Mekong River cruises within Vietnam occur in the vast and agriculturally rich Mekong Delta that occupies virtually all of the southwestern part of the country west of Ho Chi Minh City. Some Mekong Delta cruises can occur on luxury passenger ships with a capacity of only 8 to 40 pampered passengers on cruises that last 4 to 7 days. These intimate luxury ships offer fine dining, luxurious staterooms and suites with full private baths and river facing picture windows, and perhaps even a full-service spa. It is possible to find less opulent ships if you're on a budget, and these will still provide good food and comfortable, more basic cabins.
However, most Mekong Delta cruises are much shorter—sometimes only a half or full day excursion—and are on a variety of boats from public ferries to small traditional sampans holding only a couple of travelers. The reason for this is that the numerous natural channels and man-made canals are too narrow for the large ships, and only the small boats can access them. Even Mekong Delta cruises on the larger cruise ships will invariably offer short excursions on smaller boats. These are generally flat-bottomed open boats with a canopy for shade. They often stop for visits at orchards, floating markets, honeybee farms, and pagodas and temples.
A Mekong cruise in the Delta region will be on one of the nine channels that give the region its name of Cuu Long, meaning Nine Dragon Delta for the nine river channels that spread out here. In addition to the nine main channels, there are hundreds of irrigation channels and canals, each with its own charm. Along these channels and canals, it is possible to combine Mekong River cruises with other types of tours. Most common in this region are cycling tours that take advantage of the easy ride provided by good roads on flat terrain. For water portions of the trip, many boats provide facilities to bring bicycles onboard, and some cruise ships offer half or full day excursions by bike.
There are also Mekong River cruises available in the other countries through which the river flows. Most often, the Mekong River in Cambodia is combined with the Mekong in Vietnam. This is where the largest river in Southeast Asia first begins to spread and branch out into the nine channels that flood and irrigate the flat Delta. Most of these cruises travel between Ho Chi Minh City (the largest city in Vietnam) and Phnom Penh (the capital of Cambodia). A typical itinerary for this kind of Mekong cruise might begin with a couple days sightseeing in and around Ho Chi Minh City. From here, the ship will cruise south and west to the Delta city of My Tho with its ocean-going fishing fleet that supplies the restaurants and markets of the region. A leisurely cruise north to Cambodia reveals lush plantations, old colonial houses, graceful pagodas, and timeless scenes of river life that have hardly changed for centuries.
Since 1995 when Cambodia and Vietnam joined with Laos and Thailand to form the Mekong River Commission, more and more ships have a Mekong cruise itinerary that includes all four countries, with the Mekong River in Laos and the Mekong River in Thailand being quite common. Much more unusual are cruises that take in the river's course in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and even China.