I’ve read a couple of other commentaries about this trip in these forums, and our experience was also very good. The river portion of the tour was aboard the RV Saigon Pandaw, a charming and well kept ship. All teak, with a lovely, comfortable open upper deck bar. It's covered, so the sun isn't a problem, although on a couple of occasions afternoon rains blew right through - but only for less than an hour at a time and once the rain stopped the crew had it all mopped up and the cushions back on the seats!
The food was good - especially for me as I love fresh fruit and different kinds of salads. The fresh bread and pastries were a terrible (delicious!) temptation, though. The ship’s manager, Jan, was fairly new to this routing, having recently come from duty on Viking’s China tour route, but he was very approachable and went out of his way to make our voyage a pleasant one.
There were only 31 of us in the group and all were seasoned travelers (in other words – not a lot of whinging about the normal little travails of travel) and surprisingly compatable. Our PD, Tony, was fabulous – cordial, knowledgeable, well-organized and a great communicator.
On our second day as a group we were scheduled to fly from Hanoi to Siem Reap, to begin our tour of the temples at Angkor Wat, but awoke to the fringes of approaching tropical storm Jebi. Long story short: we were only delayed at the airport about 6 hours total, and our PD kept us well informed throughout (as well informed as one can reasonably expect to be when weather and air travel collide – that seasoned traveler advantage: reasonable expectations!) Viking (and Vietnam Air) managed the situation splendidly. I was very impressed -- How you handle disruption is where the rubber meets the road for me. This was our 3rd tour with Viking (China in 2009 and Paris to Normandy in 2012) and I do not hesitate to recommend them.
Our PD was also wonderful about taking photos - I'm our family photographer, and generally missing from our travel photos as a result. This trip, I have some very nice ones of me for a change!
The hotels were all excellent – Le Meridien Angkor was particularly tranquil and a lovely respite after hot, sweaty walks through the temple sites. The Sofitel Saigon Plaza and Sofitel Metripole in Hanoi are both beautiful properties with great service and very conveniently located for touring on our own.
While the temple sites were the main reason that we took this particular tour – and our local guide was amazing! – We also enjoyed the unusual side trips along the way. A Buddhist blessing at Udon, visiting various local villages via sampan along the Mekong, the grim stop at Cheong Ek (the killing fields), wonderful visits with the children at schools and an orphanage, and our city tours were all well planned and executed. The local guides in both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh were a joy - lots of personal insights and a command of history and custom of the area.
Each time we left the ship, we were given a little shoulder bag containing a chilled bottle of water. Our return (whether to ship or bus) was greeted with chilled wipes and a fresh, chilled bottle of water. On a couple of occasions we returned to the ship in a sudden downpour and were met with crew members handing out open umbrellas. That's service!
I would like to have had more time at a couple of the temples, just to soak it in, but enjoyed every minute we had. We also went early in the day, to beat the heat and afternoon downpour, which wasn’t the best light for picture taking, but we had free time and could have gone back on our own via tuk tuk, if it had been that important – we had a 3-day all access pass and it wasn't far. A couple of folks from our group did just that to catch the sunrise. I bought the postcard and slept in.
Several folks have written here of concerns with accessibility of the temples – I can reassure you that now that Angkor Wat is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, there have been a couple of places where wooden stairs have been added, to make access safer and less demanding. They are still steep in places, but negotiable unless you have mobility or balance issues. I was worried, having read a lot about the struggles of getting around, because 'm not the most graceful person in the world (I can take a fall in a flat,open parking lot!) But I managed to make it around without any problems at all. There always seemed to be someone - crew, guide or fellow passenger - to extend a steadying hand up or over.
This part of the world is a fascinating place to explore. The people are welcoming and there is so much to see. It was our second trip to Vietnam (3rd for my husband, a Vietnam veteran) and we enjoy SE Asia tremendously.
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