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Luxury boat trips in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos

The network of waterways in Southeast Asia chop and change as you follow the current. Between hives of activity with clusters of houses and hardworking fishermen, there are stretches of untouched countryside, mountains thick with jungle and towering limestone karsts.

Not only do these waterways offer an insight into local life – a springboard to explore rural villages, markets, and hidden temples – but with a range of high-end boats, you may rethink staying in a hotel ever again.

1. Pandaw river expeditions

By Pandaw’s own admission, if mounted televisions, speedy Wi-Fi and ball gowns at dinner are key to your perfect cruise, this fleet of ships will leave you disappointed. Their trips are designed to leave the hubbub of the modern world behind and embrace a gentle journey through Indochina on the slow road.

Their boats have luxury cabins crafted in teak and brass, sumptuous meals and delightfully down to Earth staff. Best of all, they can navigate smaller waterways to take passengers off the beaten track.

2. Halong Bay cruises

With countless picturesque sights, the battle for the most photographed area in Vietnam might be a contested one, but we think Halong Bay may well just pip the country’s other highlights to the post. Unsurprisingly those limestone isles and islets draw hordes of tourists to the area every year. Suffice to say, you’ll be impressed however you choose to visit, but there are ways to make it extra special.

The bay isn’t short of boating options, from simple cabins with basic amenities, right up to private luxury vessels boasting elegant suites with private balconies. With your own crew you can escape the crowds and lap the waves at your own pace.

3. RV Jayarvarman

If you’re interested in Indochina’s French colonial period, you will be enamoured with a stay aboard the elegant RV Jayarvarman (named after King Jayavarman, overseer of some of Angkor’s most famous temples).

While built in 2009, every detail is influenced by French colonial and Indochinese style with Vietnamese lacquer paintings, Khmer decorative flourishes and a 1930s bar. Each swish cabin has a private balcony to watch the sun set over the Mekong; a river that flows more than 2,500 miles from the Tibetan Plateau south to Vietnam, passing through China, Burma, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia along the way.

4. Champagne cruise at Angkor Thom

The temples of Angkor Wat are undeniably impressive – vestiges of a forgotten world, frozen in time. But as Cambodia’s least well-kept secret, travellers jostle to the Khmer Empire’s greatest city to see vine-strangled Ta Prohm and the Bayon faces at Angkor Thom.

After a busy day exploring amongst the melee, there’s a pocket of serenity to be found on the waters of Angkor Thom’s ancient moat. In the evening, board a cruise and sup champagne as you watch the sun set over the oldest religious monument in the world.

5. Sunset dinner cruise in Luang Prabang

The UNESCO World Heritage Town of Luang Prabang is the jewel in Laos’s crown. There are pristine temples with gilded facades, laidback streets and miles of lush countryside waiting beyond towering Mount Phousi. Round off a day in this delightful town with a sunset cruise on the Mekong. Tuck into a delicious Lao dinner accompanied by live music and Khmer performances, and watch the scenery change as you drift away from the town.

Alastair Donnelly is Director at InsideAsia Tours.

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  1. I had an amazing trip to Vietnam last month with family and on that experience I can say that one must visit there at least once either on personal vacations, family vacations or any other event. It has some one of the best locations for newly wedded honeymoons also.

  2. I believe travelling by boat is one of the great ways to discover a country as well as it’s people and their lifestyle.

    There’s been a lot in the travel Press about all the advantages of slow travel recently. Boat trips give you the chance to keep gently moving on but also moving sufficiently slowly to get a sense of the changing landscape.

    If I had to choose just one, I think I would go for Halong Bay – it is such an iconic landscape.

  3. I had planned to take in Vietnam on my gap year many moons ago. Then I made new friends and we travelled together for a bit and I missed out on Vietnam. Whenever I think of Vietnam there are two images that spring to mind: the beautiful Mekong Delta and Halong Bay.

    Fortunately my career has moved on a pace since those gap year days and it would be good to finally get to Halong Bay and do it in style.

    1. You should definitely go there whenever you get the chance! I’ve spent a lot of time in Vietnam over the last year or two, and it’s one of my favorite places. Lots of beauty up and down the coast, great food, friendly people, and not very expensive at all!

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