River Cruise Testimonial for LEX LEES, AUSTRALIA, HALONG BAY & THE RED RIVER, JUN 2016 | Pandaw.com
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HALONG BAY AND RED RIVER REVIEW

LEX LEES, AUSTRALIA, HALONG BAY & THE RED RIVER, JUN 2016

UPSTREAM ON THE RED RIVER - Always something to see and do, and so relaxing!

Pandaw's offer of 'no single supplement' on their Red River cruise, to areas of Vietnam I had never before visited, was irresistible to me. I usually travel with my husband, and felt a little wary of traveling alone for an extended period of time; this cruise seemed like a great way to try river cruising, with a company which gives a lot back to the communities it visits. Whilst we had made a number of visits to Asia over the years, we had never cruised there.

My early June departure put me right at the start of the wet season, but we were very lucky with the weather. It was very hot, but the few showers we had were at night, with the exception of one tropical downpour during an afternoon shore excursion. On that occasion the rain was a welcome relief from the heat, though that didn't stop the crew arriving to rescue us, armed with multiple large umbrellas.

Halong Bay and the Red River Cruise DancingPhotos courtesy of Lex Lees

Our ship, the RV Angkor Pandaw, was ideal for travelling the broad and sometimes shallow waterways. The teak cabins were comfortable and spotlessly clean, with plenty of storage. The individually controlled air conditioning coped well, even on days when the outside temperature approached 38 Celsius. Outdoor lounges in the centre and front of the upper deck provided comfortable areas for relaxing, socialising and watching the ever changing scenery. Halong Bay was quite stunningly beautiful, but even the more industrial and rural riverscapes later in the cruise provided plenty of interest, with a fascinating array of river craft of all shapes and sizes, and ever changing activities along the river. Pandaw are the only company cruising this route, and I realised we were a tourist attraction in our own right when I saw a truck driver on one of the bridges photograph us on his mobile phone as we passed underneath! As the days passed, the front of the ship became my favourite haunt when I wasn't on a shore excursion. There I sat in comfort, with my camera at the ready, watching the passing scenery, writing emails home, posting photos on Facebook, and of course indulging in regular cold drinks or coffee.

My fellow cruisers were a diverse group, from the USA, England, Germany, as well as fellow Australians. I enjoyed having company when I wanted it, and being free to relax in solitude if I chose. As I got to know my fellow travellers, I realised I was one of the few passengers who was a first timer with Pandaw. It says a lot for the quality and variety of the cruises Pandaw offers that so many passengers were on their second, third or fourth cruise with the company.

Perhaps Pandaw's greatest asset is its professional and multi national staff. Our young crew, mostly from Cambodia, were exceptional in their professionalism and friendliness. It is impossible to single any one crew member out. When cruising, they were quick to learn each passenger's food and seating preferences, and soon knew us all by name. The food was of course delicious, with a wide variety of Western, Vietnamese and Cambodian dishes, and a wonderful array of fresh fruit, seafood, and meats of all types. When we went on shore excursions, the crew made sure all of us were safe and comfortable, and looked out especially for any passengers who weren't so mobile. Out two local Vietnamese guides, Tuan and Vu, offered not only a wealth of local knowledge, but also shared with us some interesting stories about their own families and lives, which provided a real insight into Vietnamese life and customs. Like the crew, they were friendly and accessible, and always happy to answer questions or translate a question we might want to ask a local.

Our shore excursions were many and varied, and offered something for everyone. We were able to experience a real taste of local life, culture and crafts. It was especially important to me to know that Pandaw gives financial support to the communities we visited, and that visits by Pandaw are rotated throughout different households within a village, sharing any monetary benefit equitably. We were never pressured to give money or make purchases, nor did we feel like voyeurs.

Halong Bay and the Red River Cruise DancingPhotos courtesy of Lex Lees

Now back in the midst of a Sydney winter, I'm reminiscing fondly about my cruising days, and planning my next Pandaw itinerary. This time though, I won't get away without my husband, now that he's seen the photos and heard the stories!

Lex Lees
First time cruiser
Part time teacher
Full time traveler (I wish)

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