Mekong River Cruise: High Water or Low Water Itinerary?
For first-time visitors embarking on a Mekong River Cruise, especially those taking the Phnom Penh-Siem Reap 5 Days, Saigon-Siem Reap 8 Days, or vice versa, the detailed itineraries with options of high water and low water sometimes cause confusion. In this guide, we will provide you with the major differences between the two seasons and how they affect your river cruise trip.
What is the difference between high water season and low water season?
The Lower Mekong, including Cambodia and Vietnam portions, has two distinct seasons: dry and wet seasons that somewhat coincide with low water and high water periods. The high water season lasts from mid-August to November, when the water levels see greater flows from the Tibetan highlands and China. Meanwhile, the low water season lasts from December to mid-August.
Depending on the season, the water levels in the Tonle Sap Lake and River, as well as the Mekong River, can fluctuate significantly, from one meter to an amazing ten meters!
The main difference between the two durations is that in the high water season, Mekong River Cruises can make a lake crossing and visit many attractions in Tonle Sap, like Prek Toal Bird Reserve or floating villages. Ships can also dock directly at the Siem Reap pier for passenger embarkation and disembarkation, which allows visitors to reach the Temple Town center within a 45-minute drive. On the other hand, the Tonle Sap cannot be crossed by river cruise during low water season. The embarkation dock will be located at Kampong Cham, which is approximately 240 kilometers from the center of Siem Reap. Most cruise ships include free shuttle bus travel between Siem Reap and Kampong Cham dock in approximately 4.5 to 5 hours on their itineraries.
When all is said and done, the dates of high and low seasons vary unexpectedly each year and depend on the rainfall and water levels. Low water may begin earlier or later. River cruise lines will adjust their schedules on short notice. Other than that, they are unable to confirm exactly whether your cruise will use the high water or low water program for departure. The water condition may change at any time, and you’ll be informed as soon as the cruise operators learn anything new.
Water levels only influence the Cambodian portion of the lower Mekong cruise route, which goes from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and back, or from Saigon to Siem Reap and vice versa. Both low- and high-water itineraries have the same onshore excursions (albeit in a different sequence). The Vietnam portion, which travels from Phnom Penh to Saigon and vice versa, is unchanged by water levels.
Should you travel during the high water season or low water season?
Mekong River cruises run year-round, and each season has its advantages. Your preferences and the activities you choose to partake in will determine whether to enjoy a Mekong River cruise in the low water or high water season.
If you wish to enjoy the floating world of Tonle Sap, you should travel during the high water season. During this period, the Mekong Delta's water levels rise and its many tributaries and canals become navigable, enabling river cruise vessels to sail through the Great Lake, passing floating villages and markets. This is an exceptional cultural experience you should not miss. In addition, the wet season with mild rainfall transforms the mesmerizing Mekong countryside into an infinite stretch of vivid green. Rain showers don't make or break the experience because they usually last an hour each day. Visitors only need to care about humidity and mosquitoes.
In case you're worried about rain or river flooding, the dry season is a great time to visit. In a low water cruising itinerary, though cruise ships cannot cross the Tonle Sap, they will take you to seemingly untouched towns and villages along the river, where you can interact with locals and get a glimpse of their rural life. The Mekong's dry months (December to May) also offer unique spectacles and experiences, like the Koh Paen Bamboo Bridge connecting the mainland with Koh Paen Island. The locals rebuild this bridge every November when the water levels drop.
Regardless of the low water or high water itinerary you choose, the Lower Mekong region is a wonderful destination to explore with river cruise ships. Visit the Mekong River Cruise website right now to organize the ideal trip with our travel experts!