Testing the waters: More tourists interested in cruises along Mekong River

Boats cruise along Thailand’s portion of the Mekong River. Source: Shutterstock/USJ

AN ongoing misconception about cruises is that they’re mostly for retirees who have more interest in gaudy floral shirts and tourist traps than they do in leisure activities and cultural exploration.

However, that stereotype no longer holds true as Travel Agent Central’s report earlier this month showed cruises have been growing in popularity and that most of its patrons are youth aged between 21 and 35.

Quoting a survey released by global market researcher J.D. Power, the Cruise Industry Market Consumer Outlook of 2017 showed 64 percent of respondents were more aware of cruises, in contrast to six percent who viewed cruises as being unfavorable.

Of the respondents in the millennial age group, 54 percent said they had taken a cruise and 90 percent of them said they enjoyed the experience.

This can be attributed to the improved quality and expansive activities available for all kinds of travelers from booze cruises to cultural excursions.

And while ocean cruises remain the most popular, river cruises are also gaining in popularity with three out of 10 respondents saying they are interested in going on one.

Of the many river cruises available from the Amazon river cruises cutting through the expansive rainforest, to the picturesque views seen from cruises along the Rhine, travelers keen on such trips are often spoilt for choice.

SEE ALSO: Thailand welcomes cruise ship tourism 

However, in Southeast Asia, cruises along the river intersecting the Golden Triangle – Myanmar, Laos and Thailand – have become a steady favorite among those keen on seeing the region from a different perspective.

The vast 4,300km Mekong River is a lifeblood for thousands of people, from those living on its bank reliant on it for food to the countries that depend on it for hydroelectric power.

Its waters begin in the Tibetan Plateau and run through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia as well as Vietnam. It is home to some of the largest freshwater fish in the world and has the most concentrated biodiversity per hectare of any river in the world.

Needless to say, the Mekong River is iconic as being a quintessential part of regional sustenance and development. However today, it is also a crucial part of the tourism industry as daily cruises up and down the Mekong becoming a mainstay, evidenced by companies expanding their fleet.

Thai daily The Nation reported on May 2 the inaugural group of Chinese tourists visiting the country via the Mekong River departed from China’s Yunnan province a day prior.

The group, traveling on two Chinese vessels namely the Yenta 7 and Yenta 8 as well as one Thai boat, the Kasalongkham, marked the launch of the route. Previously, travel between Yunnan province and Thailand’s Chiang Rai was strictly for cargo transportation.

Tour company executive Chu Xuan Xu said the tourists were “impressed by the beautiful natural riverside sceneries.”

SEE ALSO: Meetings at sea – are cruises the future of Asia’s MICE industry? 

Similarly, US cruise company Avalon Waterways in April announced it would be setting sail its second cruise liner on the Mekong, set to be operational come September 2018, USA Today reported. The 36-passenger ship, named Avalon Saigon, will take week-long trips from Vietnam to Cambodia.

“We are sold out (on the Mekong for 2017) and have been sold out on many departures for months now,” Hoffee said.

“We still have some availability for summer,” chief product & operations officer for the Globus family of brands Pam Hoffee was quoted as saying.

Australian cruise company Emerald Waterways similarly announced its Mekong River Cruises in April and will give passengers the opportunity to explore Vietnam and Cambodia abroad the Mekong Navigator, a vessel built specifically for this route.

Apart from scenic views from the Mekong river, most of these cruises also make stops at select cities including Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

This gives tourists the chance to visit Hanoi’s Museum of Ethnology of Phnom Penh’s Killing Fields. However, some cruises also make stops at certain orphanages or schools for travelers inclined to do a little charity tourism.