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.
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...
Orion Expedition Cruises, in association with Events Worldwide, is showcasing the Singapore Formula 1 Singtel Grand Prix with options of 3 o...
source: travelworldnews.com Small Ship industry cruise veteran Dave Randon has accepted the position of Vice President, Sales and Marketing ...
It was as a child in the Albury district that cartoonist Ken Maynard came to love the Ettamogah countryside, and he later immortalised ...
From unleashing your inner ghostbuster to investigating crime scenes and being part of a supernatural interactive theatre show, there’s som...
Catch a glimpse of Her Majesty The Queen from the Mall as she goes to watch the Trooping of the Colour, the quintessential English para...