The Aqua Mekong is one of the worlds most luxurious river cruise ships. It is a small vessel with a genuine sense of exclusivity. Perhaps that’s most evident in Aqua Mekong’s unrivalled destination experiences. Sailing between Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, guests are treated to curated shore excursions which are better than any others on the Mekong River. This Aqua Mekong review explains it all.
On board there is bespoke service, not to mention an excellent restaurant as well as an elegant bar. What’s more, the rooms are all river view suites.
However, there are things worth knowing about a river cruise on Aqua Mekong. For instance, unlike larger vessels there are set dining times. On the other hand its intimate size means it can explore the Mekong River in a way others can’t.
Unrivalled shore excursions.
Sense of exclusivity.
Set dining times.
Aqua Mekong is a river cruise ship belonging to Aqua Expeditions. The vessel was designed by Saigon-based Studio Noor and built in Vietnam in 2014.
The Aqua Mekong is 61.5 m. / 205 ft. long with three passenger decks and room for a maximum of 40 guests (double occupancy), so it never feels crowded.
Indeed, the Aqua Mekong river cruise ship feels like an exclusive residence thanks to fine design elements like hand-made lacquered wall panels, locally sourced silk fabrics and oriental objet d’art.
The residential feel continues with spacious suites as well as a private cinema. Aqua Mekong also has a gourmet restaurant, an observation lounge, a cocktail lounge, a resort-style sun deck, an infinity plunge-pool and a gym.
Food on Aqua Mekong
Dining is a highlight of any river cruise on Aqua Mekong. Indeed, the seasonal menus are crafted by Michelin-starred chef David Thompson.
The food is regionally inspired, drawing heavily on the repertoire of tastes from Vietnam and Cambodia. What’s more, each dish is made with peak-season produce which comes directly from the Mekong River delta and surrounding region.
There is just one indoor restaurant on Aqua Mekong. It is called the Dining Room and has panoramic views across the stern. The sophisticated decor reflects the Vietnamese spirit of Aqua Mekong, with a hint of Paris-chic.
The menu in the Dining Room changes daily. On my review voyage there was an exceptional Vietnamese Watercress Soup as well as delicious BBQ Duck with Hoisin Sauce.
However, local fish was often the star of the dinner table. Indeed, the Deep-Fried Sea Bass with Three Flavoured Sauce was spectacular. So too was the Red Snapper with Lemon & Celery.
Desserts were somewhat less inspired, though it has to be said the Orange & Almond Cake with Toasted Almonds & Cream was delectable.
At least once per voyage there is also a BBQ dinner on the outdoor observation deck (weather permitting).
It’s worth noting that there are set dining times for breakfast, lunch and dinner. These are posted in the Daily Agenda news sheet.
Exceptional shore excursions
The shore excursions on Aqua Mekong are carefully curated explorations designed to immerse you in the local culture. While the choice of excursions is limited, each one guarantees a unique and memorable experience.
There are typically four excursions each day; two in the morning and two in the afternoon. These are described in detail during a briefing the night before. The excursions can include river trips on Aqua Mekong’s own skiffs, visits to local villages, bikes rides through rice fields, kayaking and chef’s market tours, just to name a few.
On my review voyage I saw a community lion dance in a small riverside village. Not to mention riding a rickshaw to the food markets in Chau Doc city. It was all very exotic, and a world away from the typical tourist experience. In fact, I think the shore excursions on Aqua Mekong achieve that rarest of travel experiences – they truly immerse you in local culture and let you experience a world far from the every day.
Aqua Mekong accommodation
There are just 20 rooms on the Aqua Mekong river cruise ship and all of them are suites. The decor exudes minimalist Asiatic elegance with hardwood interiors and lacquered finishes. Each suite has a full river view, but it’s worth noting that only some have balconies.
I stayed in a Non-balcony Suite on my Aqua Mekong review voyage. Floor-to-ceiling glass ensured uninterrupted views of the river. There were chaise lounges for admiring the view as well as a single armchair. What’s more, there was a luxurious bathroom with dual-vanity and rain water shower.
The Balcony Suites are almost identical to the Non-Balcony Suites, though the internal space is somewhat smaller. That said, I think the Balcony Suites are a better option.
For those who like more space there are also One-bedroom Suites. Although it’s worth noting these are actually interconnecting Balcony and Non-balcony Suites where the non-balcony side is converted into a living room.
Editors tip: There are no televisions in any of the suites on board. However, movies are available in the Private Cinema.
Every suite on Aqua Mekong has an attendant who services the room three times each day, it’s a real treat. Another treat is the free laundry service; your clothes will be freshly laundered and pressed, then returned each afternoon.
Nightlife on board
Nightlife on Aqua Mekong is mostly in the Observation Lounge & Bar. On my review voyage it was the place where guests gathered to share stories, not to mention libations.
The lounge has lots of overstuffed sofas to sink into and relax. If you are in the mood there are board games as well as books to be read.
Aqua Mekong also has a beautiful Cocktail Lounge decorated with handmade lacquered panels. A hideaway bar opens from the wall to reveal a tantalizing array of glassware.
In addition, there is a Private Cinema where you can enjoy blockbuster entertainment in surround sound. An outdoor cinema also screens popular films on occassion. Fresh popcorn is also available!
Pools, spa and fitness
The intimate Aqua Mekong has an unexpectedly large range of wellness and relaxation services. There is a beautifully appointed spa offering indulgent massage and beauty treatments. The gym has exercise machines and free weights and there are early morning meditation and yoga classes.
The Aqua Mekong river cruise ship has an infinity plunge pool with magnificent views over the bow. I often enjoyed a refreshing dip before lunch. A large sun terrace at the stern has comfortable sun loungers as well as teak tables and chairs.
There is a small but nonetheless interesting array of activities on board Aqua Mekong.
There are cooking demonstrations and classes hosted by the head chef. These were very popular on my review voyage.
The on board expedition team leaders also provide fascinating lectures about the culture, life and history of Vietnam and Cambodia.
There is a games room featuring table football complete with cork balls for quiet play, as well as board games like chess, mahjong, Scrabble and Monopoly.
Aqua Mekong also has a boutique selling branded merchandise together with clothing, keepsakes and curios made by local villagers.
Aqua Mekong dress code
The Aqua Mekong dress code can best be described as smart-casual. On my review voyage guests wore casual loose-fitting clothing on board during the day.
Editors tip: Whilst on shore excursions I recommend respectful attire, especially in religious or rural settings where the cultural norms are more conservative. Clothing that covers the arms and legs is ideal in these circumstances.
In the evening most guests on my voyage liked to dress smartly. Men wore shirts with collars while women wore pant suits, or dresses and blouses.
It’s worth noting that there is no need for jackets or formal wear.
Aqua Mekong inclusions
The Aqua Mekong is not quite all-inclusive. Meals, wines and Champagne are included as well as non-alcoholic beverages, teas and coffees. However, spirits and house cocktails are not included. These incur an additional charge of USD8-20.
On the other hand, the river cruise fare includes all shore excursions, as well as transfers to and from the ship. In addition, laundry and pressing is included in the cruise fare.
It’s worth noting that gratuities are not included in the cruise fare. Gratuities can be paid in cash or by credit card at the end of your voyage.
Editors tip: Aqua Mekong accepts credit card payments using Visa or Mastercard. American Express is not accepted on board the ship.
Who sails on Aqua Mekong?
Aqua Mekong appeals to those who want to explore the places others rarely visit.
Indeed, most guests have seen the World. They are discerning and active, ranging in age from 40 to 70-years old.
Most guests are from the USA and the UK, however Australians, Canadians and Europeans are also onboard.
It’s worth noting that Aqua Mekong is gay-friendly.
The Aqua Mekong is ideal for those who want to explore the river in style. Indeed, it is the most luxurious vessel on the Mekong. What’s more, it takes you places others don’t. Also, the dining is excellent and so too is the accommodation. However, the service can be patchy. Especially if you choose to stay on board rather than partaking in shore excursions. That said, I think Aqua Mekong offers one of the most uniquely exceptional cruise experiences.
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