been there, done that,” Luxury Travel Advisor also outlines a few India options on the Ganges River.

Sailing the Mekong

For those guests seeking an ultra-luxury cruise on the Mekong River, Scenic Cruises’ 68-guest Scenic Spirit offers an abundance of space and nearly a 1-to-1 crew-to-guest ratio. Guests can expect top-notch service, world-class dining and an all-inclusive river product. Scenic offers seven- to nine-night Southeast Asia river cruises as part of 18-to-22-day itineraries. But for the ultimate in immersion, Luxury Travel Advisor would recommend the 25-day “Grand Indochina and Luxury Mekong” itinerary between Bangkok, Thailand, and Hanoi, Vietnam.

Guests will explore multiple destinations in Cambodia and Vietnam, plus enjoy two highlights that aren’t typical for most Mekong River cruises. One is Scenic’s three-night stay at Luang Prabang, Laos’ former royal capital, home to at least 33 gorgeous temples with Lao, Thai or Khmer architecture. Everywhere they turn, travelers will peruse golden spires and white-washed stupas. Another highlight is a two-night cruise through Halong Bay aboard the luxurious Au Co.

During this highly inclusive journey, Scenic Spirit’s guests will enjoy small group touring in Laos; an exclusive gala dinner at an Angkor temple in Cambodia; seven exclusive Scenic Enrich experiences; a Champagne breakfast at an Angkor temple; a choice of 35 Scenic Freechoice activities and dining; daily 60-minute spa sessions at Hoi An, Vietnam; and four Scenic sunset drinks events.

While the 2024 departure dates for “Grand Indochina and Luxury Mekong” itinerary are sold out, at press time, there was still some availability on the February 21, March 21 and May 2, 2025, departures. For example, on the February 21 departure, 344-square-foot Deluxe Suites on the Sapphire or Diamond Decks were still available. Now through June 30, 2024, Scenic’s fares are also “two for one” on select departures.

On the Mekong: AmaWaterways’ AmaDara offers seven-night itineraries—“Riches of the Mekong” from Siem Reap, Cambodia, to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, or “Charms of the Mekong” in the reverse direction. (AmaWaterways)

Also on the Mekong River, AmaWaterways’ 124-passenger AmaDara offers seven-night itineraries—“Riches of the Mekong” from Siem Reap, Cambodia, to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, or “Charms of the Mekong” in the reverse direction. The season starts August 5, 2024, and continues through April 28, 2025.

Also, to create a lengthier vacation, those itineraries can be extended with pre- or post-cruise land packages in such destinations as Hanoi, Siem Reap, Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok. For a limited time, guests planning to sail on select Mekong departures can add on a pre-/post-cruise Mekong land package at a “two-for-one” land package price, if booked by June 30, 2024.

What else is new with AmaWaterways in Asia? Coming in 2026, the upscale line plans to add a new sister ship on the Mekong. Not much is known yet, but look for more details in the next few months. If guests sail this year or next on AmaDara, they’ll discover a vessel with French Colonial design, richly carved wood furniture from the region, and local artifacts made by native craftsmen. Air-conditioned interior corridors lead to spacious staterooms and suites, all featuring twin balconies. If guests seek the ship’s top accommodation, that’s the 502-square-foot Luxury Suite, with other suites offering 251 square feet to 366 square feet of space.

As for public spaces, those include a fitness room, massage rooms, a gift shop, hair salon and sun-deck pool, plus the Saigon Lounge with nightly entertainment. Guests will dine at a Main Restaurant and a specialty Chef’s Table restaurant, and they’ll receive unlimited complimentary wine with lunch and dinner, as well as house brand spirits, local beer and soft drinks throughout the cruise.

This coming Mekong season, AmaWaterways will debut several new “included” Vietnam shoreside experiences. At Tan Chau, guests can enjoy a traditional xe-loi (trishaw) ride around town with stops at silk-making and rattan-mat workshops, but now active guests can also couple that with a new walking tour to “Evergreen Island.” Another new enticing experience is an eco-tour to Vietnam’s Tra Su Forest and Sanctuary, where guests will explore via sampan to view cajuput trees, lotuses, water lilies, green moss and up to 70 bird species. And at Sa Dec, a new active walking tour will head for the historic Kiet Old House, which features 108 wooden pillars, carvings on rafters and walls, and traditional South Vietnamese design.

Another veteran Asian operator is Viking, which offers a 15-day “Magnificent Mekong” itinerary between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This exotic vacation includes an eight-day Mekong cruise and hotel stays in Hanoi, Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City. Guests will sail on the 80-guest Viking Saigon, which launched in 2022 and was purpose-built for the Mekong.

Viking Saigon
An Exooctic Vacation: Viking is offering a 15-day “Magnificent Mekong” itinerary on Viking Saigon. (Viking )

What’s new? A second Mekong vessel, sister Viking Tonle will debut in 2025. Guests can expect Viking’s signature Scandinavian design, hotel-style beds and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors with a veranda or French balcony. Guests on the three-deck Viking Tonle also will discover a spa and fitness center, pool and open-air Sky Bar on the Upper Deck.

During the “Magnificent Mekong” itinerary, guests will explore Old Hanoi’s markets, visit fishing villages, monasteries and silk towns, as well as explore Ta Prohm. At that temple within the Angkor temple complex site, travelers will be amazed as they first glimpse the massive jungle vines that weave around and even through these ancient ruins. One fun, frenetic option on this itinerary? We’d opt for Viking’s cyclo rickshaw tour to see the top sites of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Many other lines sail the Mekong too. Upscale Avalon Waterways offers a seven-night “Mekong Discovery” northbound or southbound journey between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, in 2024 and 2025. Alternatively, the line’s 13-night “Fascinating Vietnam: Cambodia and the Mekong River” itinerary operates between Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City. The line’s ships serve just 36 guests maximum.

Aqua Expeditions’ 20-suite Aqua Mekong sails the Mekong, too. That vessel received the coveted Gold Award in the Architecture/New Build category in the 2015 Asia Hotel Design Awards, plus Michelin-starred consulting chef David Thompson crafted the onboard dining experience. Unique to the Mekong is that Aqua Expeditions owns and operates the only private fleet of launch boats on the Mekong River, so guests head out on many day trips along the river. Aqua Mekong offers scheduled sailings and private charters. For example, Abercrombie & Kent taps it for A&K’s “Tailor Made Vietnam & Cambodia: The Mekong & Angkor Wat” itinerary.

Separately, veteran Asian river operator Pandaw offers combination luxury river cruise options in Asia—some exploring highly remote areas. Among those is a 21-day Southeast Asia itinerary entitled, “Halong Bay, Red River and Laos Mekong.”

River Cruising in India

In addition, for travelers who’ve already sailed on the Mekong River, Pandaw offers another unique option—combination itineraries of up to 21 nights in India. We’d check out Pandaw’s enticing “All Ganges & Brahmaputra River” itinerary, either 19 or 21 nights. Included are flights and transfers between Kolkata and Guwahati, India. Travelers can also add on pre- /post-cruise packages to Delhi and India’s “Golden Triangle” for an all-India experience.

Starting in September 2024, Pandaw’s India expeditions will become all-inclusive, with complimentary local beers, spirits, mixers and soft drinks for all guests. Also included are complimentary, select house wines during lunch and dinner only. The drinks are subject to availability and government laws, though. One segment of the itinerary passes through Bihar state, which does not allow alcohol usage.

Also sailing the Mekong and offering India itineraries is Uniworld Boutique Luxury Cruises. We like the river line’s 16-day “Cruise and Rail: The Sacred Ganges and ‘Maharajas’ Express’” itinerary from Kolkata to New Delhi. During their week-long Uniworld cruise on board the 56-guest Ganges Voyager II, luxury travelers will stay in lavishly appointed river-view suites with all the comforts of a five-star hotel.

Tra Su Forest and Sanctuary
Eco Tour in Vietnam: Uniworld guests will have a chance to view cajuput trees while exploring the Tra Su Forest and Sanctuary via a sampan. (Getty Images )

If guests desire to stay in the ship’s “top digs,” those are the 400-square-foot Maharaja Suite and two 361-square-foot Viceroy Suites. But even Ganges Voyager II’s lead-in category suites offer 261 square feet of space. All suites have a cozy sitting area and a French balcony with floor-to-ceiling glass doors, plus a spacious bathroom with a rainforest shower.

While sailing in India, travelers will explore the villages lining the Ganges, tour the Hindu temple complexes of Kalna, and stroll through Kolkata’s colorful flower markets. An added benefit is Uniworld’s Wellness Program, centered around India’s ancient tradition and practice of yoga.

Travelers selecting this itinerary will also spend six nights aboard the luxury train, “The Maharajas’ Express,” plus one night at the Oberoi New Delhi and one night at the Oberoi Mumbai (or similar level properties). While on the train, guests will be whisked to Agra for viewing the Taj Mahal as well as Jaipur, Jodhpur, New Delhi, and Mumbai, home to India’s famous Bollywood film industry.

In addition, these Uniworld itineraries in India also offer “Make Travel Matter” experiences—giving travelers a chance to make a difference to communities along the Ganges. They’ll meet the locals, help important local causes and community activities, and in doing so, leave a positive impression about tourism with local residents.

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