The Mekong River has a rich history and culture that captivates the imaginations of travellers all over the world. Totalling around 2,700 miles, it is the seventh longest river in Asia; crossing China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Naturally, this diverse geography makes for fascinating river cruises, with an almost endless list of exciting things to see and do.

If you aren’t sure what to see on the Mekong, here are some of the top sights and experiences.

Ho Chi Minh City

Panorama of Ho Chi Minh City illuminated at night

This exhilarating city acts as the perfect start or end point for many Mekong river cruises. Tradition meets modernity with a marriage of gourmet restaurants and traditional street food, towering skyscrapers and ancient temples, and boutique shops and bustling markets. The air is fragrant with an exciting mix of incense and spices, and it won’t be long until you are whisked away on a whirlwind of discovery. Explore the rich history of Ho Chi Minh and take a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, a sprawling underground tunnel complex used by Viet Cong soldiers during the war.

Tra Su Indigo Forest

Heron catching a fish in the water of the Tra Su Indigo Forest

On longer river cruises with a number of days in Ho Chi Minh City, Tra Su Indigo Forest is an essential day trip. The best time to visit is from September to October, when the mangrove forest floods and comes alive with wildlife, including a number of rare species. Hop into a boat for a guided tour of lush waterways that are inextricably linked to local life: children play along the water’s edge and fisherman cast vast nets.

Angkor Wat

The temple spires of Angkor Wat rising up against a bright blue sky

A trip to Angkor Wat is a must during any cruise to Cambodia. This iconic temple has been in virtually continuous use since it was built in the 12th century, becoming a source of great national pride. It is a breath-taking sight, decorated with magnificent bas-reliefs and beguiling carvings. However, don’t discount the Angkor archaeological site as a whole. It is this, rather than the Wat itself, that holds UNESCO World Heritage status, boasting many ancient temples and imposing ruins.

The Royal Palace of Phnom Penh

People walking towards the elaborate Royal Palace in Phnom Penh

Cambodia’s capital is one of the most diverse cities in the world: stunning architecture and an infectious energy interwoven with a tragic past. The most awe-inspiring architecture can be found at the Royal Palace, whose intricate carvings and gilded roof serve as a warm-up act for the Silver Pagoda contained within the Palace grounds. Coated in gleaming silver, the Pagoda’s floor is something else.

The Killing Fields

Clothing of victims of the Pol Pot regime at the Killing Fields in Choeung Ek, Cambodia
Prince Roy /
, CC BY 2.0

Phnom Penh’s darker history can be seen during a trip to Choeung Ek, the location of the infamous Killing Fields. It is here that Khmer Rouge soldiers disposed of the bodies of the people they slaughtered. Today, the Killing Fields have been turned into a memorial for the Pol Pot regime’s victims and are a place of pilgrimage for many who lost relatives.

Closer to Phnom Penh you will find the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Eerily, the Museum is housed in what was the most notorious Khmer Rouge torture camp and prison: S-21. This testament to barbarism contains harrowing photographs of victims, all but a handful of whom were killed.

Both the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng are difficult places to visit, but absolutely necessary.

Floating markets

A figure paddling their boat through a Vietnamese floating market on the Mekong

Visiting a floating market is essential during Vietnam river cruises. They feature in countless photographs of this beautiful country and form the lifeblood of many Vietnamese communities. Selling produce and goods from their boats, you are bound to happen across local traders as you glide along the Mekong. Why not sample some fresh fruit or pick up a memento of your journey?

Hanoi’s Old Quarter

Thue Huc Bridge in Hanoi's Old Quarter at nighttime

A common starting point for Mekong river cruises, Hanoi offers valuable cultural insights into Vietnamese life. Nowhere is this truer than in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, a bustling stretch that practically fizzes with energy. Stone-carvers, furniture-makers and tinsmiths spill onto the streets in makeshift workshops, alongside spice stands and chocolate stalls. If this all sounds a little overwhelming, head to the Lake of the Restored Sword and rediscover your Zen by the tranquil water.

There are countless things to see during cruises along the Mekong River, and an array of itineraries that will make you fall in love with this multi-faceted waterway. From AmaWaterways to Scenic, plenty of fabulous river cruise lines will whisk you away on an unforgettable voyage. Call 0808 233 0631 to find out more from our Cruise Concierge team.

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About Emma Smith

Emma has more than seven years' experience as a writer and has been in the travel industry for nearly five years. She loves learning about new places and cruise ships coming to market, as well as discovering fun and exciting activities to do while you sail. She has cruised with Princess Cruises, Cunard, Celebrity Cruises, Virgin Voyages, Avalon Waterways and Royal Caribbean and is looking to get something in her diary for 2024! Her favourite things to see on a ship include excellent entertainment, a delicious cocktail menu and extraordinary dining venues.

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