From the heights of the Himalayas to the coast of the China Sea, over the course of its almost 2,800-mile journey, the Mekong River passes through much more than just Indochina. Wherever it flows, it fascinates people and shapes their lives. From the Delta and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), a town still filled with souvenirs of the French colonial presence, right to the great lake of Tonle Sap and Siem Reap, a city at the foot of the Angkor Sites, the Mekong today has to work hard to maintain suitable water levels, with many dams along its course, and subject to more and more extraordinary monsoons.
DAY 1: HANOI
Participation in today‘s activities will be according to your arrival time in Hanoi. If you arrive between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., your program will be:
Spend the day on a guided tour of the capital. You’ll visit the outside of the historic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum on Ba Dinh Square, Ho Chi Minh's humble stilt house behind the mausoleum, and the unique One Pillar Pagoda Buddhist temple. Then we’ll move on to the Temple of Literature, which was home to Vietnam's first national university. Enjoy lunch in town. Afterwards, we’ll discover the old quarter of the city by pedi-cab or electric mini-bus. Also known as the “36 Streets”, the quarter reflects the different guilds concentrating their businesses along these streets. During our tour, we’ll see many French colonial buildings and Hoan Kiem Lake. We’ll go to our hotel (Movenpick or similar accommodations) for dinner and the night.
DAY 2: HANOI - HALONG BAY
Enjoy breakfast before leaving early in the morning for Halong Bay (approx. 3.5 hours travel time). We’ll be welcomed aboard a junk, enjoy a cocktail, and begin our cruise to discover the thousands of various limestone islands dotting the emerald-colored bay. We’ll have lunch, and then navigation in the bay. We’ll have dinner on board the 4-star junk Bahia (or similar accommodations).
DAY 3: HALONG BAY - HANOI
Rise early with us this morning and participate in a Tai Chi class on deck. We’ll continue our cruise through the bay, discovering more of its extraordinary scenery and visiting one of the largest caves. This morning, brunch will be served on board. We’ll disembark at 11:00 a.m. and return to Hanoi. Before arriving, we’ll stop off at the Dinh Bang communal hall, one of the largest and finest communal houses in Vietnam. Once we arrive in Hanoi, you’ll check into the Movenpick Hotel (or similar accommodations). We’ll finish up our day with a traditional water puppetry show, have dinner in the city, and spend the night at the hotel.
DAY 4: HANOI - HO CHI MINH CITY
After breakfast, you’ll be transferred to the Hanoi airport and fly to Ho Chi Minh City. Once you arrive, you’ll join the group arriving from Paris. Ho Chi Minh City was built by the French in 1859, at the beginning of the colonial era. It has retained some of its French atmosphere. After you enjoy lunch in a local restaurant, we'll leave for a tour of the city: Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office. Afterwards, we'll board our boat, followed by a welcome cocktail and dinner. We'll remain in port overnight.
DAY 5: HO CHI MINH CITY
After breakfast, we'll spend the morning visiting Cholon, whose name means “great market”, a district bustling with people, where almost half the population of the city lives and where trade reigns supreme. We'll visit the market and the Thien Hau Pagoda, dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea. We'll have lunch in town before our afternoon visit of the National History Museum followed by a visit to a lacquer-ware factory. We'll then return on board and head for Chao Gao Canal. You'll enjoy dinner and an evening on board, and we'll drop anchor and moor for the night at Nha Be.
DAY 6: CHAO GAO - MY THO - VINH LONG - CAI BE - SA DEC
Early in the morning, we'll continue our cruise to My Tho along the magnificent Chao Gao Canal, which passes from the Saigon River to the Mekong Delta. The Delta is made up of four main arms and thousands of canals, both large and small. We'll have breakfast as we arrive in My Tho. The town is named after the My Tho River which means “beautiful reed”, and it is peaceful and prosperous. It is known for its many vegetable gardens and fruit orchards. The climate here is hot and pleasant all year long. The surrounding countryside includes one of the most luxuriant gardens in Vietnam with coconut, banana, mango and longan trees. We'll visit My Tho islands in small boats. Along the maze that makes up the network of small canals, pretty country villages appear and we'll see the local craftsmen at work. We'll return on board for lunch and continue our cruise to Vinh Long, and then Caï Be. The town is located in the middle of the delta region, between two arms of the Mekong. We'll set off in small boats through the arroyos and gardens which lead to Caï Be's colonial church. Vinh Long, with its rich delta soils, is the country of mandarins and oranges. Life is organized around the water, and we'll see houses built on stilts and hundreds of small boats that criss-cross in all directions. The boat will then depart for Sa Dec. We'll have dinner and stay in port overnight.
DAY 7: SA DEC - CHAU DOC
Early in the morning we'll visit Sa Dec, famous for its horticulture and known as the “Garden of Cochin-China” in colonial times. We'll take a tour of the small town where there are still a few colonial mansions. You'll discover the local market and visit the former home of Huynh Thuy Le, who was French novelist Marguerite Duras' lover (Duras spent part of her childhood in Sa Dec). We'll return on board for a hearty breakfast and continue our cruise to Chau Doc, a town at the border between Cambodia and Vietnam which became part of Vietnamese territory some 300 years ago. We'll have lunch on board, and we'll arrive in Chau Doc early in the afternoon. Situated in the heart of a gigantic grid of rice fields, the city of Chau Doc embraces both banks of the Mekong, and the floating farms overspill into the waters. It is a very prosperous town that developed around fishing and farming. Inside the town, you can still see a few colonial buildings with their old-fashioned charm. The market surrounding them is the vibrant heart of the city and offers a multitude of colors. We'll transfer by small boat to visit a fish farm. Weather permitting, we'll visit to the top of Sam Mountain. We'll then return to Chau Doc and visit the Phat Thay Tay An Pagoda and the Ba Chua Xu Temple. We'll have dinner and stay in port overnight in Chau Doc.
DAY 8: CHAU DOC - PHNOM PENH
You'll have breakfast, and we'll spend the day afloat, first heading for the Cambodian border, where we pass through customs during the morning, and continue our journey. You'll enjoy lunch and dinner on board, and we'll arrive towards the end of the day in Phnom Penh. Late in the afternoon or after dinner, you'll experience a trip in a “tuk tuk”, a motorized tricycle which is the traditional mode of transport in Phnom Penh. We'll stay in port in Phnom Penh for the night.
DAY 9: PHNOM PENH
Founded in 1434, the capital of Cambodia retains much of its colonial charm, thanks to the rehabilitation of part of its architectural heritage. We'll visit the Silver Pagoda, a wooden construction from 1892, and subsequently rebuilt in 1962, and the Royal Palace, the symbolic heart of the nation and one of the finest examples of Cambodian architecture in classical Khmer style. Then we'll visit the National Museum built in 1917 by the French in traditional Khmer architectural style. We'll enjoy lunch in a local restaurant, and this afternoon you can join us for a visit of Tuol Svay Prey S21 school, the former detention, torture and execution center used by the Khmer Rouge during the civil war. You'll have free time in the market, overflowing with all types of businesses. In the evening, you'll attend an Apsara dance show by student dancers and musicians. We'll return on board for dinner, and stay in port overnight.
DAY 10: KOH CHEN - KAMPONG TRALACH - KAMPONG CHHNANG
We'll depart early in the morning, having breakfast on board before we visit Koh Chen, a small village where the inhabitants are experts in etched and silvered copper work. The ornaments and decorations used during traditional ceremonies in the pagoda or for weddings are made here. We'll visit the private school of Mr. Thom Umson, a bright mathematics teacher who speaks French. He always seems to need more pencils and notebooks for his students. We’ll have lunch on board, and we'll arrive in Kampong Tralach to visit the beautiful Vihara of the Wat Kampong Tarlach Leu Pagoda. We'll get there by crossing through the village of Kampong Tralach by oxcart, to reach the pagoda on a small path running perpendicular to the river amidst a magnificent landscape of rice fields. The Vihara dates back to the beginning of the last century and has many magnificent wall paintings which are starting to suffer the ravages of time. Completely isolated in the middle of the rice fields, the pagoda is quite unassuming and does not receive many visitors. Its isolation makes it a truly magnificent spot. We'll then return on board and continue our cruise to Kampong Chhnang. You'll enjoy dinner on board and we'll remain in port overnight.
DAY 11: KAMPONG CHHNANG - LAKE TONLE
We'll have breakfast on board, and then visit Kampong Chhnang. Located about 56 miles from Phnom Penh, the town of Kampong Chhnang is one of the largest fishing ports on the Tonlé Sap. There are also many fish farms here. The region is best known for its fine traditional pottery, a major source of revenue for the entire country. The region's very name Kampong Chhnang means “the port of pottery” in Khmer. We'll visit a traditional grove of palm trees and taste some palm sugar before we visit a traditional pottery shop. Next we'll visit a floating village using small local boats. All the buildings here float - the school, the shops and so on, and life develops along the canal network. We'll return on board for lunch then continue our cruise to Lake Tonlé (Tonlé Sap), the largest freshwater lake in southeast Asia which forms the heart of the hydraulic system of the Mekong. In the evening we'll have a cocktail and the gala dinner. We'll remain in port overnight.
DAY 12: SIEM REAP - ANGKOR
We'll spend the morning cruising, having breakfast on board. Depending on the water levels, we cross Tonlé Sap on board the RV INDOCHINE (1). We'll arrive in the port of Siem Reap. End of our journey.