Vietnam cruises come in two basic varieties—river cruises in Vietnam or cruises on the open sea. The former are usually Mekong Delta cruises on the mighty Mekong River or one of its canals and the latter most likely refers to a cruise in Vietnam on a deluxe, traditional junk in beautiful Halong Bay. The rivers of the country play an important role in the nation’s history and culture. Two of the greatest rivers in Asia flow through the country and dominate its spectacular landscapes. The Red River flows in the north, and creates a great delta that begins in Hanoi and spreads its fingers all the way to the South China Sea and Halong Bay. The Mekong rises in China and runs through Burma (now called Myanmar), Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos before it empties along the beaches south of Ho Chi Minh City.
Some of the larger ocean cruise lines have itineraries with a port of call at Ho Chi Minh City on the very southern tip of the country. These kinds of Vietnam cruises rarely have more than a two-night port stop, and the shore excursions generally include river cruises in Vietnam in the Mekong Delta, a city tour, and perhaps a visit to one of the beaches. For passengers from the United States who are Vietnam War veterans or their family members, there may also be excursions to the Cu Chi Tunnels.
There are vacation packages available that include a cruise in Vietnam along the Mekong River as well as follow the mighty river’s course through several other countries, including Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. These Vietnam cruises generally occur on deluxe river cruise ships similar to the standard found on the great rivers of Europe. However, most of these ships are smaller and more intimate. The service can be the ultimate in pampering, including gourmet dining and massage service, and they are generally seven to ten days in length. It is possible to have a taste of this kind of cruise in Vietnam by booking river tours from Ho Chi Minh City that last only one or two overnights.
Other river cruises in Vietnam are day excursions on the Mekong River. Sometimes these are on flat-bottomed sightseeing boats with a canopy for shade and bench seating. Particularly popular are sunset cocktail cruises that you can book from most luxury hotels in Ho Chi Minh City. You can also book excursions on traditional sampans that navigate the waterways and irrigation canals within the vast rice paddies of the region. These boats are big enough only for two to four passengers, with a local boatman poling you along.
By far, the most popular cruise in Vietnam is one amongst the stunning scenery of Halong Bay, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, a few thousand islands jut out of the sea at precipitous angles, rare and endangered species are protected, and abundant coral reefs provide colorful marine life and excellent diving. Getting to most of the islands is only possible by boat, so the journey itself is a cruise experience. You can stay on Cat Ba Island (largest island in the bay, and one of only two that are inhabited) in one of several hotels and resorts, or spend a few days as a pampered passenger on a deluxe junk and cruise among the islands.