Jane McDonald on the marvels of the Mekong: “I’ve never seen sunsets as breathtaking as the ones in Cambodia”

McDonald visits Cambodia's floating villages and snacks on insects in tonight's episode of Cruising with Jane McDonald

Jane in front of the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

This week you embark in Ho Chi Minh City and cruise down the Mekong River to Cambodia. What did you make of Vietnam’s biggest city?

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It’s not for those of a delicate disposition. You will see me screaming, “We’re going to die!” because there’s just thousands of bikes and traffic coming towards you. Don’t even attempt to cross the road in Vietnam.

It must have been a relief to reach the ship.

The ship was absolutely stunning – all kitted out in teak – and the staff were all Vietnamese and Cambodian and very friendly. Everybody was lovely, right down to the people in the villages and the markets. 

With the crew of the Amadara
With the crew of the Amadara; main picture above: in front of the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

What was the scenery like?

You’re very close to the villages so you can see life going on along the river. We went on a trip to see the floating villages of Kampong Chhnang in Cambodia as well, where you can buy everything from antiques to snake wine. I’ve never seen sunsets quite as breathtaking as the ones in Cambodia. There was one that looked like God’s fingers with five perfect rays.

How was the food on board?

It was fantastic: everybody queued up for this young chef called Doi. He’d whack everything in the wok and dish up a masterpiece in a couple of minutes. I worried I was going to come off the ship as cargo, but I hadn’t put a pound on.

You also sampled Cambodia’s creepy-crawly cuisine. Was that as moreish?

I thought it was an audition for I’m a Celebrity! I tried silkworm and crickets. The guy kept telling me it tasted like peanuts. That doesn’t taste like a peanut, I said to myself, but it wasn’t that bad – nice and crunchy.

Last week you braved Iceland… How did a lifelong sun-worshipper cope with the cold?

I had the same outfit on the whole time. I’d wash my thermals and put them straight back on. I had thermal gloves on under my gloves. The only time I wasn’t in thermals is when I was in the hot spring – but getting from the dressing room to the water nearly killed me.

Was it worth it?

It was – purely to see the Northern Lights. We were very lucky because not everybody sees them. To be out on deck with a group of people that you’d got to know, looking up in the pitch-black at three in the morning and seeing these amazing green lights just above you, and thinking, “That’s nature!”, was something else.

Enjoying the sun in Seydisfjordur in east Iceland
Enjoying the sun in Seydisfjordur in east Iceland

Any other memorable moments?

Whale-watching. I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited in my life as when we saw four whales come up and start swimming right next to the boat. It was awesome in the true sense of the word. And I joined in a réttir, an annual tradition where friends and neighbours help get all the sheep in off the mountains for the winter. Now that’s an experience: 2,000 sheep running at you!

As a cruise veteran, what’s your top tip?

Stop taking photographs! When we watched the sun rise over Cambodia’s world-famous temple Angkor Wat, I was the only one enjoying it; everybody else was looking at it through a lens. Also, don’t keep your jewellery on in hot springs because the sulphur turns it black. I had to get all mine cleaned. 

Cruising with Jane McDonald is on Channel 5 on Fridays at 9pm

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