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 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: HO CHI MINH CITY
We'll arrive in Ho Chi Minh City. This 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 2: 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 3: 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. 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 set off in small boats through the arroyos and gardens. 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. 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 then cruise to Bag Dec and have dinner. We remain in port overnight.
DAY 4: 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 village of the Cham people, where they raise fish and weave silk. We'll have dinner and stay in port overnight in Chau Doc.
DAY 5: 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. You'll get to take a “tuk tuk” trip, 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 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. 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 7: 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 8: 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 9: 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 and will meet our local guide. We'll then transfer to our hotel and check-in before we have lunch. In the afternoon, we'll visit the famous temple of Angkor Wat, a masterpiece of Khmer architecture. This is the most famous and imposing of all the monuments in Angkor, and its five towers have become the emblem on the national flag of Cambodia. Afterwards, we'll return to Siem Reap. We'll have dinner and stay the night at the Prince of Angkor Hotel (4 stars), or a hotel of similar standing.
DAY 10: SIEM REAP
After breakfast we'll leave early to visit the crown jewel of classic Khmer art - the temple at Banteay Srei. 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. When we return, we'll stop in a village to discover how palm sugar is extracted, visit a Khmer home, and taste some fresh coconut milk. Afterwards, we'll visit the temple at Ta Prohm, dating back to 1186, and dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman II. 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. We'll return to our hotel for a quick 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). We'll then return to the hotel for the night.
DAY 11: SIEM REAP
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, you'll have the afternoon free to wander, or perhaps do some last-minute shopping in Siem Reap.