Known as Southeast Asia’s “rice bowl,” the Mekong is the lifeblood of hundreds of millions of people who use the river for trade, transportation, farming and fishing. The river traverses six Asian countries – starting in China’s Tibetan Plateau before meandering through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, where it empties into the South China Sea.
We leisurely covered about 180 miles over seven days on a small portion of the river, sailing upstream from My Tho, about a two-hour bus ride southwest of Ho Chi Minh City, and disembarked in Kampong Chan, Cambodia. Most of the ship’s passengers booked post-cruise land tours of Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument, in northwestern Cambodia.
Aside from the tarantula, I sampled rice wine infused with a venomous cobra snake (the locals call it “Vietnamese Viagra,”) and a fiery red chile pepper I picked right off the vine that made a jalapeño from back home taste like a bland cucumber in comparison.
As most of the villages we visited didn’t have docking facilities for large boats, the Scenic Spirit would drop anchor in the Mekong and we would take sampans – long, narrow wooden boats – into towns. Once on land, we rode rickshaws, tuk-tuks and ox carts to see the sights.