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A Magical Mekong Cruise On RV Pandaw

July 5, 2014 Headline News, River Cruising No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59It was in Chau doc, Vietnam where my first spying mission took place.  The objective was to get aboard the RV Mekong Pandaw and suss it out for some friends: rooms, balconies, facilities.  I had heard so much about these river cruises and I wanted to see the vessel myself.

Passengers were disembarking as I headed up the gangplank. I managed to case the dining room on the second level, one of the cabins and the upper promenade deck. I was impressed before thinking it wise to de boat.

Fast forward three years and I am back on board and legit which beats the KGB impersonation.pandaw sunrise

An abundance of water is a crucial prerequisite for a cruise vessel on the Tonle Sap Lake in central Cambodia and even though the RV Mekong Pandaw has a low draft of 1.5 metres it still won’t make it. This often happens, so we embark on an interesting bus ride from the Victoria Hotel in Siem Reap to Kompong Charm some four hours away to board the RV Mekong Pandaw

Our first bus stop was at a small primary school in Village Speam Thkol where our guide Touchkima Somnang (“call me Som”) asked us to donate items from our provided lunch box for the kids who he said, “Come from poor families and may not have had breakfast or lunch”. “The school system is also inadequate.” he added. (Som was a lawyer and a teacher who has been a tour guide for the past nine years) The children thanked us en masse with a rendition of the Cambodian national anthem and we left but at no time was there any sign of a teacher.

During our journey we passed many small rice farms that also have fishing farms and oxen to plough the fields.  To westerners, it is very basic but the Cambodians are very resilient, very happy and enjoy their lifestyle.

We check-in on the completely re-furbished RV Mekong Pandaw which is a luxurious colonial river steamer. We find there are a mixed group of passengers: English, Canadians, Americans Germans, Swedes, Cambodians and of course a few Aussies.

The RV Pandaw has 24 luxurious cabins on three decks.  It is 56 metres long and boasts a dining room, movie rooms, small gym, double spa, relaxation room, pool table and a large upper deck with a bar and deck chairs.  Meals are a combination of buffet style and a la carte from a menu providing three to four options so there is much to choose from. Local alcoholic drinks like gin, vodka, whiskey and beer are complimentary day and evening.

Lunch begins with a salad from the buffet. Soup, sour chicken with roasted eggplant follow and main course choices include steamed sea bass in garlic lemon sauce, stir-fried pork and straw mushrooms, both with rice; vegetable ban cheo – a thin crepe stuffed with Mekong Pandawbean sprouts, bean curd, oyster sauce – assorted vegetables served with herbs, lettuce, cucumber and fish sauce or grilled wild boar.  For desert, it’s a choice between seasonal fresh fruit or deep fried pineapple. A typical dinner menu starts with a tuna tomato salad, lotus seed soup, vegetarian mushroom amok, Indochinese braised duck with basil, pan fried sea bass with caper sauce or Cambodian roasted spring chicken with braised pear in red wine and honey glaze. The choice is difficult.  Everything is delicious.

Our staff were superb: from the cabin attendants to the stewards and bar staff. Purser Neville, a Burmese (Myanmar) national took care of all the passengers extra needs and was a great communicator providing a daily itinerary with critical times.  It was his birthday during the trip and the staff organised a birthday cake with a candle and passengers and crew sang him “Happy Birthday” during dinner.  Roger the barman seemed to be psychic as every time he was within ten metres of his guests he was offering them their favourite beverage or a refill.

The daily excursions were also compelling: a great cardiac boosting walk up the hill to Wat Hanchey for a great view over the river and to see the pre-Angkor temples, a visit to the twin holy mountains at Kampong Cham, a boat trip to the floating village at the edge of Tonle Sap Lake and a Cyclo tour to discover the highlights of Phnom Penh including the Royal Palace, National Museum, Killing Fields and S21, the infamous genocide museum.

Most of the passengers were heading further down the Mekong to Ho Chi Minh City. For those of us disembarking in Phnom Penh, our final night featured a special dinner and a traditional Cambodian Aspara dance show performed by about 20 local orphans, which was spectacular.  We all headed to our cabins promising dying declarations of friendship and promising to keep in touch.

Pandaw has pioneered travel on the majestic rivers of South East Asia since 1995. Each of the eleven ships operating in Burma and on the Mekong between Vietnam and Cambodia is a replica of a colonial river steamer handcrafted in brass and teak.

A combination of luxury, fine service and interesting excursions is a recipe for magical memories

FOOTNOTE:

History Of The Pandaw

The vessel that would one day bear the name Pandaw was one of the six boats commissioned after WWII, with the same design of the pre-war IFC vessels, for the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company. After the Second World War ended in 1945 and the British returned to Burma (now reverted to the original Burmese name Myanmar),

The vessels were commissioned in 1947 to the famous Yarrow & Co. shipyard on the river Clyde of Glasgow, at a period of time when Scotland was the greatest shipbuilding name in the world.

Further information or for bookings www.pandaw.com

Written by : John Savage

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