This week’s dream: Cruising Vietnam’s essential river
Almost everywhere on the Mekong Delta, “something is flowering, fruiting, or being harvested,” said Anna Funder in Condé Nast Traveler. Known as the Nine Dragons, the river’s main branches in the delta form “a vast, vibrant life-support system” that rivals the Amazon for biodiversity and produces most of Vietnam’s rice, fish, and fruit. My husband and I first saw the Mekong during our honeymoon years ago, when we rode a crowded barge, squeezed between motorbikes and a donkey loaded with sugarcane. We recently returned with three children in tow—this time, aboard an “unthinkably luxurious” riverboat.
Embarking in My Tho and traveling upriver, we are soon drifting past bamboostilt villages, gilt-roofed temples, and fishladen sampan boats. “Food is a serious feature of the trip,” so Bangkok-based chef David Thompson has joined the cruise as a culinary tour guide. At one of the Mekong’s many riverside markets, our wide-eyed kids marvel at the baskets of giant sea snails and troughs of flapping snakefish. A woman arrives by motorcycle, hauling a freshly butchered pig, while a few stallholders doze in hammocks. A peddler selling fried grasshoppers from a cart assures us that his spiced tarantulas are even tastier, but we have to take him at his word. Back on the boat, Thompson uses what he’s bought to cook us a decadent lunch: grilled river lobster, crispy yam rolls, caramelized pork ribs, and a lotusroot salad.
As we cross into Cambodia, the riverbanks grow quieter. Rural poverty remains widespread here, a legacy of Pol Pot’s brutal 1970s reign. On an excursion into the countryside, we bike through taro fields, passing Brahman cattle and barefoot monks in saffron robes. Village children greet us with “Hello! Hello!” then giggle when we reply. Outside an elementary school, we can hear students reciting their lessons in unison. At the school temple, four young monks bless us in Khmer, chanting while the eldest anoints us with water from a silver chalice. “When we walk out, none of us speaks for some time.”
A four-night cruise with Aqua Expeditions (aquaexpeditions.com) starts at $4,880.