Traveling by riverboat from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap in Vietnam and Cambodia

The Mekong River flows through Cambodia and Vietnam from the Tibetan Plateau before emptying into the South China Sea.

Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, and quaint riverside villages have flourished because of the river's role as a natural transportation corridor.

The Mekong River is a convenient and cost-effective way to see Cambodia and Vietnam in a single trip since it connects the two countries and eliminates the need for internal flights. Combining a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, seeing the best of both countries is possible. You may use our Vietnam and Cambodia travel guide on My Way Travel as a starting point for arranging your trip.

A trip to Cambodia and Vietnam often goes together, but why?

For Buddhist monks, a temple in Cambodia is known as Angkor.

Both countries may greatly benefit from the other's presence. Headlamps from a thousand Vespas cast a modern glow over Ho Chi Minh City's stately French buildings and glittering skyscrapers.

Upon entering the Mekong Delta, one leaves behind this level of sophistication and returns to a more traditional way of living.

When you finally reach Cambodia, the bustle of the river will have given way to a tranquil panorama of rice terraces stretching into the horizon. 

At the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, the two civilizations blend. The stilted cottages that dot the lake's calm surface are home to Cambodians and Vietnamese who fled the conflict.

Each country's past is fraught with tragedy. The Cu Chi Tunnels outside of Ho Chi Minh City and the remnants of the Khmer Rouge regime in and around Phnom Penh serve as sobering memorials to the atrocities committed during the Vietnam War.

I recommend capping off your journey at the temples of Angkor if you want to leave a lasting impression.

The following is the travel plan for a trip to Cambodia and Vietnam.

Cholon Market, Ho Chi Minh City

When combining Vietnam and Cambodia, I recommend visiting the south of the country. Vietnam is large. Therefore, visiting only one area will offer you a deeper understanding than attempting to see as much as possible.

In my opinion, the best way to experience the Mekong Delta is to fly into Ho Chi Minh City, spend a few days exploring the city (it was exciting to ride a Vespa through the dark streets of Ho Chi Minh City), and then spend one or more nights sleeping aboard a six-berth vessel as you cruise through the region. 

Which boat should I choose for a Mekong River tour?

Mekong River, Vietnam, Asia, Aqua Expeditions

One of the boats I recommend is the Bassac, a repurposed rice barge with old-world allure, modern amenities, and delicious food. Private sampans provide a more personal way to see the area at your leisure.

Life along the Mekong Delta

River life near the Mekong Delta

Going to Cai Be and the Mekong River from Ho Chi Minh City takes just two hours. Floating by lush rice paddies and fruit orchards on the river makes you question if you're still in the city.

Floating wooden towns and traditional fishing nets line the riverbanks, while palm trees and rice fields create a beautiful green tapestry along the water's edge. French colonial houses dot the landscape of quiet waterfront communities.

To see the weaving towns and farms of the Delta, you will need to transfer from your riverboat to a smaller boat that can negotiate the Delta's narrower canals.

The Delta is one of Southeast Asia's most agriculturally productive regions, producing a large portion of Vietnam's rice and serving as a major center for producing fruit and processing fish.

Farmers in coconut plantations will offer you sweets produced from their harvests, and the proprietors of local orchards, where you may sample unusual fruits like rambutan and mangosteen, will invite you in for tea.

Sounds from the Cai Rang floating river market will wake you on your first full day at sea; this region is an important commerce route between Vietnam and Cambodia.

Cai Rang floating market

Can Tho, Vietnam's Cai Rang Floating Market on the Mekong River

South Vietnam and Cambodia merchants go great distances to stock up on tropical produce at sea.

The vibrant colors of the dragon fruit and mangosteens on the Mekong River will always remind me of my time there. Traders raise their items on bamboo poles in the air to attract clients' attention.

It is the largest example of a floating market in the Delta, and you may join the crowd by transferring to a smaller boat.

Crossing into Cambodia

Buddhist monks in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in front of the Royal Palace.

Can Tho, the biggest city in the Delta, is the riverboat's final destination. The three-hour drive to the border town of Chau Doc passes through villages where people weave baskets while waiting in queues by the wayside.

Picking up a speedboat at Chau Doc to transport you the further five hours upriver to Phnom Penh is a breeze.

The murdering Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, housed in the old S-21 jail where much of the mass murder occurred, may give you a flavor of the intriguing but terrible contemporary history of the Khmer Rouge.

The journey begins from Phnom Penh and travels to Siem Reap, the entry point to the temples of Angkor. Traveling by automobile along the banks of Tonle Sap takes around six hours. It's also possible to choose a flight that takes an hour.

The biggest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia is home to floating communities.

Kompong Phluk Floating Village, Tonle Sap Lake

The Mekong River is responsible for creating Tonle Sap Lake, a wonderful day trip from Siem Reap.

During the wet season, the Mekong River floods its banks as water from melting snow in Tibet and monsoon rains flows northwest into the lake, potentially increasing its size by a factor of five.

It swells to great proportions during the rainy season, but it drains nearly entirely into the Mekong during the dry season.

The lake's inhabitants have woven their way of life into the rhythms of the water. If you go exploring in a longtail boat, you'll get to meet the locals who live in stilted towns that seem to float on the lake's surface so they can weather the extreme fluctuations in water levels.

Angkor and my highlight temple, Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm temple at Angkor in Cambodia

Spread out across a vast woodland region in northwest Cambodia, the temples of Angkor are one of the greatest artificial marvels in the world, drawing visitors from all over the globe.

The contrast between the huge roots of the silk, cotton, and fig trees and the crumbling ruins of Ta Prohm makes it my favorite of the temples.

Although many publications recommend seeing Angkor Wat (the biggest temple) before sunrise, I recommend starting your day at Ta Prohm.

Sunrise visits with a private guide and a shortage of other tourists make for an intimate encounter. When European explorers first stumbled across the temple in the middle of the nineteenth century, they found it untouched.

At dawn, the temple takes on an air of mystery as a strangely lovely green light filters through the leaves of the trees above.

You may spend the day exploring Siem Reap or simply chilling out by the pool if you arrive at the beginning of the trip.

Spider whistling

Unexpected encounters with locals and unscheduled excursions sometimes provide the most memorable moments and the most in-depth insight into everyday life in this region.

Halfway between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, my guide and I stopped in a little town where the locals go on spider hunts for sustenance.

A local family welcomed my guide and me into their house, with my guide acting as translator. This kind of hospitality is widespread in the area. In particular, I recall the fried tarantula and the large dish of insects roasting over an open fire. The next step was to take a short trip into the bush, where we would whistle for tarantulas and see the catching process.

Best time to visit Vietnam and Cambodi

Tropical waterfall Phnom Kulen, Cambodia

Although there are three distinct microclimates in Vietnam and Cambodia, the ideal time to visit is between March and April.

Suppose you can try to plan your trip during the green season between November and April. In terms of lodging, it offers superior value, and the cost reductions might be considerable. Some areas are more likely to have severe rain in the evening, but you shouldn't let that deter you.

Add some beach time in Thailand

A peaceful day on Thailand's Koh Samet, at the famous Hat Sai Kaew Beach (also known as Diamond Beach)

After traveling from Siem Reap to Bangkok, add a few days to the Thai beach resort of Ko Samet if you want to conclude your trip on the sand. It's an easy journey just a few hours from Bangkok, where you may get a flight back home. It's generally cheaper to fly home from Bangkok than from other.

You can get a speedboat back to Bangkok Airport from Koh Samet, the nicest beach in the vicinity, and there is no need to return to Vietnam.

Start planning your trip to Cambodia

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.