As demand for river cruising rises, so do options

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Heritage Line's Ginger sails the La Han Bay in Vietnam.
Heritage Line's Ginger sails the La Han Bay in Vietnam.

With demand for river cruising on the rise, some companies are turning to alternatives to traditional vessels in hot spots like the Nile and Mekong.

Kenneth Vasquez of Heritage Tours says Egypt is so hot right now that he can't wait for clients to mull over his proposed itineraries or they will be sold out by the time an answer comes.

For river cruises, he said, the company has contracted with two private dahabiyas, small, non-motorized sailboats that give customers more exclusive options.

The Dalida, one of Heritage Tours' two private dahabiyas for Egypt sailings.
The Dalida, one of Heritage Tours' two private dahabiyas for Egypt sailings.

The vessels carry just 16 passengers, making it easy for families or small groups to do a buyout and create their own itineraries. They are also able to stop at smaller islands and sites that larger vessels pass by. And they can dock on the opposite side of the Nile than the larger ships, avoiding the side-by-side docking.

"You can still do all the sites" Vasquez said, "but it's a very luxurious, highly personalized experience."

The cost is about $500 a night per person, all-inclusive.

In Vietnam, Jim Selkin of Trails of IndoChina, said small river cruise operators are also turning to alternatives to the Mekong.

"Over the past five years, everyone and his uncle from Europe has decided to put ships there," he said.  "It's getting as overpopulated as HaLong Bay."

To escape the crowds, he said one of his company's sister ventures, Heritage Line, which operates Mekong river and Halong Bay cruises in Vietnam and Cambodia, has launched a new ship in the less crowded upper Mekong and next year will launch a second luxury vessel in Lan Ha Bay, a less-traveled area of Halong Bay.

Right now, Selkin said, there are only about four vessels sailing Lan Ha Bay, although he expects that to multiply fast.

More hotel companies are also starting to launch their own private vessels.

Mekong Kingdom's Gypsy sails between the ancient Laos capital of Luang Prabang and Thailand's Golden Triangle.
Mekong Kingdom's Gypsy sails between the ancient Laos capital of Luang Prabang and Thailand's Golden Triangle.

Oberoi Hotels & Resorts operates two luxury cruise vessels on the Nile. And this year, Minor Hotels launched the Mekong Kingdoms, a fleet of unique vessels in Asia and on the Mekong that offer day trips and short sailings.

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