“Ask questions, taste our food, teach us, and learn from us too,” Phiem says.
The experiences don’t stop at the gangplank, either. The Saigon
crew are a blend of Vietnamese and Cambodians, and the ship’s air-conditioned Panorama Lounge is an all-purpose rec room: By day, passengers relax, check email, and order strong Vietnamese coffee, but an hour before dinner, bartender Resmey shakes up specialty cocktails. While we’re docked in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, teenagers from a local orphanage come aboard to demonstrate traditional dances. The lounge turns into a stage one night for an impromptu karaoke session with fellow travelers, then becomes a classroom when Phiem educates us about our serpentine path: The Mekong tumbles more than 2,600 miles from its origin in Tibet, flowing through China
; along the borders of Laos
, and Thailand
; and into Cambodia before splaying out in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, a vast and swampy labyrinth of islands, floating villages, and rice paddies. In Vietnamese, the Mekong is called the River of Nine Dragons, a reference to the nine mouths that expel the Mekong into the South China Sea. But Mother of Rivers, as it’s sometimes referred to in Thailand and Laos, seems most fitting, as it provides for so many.