The first thing to consider is that, while connected via the Mekong River, both Cambodia and Vietnam are topographically different due to the geography of each country. While the former is characterized by mostly low, flat plains, with mountains in the southwest and north, the latter is far more varied given the country’s elongated and narrow shape spanning around 1,025 miles (1,650 km) from north to south, with central highlands, and mountainous regions in the far north and northwest.
However, in the region where Aqua Mekong sails, you can expect a low, flat delta with an average elevation of 0.5-1.0 m above sea level, making it perfect for agriculture as the foundation of the region’s economy with rice as the staple crop among other crops such as coconuts, tobacco, sugarcane, and cocoa. With 5.5 million hectares of land area, the region also boasts mangrove forests, freshwater swamps, and seasonally inundated swamps.
Mekong River Cruise: Viet Nam and Cambodia
Where to Go
Thanks to its geographical diversity, Vietnam offers a range of natural attractions ranging from verdant rice fields, stunning mountain vistas, sparkling beaches, mysterious sand dunes, majestic karst formations, epic cave systems, refreshing forests to riverside retreats. It is also home to six biosphere reserves: Can Gio Mangrove Forest, Cat Tien, Cat Ba, Kien Giang, the Red River Delta, and Western Nghe An, as well as seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with Halong Bay and Phong Nha-Khe bang National Park classified as natural.
This means that whatever time of year you plan to visit there will always be something to see and do.
Designated in 2012 as one of the new seven natural wonders of the world, Halong Bay on the northern coastline of Vietnam consists of around 1,600 lime pillar islands and islets, most of which are uninhabited and unspoiled by human activity. Featuring mountains, tropical forests, and underground rivers, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in the north-central area of Vietnam is Asia’s most ancient limestone karst area, also boasting a vast network of caves.
Heading south, you’ll find some of the best beaches in the country at Da Nang, Nha Trang, Con Dao islands, and closer to the Cambodian border, Phu Quoc. Cambodia and South Vietnam are distinct in the low lands and flood plains surrounded by mountain ranges to the north, east, southwest, and south. Here you’ll find steamy jungles, deserted beaches, pastoral riverine landscapes, and a plethora of ancient temples. Most famously, of course, is the Angkor Archeological Park, the spread-out UNESCO World Heritage site that was discovered in the middle of thick rainforest containing religious structures and crumbling relics dating back to the Khmer Empire.
When to Go – Vietnam
The best time to visit Vietnam is between the months of November and April, as this is the time when the country experiences the least amount of rain. However, since the country’s geography is so diverse, there are specific months you should plan your visit in order to enjoy the different regions.
March to April and September to November
Spring and Autumn are the best seasons to visit Sapa, Hanoi, and Halong Bay in the north as the days are generally pleasant, temperatures are moderate and rainfall is light.
July to August
You’ll want to avoid the typhoon seasons when you head to the coastal cities of Hue and Hoi An, when the rainy season subsides in February. Warmer temperatures and sunshine will last between February and August, but if you’re after warmer days July and August are your best bets.
December to February
While South Vietnam experiences warm, pleasant temperatures year-round, the earlier part of the dry season is much cooler making travel very pleasant. While the rainy season can bring some flooding, rain usually comes in short bursts and does not affect travel. In fact, this is the best time for photography as the rice fields of the Mekong delta turn a vibrant green.
When to go – Cambodia
June to August
For culture vultures, ‘green season’ is the ideal time to visit Cambodia and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat, because all the big tour groups have gone, and you will have the temples to yourself. The roads are less dusty, while the temples sparkle and glimmer after their daily shower. The country is at its most beautiful, with verdant rice paddies, while the moats and ‘barays’ near the temples are full. When conditions are exactly right, spectacular sunsets can also be expected.
Mid-August to November
The wet season results in fewer tourist crowds, making the Mekong delta considerably quieter. However, this is actually perfect for nature lovers who can enjoy the lush vegetation of the flooded mangroves, ponds, and waterfalls, thanks to the abundance of water in the Tonle Sap at its highest level, which increases its area about six-fold and brings with it fish and bird migration, as well as a highly productive ecosystem. It is also a great moment to visit the lake’s floating villages and markets.
December to mid-August
It is not just the wet season that claims an active period for birdwatching; during the dry season, the large trees of the Prek Toal Sanctuary support the largest remaining colonies of storks, pelicans, and ibises in mainland Southeast Asia, which remain under threat due to the collection of eggs and chicks.
During this season you can expect crystal clear blue skies, brilliant green landscapes, and lower levels of humidity; it is excellent for outdoor activities such as cycling, hiking, and kayaking. Aqua Mekong offers an insight into local culture and authentic village life; listen to local musicians play their instruments, taste the variety of tropical fruit during fruit season (June to September), or enjoy the vibrant flower season (late January to March).
Due to Vietnam’s geography, the south of the country experiences seasons differently than the north. The northern region, which includes touristic prime destinations such as the capital city of Hanoi, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ha Long, and the mountainous town of Sapa, has four seasons: winter, spring, summer, and autumn.
The winter season in northern Vietnam (December to February) experiences an average temperature of around 20 °C (68°F) but can drop up to 10 °C (50°F). On the other hand, summertime in the northern region (May to August) is hot and humid with temperatures of around 32 °C (70°F) and characterized by heavy rainfalls that persist up until mid-October.
Spring (March to April) and autumn (September to November) are both pleasant seasons for exploring Northern Vietnam as temperatures are milder, with generally warm and sunny days, ideal for outdoor activities. During its rainy season, the central coast of Vietnam can be affected by typhoons, mainly occurring between the months of August to November.
In the south, home to Vietnam’s most populous city, Ho Chi Minh, as well as the Mekong river delta, there are mainly two seasons: the wet season (May to October) and dry season (November to April). Meanwhile, in the country’s central region, where the historic and cultural cities of Hoi An and Hue are located, the summer dry season occurs between February and August.
Similar to south Vietnam, Cambodia’s two distinct seasons are determined by its tropical monsoon climate: the rainy season from mid-May to early October with temperatures averaging between 25°C (77°F) and 27°C (80.6°F), dominated by the southwest monsoon winds, and the dry season from late October to early May with lighter winds of the northeast monsoon and temperatures of 26°C (78°F) in the early part of the season and up to 38°C (100°F) in the warmest month of March.
The Mekong delta is also affected by the low water (December to July) and high water (August to November) seasons. This refers to the water levels of the Mekong River, which during the high water season from mid-August to November receive increased flows originating from the Plateau of Tibet and China, emptying into the South China Sea.
Mid-May to early October
During the rainy season, the Mekong’s enormous volume of water backs up into the Sap river which connects to the Tonle Sap lake, expanding its surface area from a dry-season minimum of 1,200 square miles (3,100 square km) to a rainy-season maximum of more than 3,000 square miles (7,800 square km). Guests who travel on the Aqua Mekong during the high water season can visit floating villages of the Tonle Lap lake and the Prek Toal Bird Reserve thanks to the river swells.
Late October to early May
As the water level of the Mekong falls during the dry season, the process is reversed: water drains from the Tonle Sap back down into the Mekong, switching the direction of its flow, a naturally-occurring phenomenon known as ‘flood pulse’ system. The Tonle Sap lake is inaccessible from the Mekong via the Sap river during this period, making the lake inaccessible to river ships. That said, is a great opportunity to see a quieter side of local life along the Mekong, and all guests traveling with Aqua Mekong during this period will have the option to continue their journey onwards with complimentary flights to Siem Reap for all itineraries ending in Phnom Penh.
On the Aqua Mekong, our highly tailored itineraries run year-round and have been carefully designed by experts to ensure guests of rewarding adventures exploring the best of each season and destination. Take advantage of our 30% Summer rate and discover the range of exciting excursions we have planned by selecting your ideal itinerary here.