Monday, November 2, 2009
Cruise Weekly: Battle of the Mekong
One of the most famous Asian rivers, the Mekong, is set to stage a great showdown as operators from all over the globe take on locals in their own “warships” in an attempt to outdo each other for market share.
For those who didn’t get an A in geography, the Mekong is the 10th longest river in the world and stretches 4350km through Indochina. Working backwards from the massive delta at the bottom of Vietnam, it cuts a swathe through Cambodia, forms virtually the entire western border of Laos with Thailand and Burma before disappearing onto the Tibetan Plateau through China’s Yunnan Province.
Unfortunately the entire length is not navigable due to modern dams, rapids and shallows and most cruising is restricted to the lower reaches and Cambodia’s Tonle Sap.
“The French had a good crack at it though,” Trevor Lake of Discover Asia reminds me, “but like so many early European adventurers, they were hopelessly under-equipped and it really was a comedy of errors.” (Read ‘River Road to China’ by Milton Osborne)
Trevor, by the look of him, has been travelling in Asia since forever and he makes several important observations about choosing a Mekong river cruise.
“With so many vessels and styles to choose from, and new ones launching all the time, travellers really need to discuss their plans with an experienced agent. It’s absolutely imperative that you find the right vessel to match your expectations.”
His company represents all the major cruise lines, many of the tiny ones too, and is one of the handful of agents able to speak independently for all products.
Robert Fletcher of Active Travel is another expert agency operating for over 25 years across the major lines who believes the Mekong cruise market is about to reach a defining moment.
“River cruising is a sound product and will remain so unless the Battle for the Mekong leads to ridiculous discounting and dilution of the concept and quality. I think 'The Battle' is on the brink - either the Mekong cruise market stays as a fairly exclusive experience with relatively high standards or it is reduced to a mass market, low cost, low service exercise with bums in berths as the driving force.”
The major players are:
La Marguerite, (main pic above) a brand new 46-cabin luxury cruiser, built locally to luxury standards and decorated to reflect the colonial elegance, although externally she resembles many modern river cruisers. Still some teething issues, but shows great promise.
Heritage Line’s opulent Jayavarman is certainly one of the most anticipated vessels claiming “a marriage of avant-garde French colonial design with enchanting Indochine architecture”. The launch date has been revised from September to November and its itineraries boast Angkor Wat and Mekong Delta explorations.
The well-known Pandaw cruise line operates two vessels, the RV Tonle Pandaw and the RV Mekong Pandaw. While they rate a more modest 3.5 stars, they offer a rustic elegance that is in perfect harmony with the surroundings.
Trevor’s tip however may not suit all types, but challenges how we view river cruising.
“I just adore the Toum Tiou vessels from Compagnie Fluviale du Mekong (CFMekong.com). In my opinion they are the perfect way to experience the Mekong, compact, personal and thoroughly authentic. My other favourite would be to take a luxury private sampan – just the two of you – and travel undetected through the floating markets and villages. Brilliant!”
Both Richard and Trevor seem to be saying the same thing: choose carefully, consult an expert and avoid the cheaper alternatives. Meanwhile the ‘battle’ rages.
Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)
Last 30 Days' Most Popular Posts
Sydney's Menzies Hotel was opened on 17th October 1963, by Premier R.J. Heffron and named after Sir Archibald Menzies, a pioneer in...
It was as a child in the Albury district that cartoonist Ken Maynard came to love the Ettamogah countryside, and he later immortalised ...
Orion Expedition Cruises, in association with Events Worldwide, is showcasing the Singapore Formula 1 Singtel Grand Prix with options of 3 o...
Explorers; Hume and Hovell, passed through the region around Gundagai, ancient home of the Wiradjuri people , in November 1824 and by t...
source: travelworldnews.com Small Ship industry cruise veteran Dave Randon has accepted the position of Vice President, Sales and Marketing ...
Mario Morgano was born on Capri in 1919. He moved to Genoa, where he graduated with a degree in law. Even during his university years, ...
Many thanks for mentioning our humble Mekong cruises in your recent articleReplyDelete
on the Mekong
But what battle of the Mekong? for us there is no price war - we recently
put up our rates as we offer the highest level of experience, service,
cuisine and comfort. Without meaning to sound snobbish, the sort of people
who book Pandaw are looking for the higher end and are not cost conscious.
They also know better than to trust self awarded star ratings!
We are a bit miffed though to be described as 3.5 star! there are no star
ratings in force for river cruises, certainly none for the Mekong and in any
case it is a little premature to put a star rating on an incomplete ship
like Jayavarman, that has had its delivery date twice postponed.
I would guess your description of the Jayavarman as 'opulent' is based on
fancy computer-generated web images rather than actual inspection.
I am told by various impartial visitors that the reality is somewhat
different. These guys are brilliant at marketing but when it comes to ship
design, function and management much remains to be seen.
Funny, but people always say about Pandaw that we are rubbish at
marketing, have a rather dull website and an even duller brochure. All true.
We are rather better at running ships which is why we have one of the
highest repeat rates in the business.
Note also we have three ships on the Mekong, not two as you mention -
with a total of 190 berths on offer. I think we do deserve mention for
opening up the Mekong in 2002 against all the odds. It is flattering that
there are now four larger vessels copying our formula not to mention several
smaller ones. That is the greatest possible accolade!
These are minor, slightly pedantic thoughts from an old riverman...
please think of doing a write up on our Ganges cruise that is where the real
battle is - against the elements!