From the heights of the Himalayas to the coast of the China Sea, over the course of its almost 2800-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 Tonlé 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: SIEM REAP - ANGKOR
We'll arrive at Siem Reap Airport and meet our local guide before transferring to the Prince of Angkor Hotel (4 stars) (located in the city center) or a hotel of a similar standing. We'll have lunch at the hotel. Rooms will be available starting at 2:00 p.m. In the afternoon, we'll visit the "Senteurs d'Angkor" perfume workshop. Here you'll discover weaving of sugar palm leaves, as well as the manufacture of soaps and candles, and the preparation of aromatic spices. You'll then continue on to visit the most famous and most imposing of all the monuments in Angkor. We'll have dinner and stay the night at the Prince of Angkor Hotel (4 stars), or a hotel of similar standing.
DAY 2: SIEM REAP - ANGKOR
After breakfast, we'll set off very early to visit Banteay Srei, the crown jewel of classic Khmer art, and the temple at Ta Prohm dating back to 1186, dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman II. The site was cleared from vines and the forest in 1924 by H. Parmentier. Banteay Srei, which means “the citadel of women” or “citadel of beauty”, is known for the intricacy of its fine carvings. The detail of the sculptures on every corner of this small temple built in pink sandstone and laterite is a joy to behold. Next we'll visit Ta Prohm. Today nature has taken over the site, and the result is stunning: trees spring out from the temple buildings and thick roots now cover the temple. When we return, we'll stop in a local village. After lunch we'll explore Angkor Thom in the afternoon. It is a huge architectural masterpiece, accessible through five monumental gates with the mountain temple of Bayon at its center. Bayon temple is famous for its towers with 172 faces of Buddha. We'll wander in the heart of the ancient Royal Palace where the sanctuary of Phimeanakas is located, then we'll visit the terrace of the Elephants and the terrace of the Leper King. This evening we'll have dinner with a Khmer royal dance performance (the Apsara dances). After dinner, you'll have free time to stroll through the “Angkor Night Market” and perhaps do some shopping. It's a very pleasant place for a stroll in the cool night-time temperatures (open from 4:00 p.m. until midnight), with over a hundred shops and stalls selling souvenirs, handicrafts, clothes, books, etc. We'll return to the hotel for the night.
DAY 3: SIEM REAP - TONLE SAP
After breakfast at the hotel this morning, we'll leave very early to visit the “Senteurs d'Angkor” (or perfume workshop), where they make candles, soaps and prepare spices. Afterwards, we'll visit the workshops of “Artisans Angkor”, where young Cambodians are trained in the art of traditional wood carving and stonework based on long-standing Khmer artisanal traditions. After lunch in the hotel, transfer from the hotel to the mooring point at Phnom Krom where we board small local boats to take us to the RV INDOCHINE. After you've comfortably settled in your cabin, we'll introduce our crew during our welcome cocktail party. We'll then have dinner. We'll stay in port overnight, close to the flooded forest.
DAY 4: TONLE SAP - KAMPONG CHHNANG - KAMPONG TRALACH
You'll enjoy breakfast on board, and we'll spend the morning cruising to take advantage of the lake crossing (1). After lunch on board, we arrive in the early afternoon in 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. You'll have a chance to taste palm sugar from the Thnot sugar palm (a national symbol) before going around the village on small local boats. We'll then return on board and continue our cruise to Kampong Tralach. We'll enjoy dinner on board. We'll drop anchor for the night near Kampong Tralach.
DAY 5: KAMPONG TRALACH - KOH CHEN - PHNOM PENH
We'll have breakfast on board this morning before we visit the beautiful Vihara of the Wat Kampong Tralach 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 return on board for lunch and cast off. We'll arrive into Koh Chen during the afternoon and visit this 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 return on board, and continue our cruise to Phnom Penh, arriving late in the afternoon. You'll get to take a “tuk tuk” trip, a motorized tricycle which is the traditional mode of transport in Phnom Penh. We'll then return on board and enjoy an Aspara dance show and dinner. We'll stay in port in Phnom Penh for the night.
DAY 6: 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. The museum exhibits beautiful gems, with the sublime statue of Javayarman VII sitting with the head slightly tilted in a meditative posture. We’ll have lunch in a local restaurant and this afternoon we'll have the option to visit the Tuol Svay Prey school S21, a 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. We'll then return on board and have dinner as we continue our cruise through the night to Vietnam.
DAY 7: CHAU DOC - PHNOM PENH
You'll enjoy breakfast on board, and we'll spend the morning afloat. We'll pass through customs at the border and into Vietnam. You'll have lunch on board, and we'll arrive early in the afternoon in Chau Doc, a town at the border between Cambodia and Vietnam which became part of Vietnamese territory some 300 years ago. 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 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 return on board and continue our cruise towards Sa Dec. You'll have dinner, and we'll moor overnight on the river bank.
DAY 8: SA DEC - VINH LONG - CAI BE
We'll have breakfast and continue our journey to Sa Dec, where a few colonial mansions still remain. 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). Famous for its horticulture, Sa Dec was known as the “Garden of Cochin-China” in colonial times. We'll return on board for lunch and continue our cruise towards Vinh Long, located in the middle of the delta region, between two arms of the Mekong and where life is organized around the water. We'll see houses built on stilts and hundreds of small boats that criss-cross in all directions. We'll set off in boats through the orchards that lead to Caï Be. Here you'll discover brick makers and potters, fruit tree nurseries on the island of Binh Hoa Phuoc and also the local traditional craft of puffed rice and rice paper for making spring rolls. Other products include rice wine and coconut sweets, and all of these products are produced by the unique family businesses of the Delta's economy. We'll return on board and continue our cruise. We'll have dinner on board and stay overnight at our mooring point near My Tho.
DAY 9: MY THO - HO CHI MINH CITY (SAIGON)
We'll have breakfast on board early in the morning before we visit the islands close to My Tho in small local boats. 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. Along the maze that makes up the network of small canals, pretty country villages appear and we'll see the local craftsmen at work. On the largest of the islands, (Thoi Son) we will visit a beekeeping farm where we will taste honey tea and exotic fruits. We'll then return on board for lunch and continue with our magnificent cruise, taking the Chao Gao canal and heading for Ho Chi Minh City. We'll return on board for dinner, and stay in port overnight. You'll have a free evening after dinner.
DAY 10: HO CHI MINH CITY
We'll have breakfast this morning before we depart for an guided visit of Ho Chi Minh City, originally named Saigon, and built by the French in 1850 at the beginning of French colonial times. It is the principal port of Vietnam. You'll discover: Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office. We'll have lunch in town before our afternoon visit of the National History Museum then a visit to a lacquer-ware factory. You'll have free time to stroll around the Ben Thanh markets. We'll then return to the boat for our farewell cocktail and gala dinner. We'll stay in port overnight. You'll have a free evening after dinner.
DAY 11: HO CHI MINH CITY
After one last breakfast on board, we'll disembark and devote our morning to visiting Cholon, the major center of Chinese trade in the capital city. After lunch, you'll be free for the afternoon.