More ships sail on Asia’s inland waterways


Avalon Saigon, which set sail earlier this month, is the newest ship on the Mekong. Like its European fleet-mates, Avalon Saigon is a Suite Ship but at 60 metres long rather than 135 metres, it’s relatively petite – and an identical sister to the popular Avalon Siem Reap.

Both vessels are designed to sail into the heart of Ho Chi Minh City rather than dock further down the river, which involves a coach trip of an hour or more.

The Mekong and Irrawaddy have been leading the charge in a growing armada of luxury vessels bringing tens of thousands of Australia, European and a growing number of Asians to river cruising.

Avalon Siem Reap and Saigon have 18 suites, an open-air observation lounge as well as an air-conditioned Panorama Lounge and 24 crew members to look after a maximum of 36 guests. Avalon Saigon is sailing a new 18-day itinerary as well as the established eight-,13- and 16-day Mekong itineraries – cruises of more than eight days include land stays in Siem Reap, Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.

Other smaller river ships sailing the Mekong include G Adventures’ 38-metre, 28-passenger Toum Tiou 2; Aqua Expeditions’ 62.4-metre, 40-guest Aqua Mekong; and Pandaw’s colonial-style RV Pandaw (60 metres, accommodating up to 48 passengers) and RV Tonle Pandaw, 54.8 metres, accommodating up to 56).

When Evergreen Tours’ new Star Ship Emerald Harmony launches in August 2019, it will be youngest ship on the Mekong, still boutique compared to European river vessels but a little bigger than most of its competitors.

The contemporary styled 73-metre vessel will accommodate up to 84 guests in 42 staterooms and suites, and its ‘Asian-inspired’ luxury features the now almost obligatory Wellness Area, a pool, the Horizon Bar & Lounge plus the Lotus Lounge, and Reflections Restaurant.

Like Avalon Saigon and Siem Reap, Emerald Harmony will also be able to dock in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City. It will operate four itineraries, ranging from the classic eight-day cruise between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap to a 21-day Grand Tour that combines river and land and includes stops at at Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, Hue and Siem Reap.

On this river, size does matter. And small is beautiful.