Mekong River cruise: The 10 things you must do

TAKE ME TO THE OTHER RIVER

Mekong River cruises either begin or end in Ho Chi Minh City – Vietnam's largest city – where another waterway, the oft-overlooked Saigon River, is experiencing a revival. Its new public ferry service is perfect for sightseeing but for a deeper insight  take a sunset speedboat tour with Les Rives, which includes a visit to the 18th-century Mieu Noi, a floating temple on the Vam Thuat River. See lesrivesexperience.com

HIT THE SHOPS AND HIT THE DECK

Ho Chi Minh City's District One, where the main hotels, shopping and tourist sites are situated, tends to capture the visitor's time. To see a different and fashionable side of the city, cross the Saigon River to District Two, which is a sort of Saigon Seminyak. It's a burgeoning neighbourhood of hip, upscale shops, bars, cafes and restaurants including The Deck, a sleek riverside eatery favoured by expats. See thedecksaigon.com

GO FROM HIP TO SIP IN SAIGON

L'Usine is a collection of District One cafes in interesting locations. One branch is located in a heritage-style building above a hard-to-find covered laneway off Le Loi Street while another, more easily found one, is inside a beautiful art deco space on Le Thanh Ton Street. Each of the L'Usine cafes has a shop stocked full of fashion, accessories homewares and books. See lusinespace.com

BE INSPIRED BY SPIRES

The Mekong Delta is distinguished by its blend of traditional Vietnamese and colonial French architecture, with the spires of 19th and early 20th century Catholic cathedrals rising above ramshackle waterside villages. One of the finest examples of this architectural fusion is Cai Be's canal-side Ba Duc Ancient House, dating to 1850. The mansion also features a garden of ornamental plants and tropical fruit trees. See baducmekong.net; scenic.com.au

TAKE SANCTUARY IN A SUNKEN FOREST

Tranquillity in the Mekong Delta can be elusive but one sure way to experience the natural side of Vietnam's frenetic food bowl is to head to the 1500-hectare Tra Su Bird Sanctuary, near the border city of Chau Doc. After a short speedboat ride through a sunken forest, visitors board non-motorised paddle-boats to view the beautiful birdlife. See scenic.com.au

EXPERIENCE PHNOM PENH'S HEIGHT OF STYLE

Bangkok's unofficial status as the cool rooftop bar capital of the world has inspired other south-east Asian capitals to reach for the skies. The 188-metre-high Vattanac Capital Tower is home to the Cambodian capital's flashiest new hotel, the Rosewood Phnom Penh, and its happening alfresco rooftop bar, Sora. See rosewoodhotels.com

BE OVER THE MOON AND THE WATER

Phnom Penh's annual water and moon festival sees hundreds of thousands of Cambodians descend on their capital. During the three-day celebration – which marks the end of the rainy season and the remarkable reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River – the waterway becomes the scene for races between traditional Khmer boats that can carry scores of rowers. See scenic.com.au

DINE UNDER THE STARS AT A STAR ATTRACTION

A visit to the ancient temple complex of Angkor is essential for any first-time Siem Reap visitor. Passengers aboard the Scenic Spirit, however, are treated to an exclusive dinner and cultural performance in part of the ruins of Angkor. Its wonders also await daytime exploration on a variety of tours, including a sunrise breakfast overlooking Angkor Wat and a balloon ride above it. See scenic.com.au

EXPLORE A WONDROUS WATERWORLD

Tonle Sap is one of Siem Reap's top attractions. Experience life on south-east Asia's largest freshwater lake as part of a full-day tour run by Osmose, a European charity. Begin soon after dawn with a visit to a lakeshore market where fisher women sell their daily catch, followed by boat tours of floating villages, a bird sanctuary and a store selling handicrafts made from water hyacinth by local craftspeople. See osmosetonlesap.net

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MEET THE OTHER VILLAGE PEOPLE

Siem Reap's trendy Kandal Village, a single street tucked away in the city's French Quarter, is lined with a host of quality homewares, fashion and gift shops, as well as Little Red Fox Espresso, considered the city's best cafe. Christine, a store run by an eponymous French woman and stocked with beautiful fashions and accessories, is also close by. See thelittleredfoxespresso.com; christines-store.com

Anthony Dennis visited Vietnam and Cambodia as a guest of Scenic's all-inclusive 13-day Treasures of the Mekong cruise and land tour from Saigon to Siem Reap, starting from $7695 per person. See scenic.com.au

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