In recent years, traveling the world for Boomers and pre-Boomers has become more of a birthright rather than a privilege. For almost anyone over the age of 55, travel is now a way of life and their appetite for travel and exposure to new destinations can no longer be satisfied with their parents “Kodak” moment. Instead, the over 55, former European back-packer is now inclined to want something a bit more exotic where they can immerse themselves in the destination and its people, returning home with moments and memories that last a lifetime.
For a variety of great reasons, one of the most demanded trips for couples of this age group is Southeast Asia and the mighty Mekong River that knives its way through Vietnam and Cambodia. But, why is this extraordinary, very safe and very affordable trip all but forgotten by those who travel solo?
Could it be that the first images that come to mind when you think of Cambodia and Vietnam harken back to the days of the infamous Khmer Rouge, the Viet Cong, the Hanoi Hilton, the last Marine helicopter leaving the American Embassy in Saigon – images and scenes recounted in the many documentaries and movies about that tragic period in our history? We don’t think so.
That conflict is over 35 years in the past and today’s Cambodia and Vietnam, while still bearing some scars from that period, have moved forward much like Japan did after WWII. Today both are enjoying a rebirth in many areas, particularly in travel, as people from all over the world rediscover this hidden gem, it’s incredibly warm and friendly people, their rich cultural heritage, and the beautiful natural scenery shared by both of these countries… so why have solo travelers not discovered this gem?
Here are some perceived reasons that it’s not yet on many solo travelers “bucket list.”
It’s a long way to travel alone- Depending on where you live, it is a long way with at least 1 connection. The nature of the destination makes it well worth this minor annoyance and there are frequent flights by most of the major U.S. airlines. It’s a small price to pay for such wonder.
It’s expensive and hard to arrange- If you were to travel solo, this trip could cost upwards of $7500 excluding your airfare, but with an affordable river cruise, that price drops dramatically. Solo travelers can pay as little as $3500 for a comprehensive 2-week cruise & tour program visiting the extraordinary highlights of Southeast Asia. Even better, almost everything is included in your low price, even all of your sightseeing excursions, gourmet meals and more.
I don’t speak the language- nor do 98% of those visiting the region. Another wonderful benefit of a river cruise is that you travel with like-minded, similar aged couples and singles. And, your touring is done in very small groups with your shipmates. All river cruise lines use English speaking tour guides for all complimentary touring. And, when you spend time shopping, or trying the local foods, you’ll find that almost everyone who interacts with tourists speaks English.
I won’t know where to go or what to see- Arranging your Mekong River Cruise with a professional travel agent who specializes in river cruise vacations will quickly remedy that. There are also a number of excellent overview and historical guide books one can buy.
I would not feel safe traveling alone – The U.N. reports that Vietnam and Cambodia may be two of the safest places in the world to visit. The people are happy, well fed and love American tourist… and did we say you won’t believe how far your dollar goes. And, another wonderful aspect of a river cruise/tour is that once you are on the ship, you are one of about 60 U.S. and Canadian travelers and far from alone. The cruise line does a great job of managing the trip and you have to do is focus on the experience, your photography and meeting new friends.
So what will it be like to visit Vietnam and Cambodia on an exciting river cruise trip?
Well, for one thing the scenery is simply stunning. Temples and small fishing villages line the river’s path and are seemingly untouched by time. Natural lovers will revel in the profuse flora and fauna of the region and marvel at the largest lake in Southeast Asia, Tonle Sap, a UNESCO Biosphere reserve.
For those of you who are nature photo buffs, this may be the best cruise in the world [apart from Galapagos] for more breathtaking photo opportunities than you could ever imagine. There’s the incredible shot in the morning dew, the evening sunsets and almost any time as you float through what is almost like a massive rain forest sans the rain. My favorite shots were those of the many floating markets and villages we enjoyed along the river. Imagine the beautiful multi-colored villages, eager merchants aboard their bevy of sanpans, chock-filled with fish, dry goods, and other essentials of life on the river.
And then there are those charming village ladies all clad in back, their weathered skin full of history, all adorned in their Vietnamese straw conical hats – and just wait till they smile at you as you snap that perfect memory – one that will last a lifetime.
You probably go for the countryside, but you’ll come home waxing on about the cities you visit. A highlight of any trip along the Mekong is a visit to the old French colonial city of Phnom Penh, justly famous for its architecture, cafes, and lively nightlife. A visit to this city usually combines the good with the “bad”, in this case a visit to the Royal Palace and spectacular Silver Pagoda with a visit to the “killing fields” of the infamous Khmer Rouge.
Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city has to be one of Asia’s most fascinating cities offering a truly unique blend of oriental and western charm. It’s a vibrant and colorful city of brightly painted temples and pagodas, elegant colonial villas, bustling narrow streets and alleys [ladies -great bargains abound] and grand tree-lined boulevards with shaded lakes. It’s nothing like any of us would have imagined before going there. There’s a bustling “old quarter,” where your dollars will go a long way when you bargain for silk or original works of art or French perfumes. All in all Hanoi may be one of the most beautiful and tranquil places you will ever visit and we know you will be awed by its serenity and how safe it is.
And, you’ll visit delightful Ho Chi Minh City where most locals still refer to it as Saigon. It’s a city that never sleeps, much like New York or Paris. It’s a city of contrasts with new modern skyscrapers fighting with the fine examples of French colonial architecture that abound within the city. As you stroll along Dong Khoi Street, the Champs Elysees of Saigon, you cannot help but marvel at the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Old Saigon Post Office and the many other turn-of-the-century grand hotels and buildings.
And last, but certainly not least, there is Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat Archaeological Park, one of the finest in the world. There are two truly astounding ancient temple complexes in all of Southeast Asia, one in Burma and the other at Angkor, here in Cambodia. India’s Taj Mahal and the Blue Mosque of Istanbul may be the most widely known “temple” in the world, but the complex at Angkor which was build between the ninth and thirteenth centuries AD, may represent on mankind’s most extraordinary and enduring architectural achievements ever. In all our travels, we’ve never encountered anything that left us so speechless. It also happens to be one of the most photogenic places in the world and if you are able too, take your shots at sunset, you won’t believe the results.
The best months to sail the Mekong are October through early March, but you can save a few bucks if you travel in the off season.
All the major river cruise lines including: AmaWaterways, Avalon, Uniworld, and Viking Cruises offer exceptional early booking values on most 2013 Mekong River cruises.
If this is your first river cruise, don’t just rely on surfing the Int