Small Ship, Big Experiences On The Mighty Mekong
UK Sales Manager, Hannah Steward, was lucky enough to experience one of our newest products. She spent some time along the Upper Mekong with Lernidee Cruises and provides more information about the ship and the experience itself.
We arrived into Luang Prabang’s small airport after two flights from the UK. This is the meeting point from which you will be taken by car for the short, 10-minute transfer to your floating home, the Mekong Pearl. Accommodating for up to 31 people, this beautiful ship is embellished with teak wood from floor-to-ceiling and the furniture is carefully crafted out of mahogany. It will very quickly become your new home. The cabins are perfectly designed with twin beds that can be made into a double if you prefer. Each cabin is provided with a small desk area, chair and a wardrobe which contains the safe and an umbrella. Your en-suite bathroom, albeit compact from initial appearance, has a spacious shower with monsoon showerhead and a separate smaller showerhead. The pumps for the water on the ship are located towards the back, so it’s important to let it run a couple of minutes before the plentiful supply of hot water reaches your cabin. Each cabin is provided with a small, but powerful, hairdryer.
Incredibly comfortable pillows and plush white bedding is provided and mosquito nets hang from the ceiling should you wish to sleep with your balcony doors open to create a relaxing atmosphere in your cabin. Individually controlled air-conditioning units are positioned within the cabins too. Underneath the beds, medium-sized suitcases can be stored once you have unpacked and made yourself at home – if they don’t fit then the crew will happily store them until you think about packing to go home.
Each cabin boasts a floor-to-ceiling French balcony, providing beautiful views of the passing landscape. Accommodation is spread over two decks, starting with six classic cabins of 129sq ft. on the Main deck. The superior cabins, the majority of which are on the Main deck, are larger at 172sq ft. with beds facing out towards the river. There are just two suites on board, situated on the Upper deck, with a surprisingly spacious 237sq ft. of space and all equipped with the same mahogany furniture. As well as a French balcony, there is a full, walk-out balcony with two large chairs and a table. The en-suite bathrooms are larger in the suites but have the same furnishings. There is just one cabin on board for single occupancy. It’s spacious and has the same dimensions as a classic cabin with one large single bed.
The Mekong Pearl sails along the Upper Mekong and is smaller than the usual river ships you expect to see in Europe, however, it makes for an intimate sailing experience that allows you to really get to know your fellow passengers within a few days. The restaurant is one of the main meeting areas for all meal times. But there’s also the bar area which leads beautifully onto the sun deck terrace. Surrounded by sun loungers, this area makes a perfect resting point during a period of sailing. On first look, you might think it is all undercover. However, the retractable roof allows this area to be flooded with sunlight and makes an ideal area for relaxing. In addition, there is a smaller sun deck located up the staircase by the captain’s bridge. Here, you will find several sociable seating areas with large rattan furniture as well as further sun loungers. It makes for an excellent viewing platform and offers 360-degree views of the landscapes.
The Mekong Pearl has recently been refurbished to implement a better design and balance along this fast-flowing river. The restaurant and bar area is where all meals are served as part of a buffet. Breakfasts have plentiful options that include fresh fruit, yoghurts, freshly baked pastries, cereals, bread, cheese and a meat selection. Plus, there’s a choice of hot options from the chef in charge of the egg station. There is also an Asian selection, which includes things like noodle soup, should you wish to sample breakfast like the locals. Alongside your breakfast, free tea and coffee are served to you at the table, as well as a choice of juices.
Lunchtime brings salads and a mix of western and eastern cuisine. Over the few days on board, we sampled beautiful local delicacies, as well as some more familiar dishes from home. Sticky rice tends to make an appearance regularly, served-up to accompany vegetable, meat and fish dishes. The chef and his excellent team in the kitchen create some beautiful meals and can cater for dietary requirements. It is worth letting us know if you have any of these at the time of booking so that they know in advance.
Evening meal locations can vary. The restaurant on board provides a beautiful selection of dishes in an informal dining setting and the chef will prepare a selection for you to sample. You will be treated to a four-course dinner whilst complimentary water is served and the team behind the bar replenish any other drinks to be added to your cabin account to pay at the end of your stay. The bar menu is reasonably priced and stated in USD. Throughout the cruise, you can help yourself to a selection of complimentary teas and coffees at any time of day and bottled water will be provided in your cabins. Whilst out on excursions, the crew offer extra bottles so that you don’t get dehydrated in the heat. They also operate an ‘honesty bar’ so that you can help yourself to soft drinks from the fridge, write your name on a document and your cabin account will be updated.
During your Mekong river cruise, you will be treated to a BBQ dinner on the beach. Having docked alongside a remote area, the crew create the atmosphere for the evening and plenty of chairs are brought out to surround the large open fire. The chef and his team bring the food outdoors and cook up a feast for you to enjoy. As you look out at the dark sky, unpolluted from light from towns and cities, you begin to appreciate the quietness of this port of call.
We were fortunate to experience a home-cooked dinner with a local family. This is something that could be added to the itinerary in the future. Mrs Seng Chane and her husband Mr Chan Peng cooked a wonderful two-course meal as we dined around a beautiful table in her garden. In a home she shares with her husband, two boys and her mother, she prepared tasty treats with the help of a friend. She experienced the same hospitality when visiting America and wanted to provide a similar experience for visitors to her own country. Between courses, she spoke of her family, her full-time job, her home and was so welcoming that it made for an extremely pleasant evening during which time passed incredibly quickly.
Your Cruise Director, the very talented and multi-linguist Ben, originally from Germany, is your host for the duration of your sailing. He has a wealth of experience having spent the past seven years in Laos and has now made this beautiful country his home. We were impressed at how he switched from German to English to Laotian when conversing with the rest of the crew and his incredible knowledge about this stunning country kept us well-informed for the entire cruise. Ny, also known as Johnny, is full of character and perfectly placed working behind the bar. When we visited, he was about to become a father to a baby girl and he wanted name suggestions. We’re now wondering what he and his wife settled on.
The crew-to-passenger ratio is 2:1, meaning you will be looked after from the moment you arrive. You leave your shoes at the entrance (to help prevent dirt and dust collecting on the teak wooden floors) and this immediately makes you feel very at home. Walking around the ship can be done in the slippers provided or barefoot and there is no need to take separate shoes for the evenings as you won’t need them. Your shoes are cleaned for you ready for your next excursion.
The staff make it their mission to provide you with a holiday full of lasting memories and a true experience of Laos. The combination of crew, local people and the ports of call you visit along the Upper Mekong make this a great choice of river cruise if you are looking at experiencing a country with a wealth of history, a fascinating culture. You will leave your cruise with a little piece of Laos in your heart and it’ll make you start planning your next trip to Asia.
If you would like to see a different side of Asia and sail the Mekong with Lernidee Cruises, you can contact our helpful team on 0800 028 4272. Alternatively, you can click here to send us an enquiry via the website.