Day 1: Saigon - My Tho - Cai Be (L,D)
We greet our guests in the morning at our welcome lounge in Saigon. Kick back with a second coffee as our staff collects your details for boarding. We bid farewell to the hustle and bustle of Saigon and travel 70 kilometres south over land towards My Tho in Mekong Delta
to embark on our vessel. After checking into your luxurious floating “home” for the next several days, your first inclination may be to step on your balcony to watch the ship set sail on its fascinating Mekong River voyage.
A lunch buffet is served in the restaurant while the vessel steadily glides upstream. Now it is time to get acquainted with one of the largest streams in Asia, which runs an estimated length of 4,909 km (3,050 mi) and discharges 475 cu km (114 cu mi) of water annually. Millions of people – from China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam – pay tribute to this mighty river which provides sustenance and protection over its inhabitants.
Let your soul float and your eyes wander while the boat makes its way upstream. It is often stated that “nautical air” makes you hungry, so you are cordially invited to our afternoon tea in the open-air bar as twilight bathes the Mekong Delta in a golden haze. Get to know your fellow travellers while enjoying some tasty treats. The rest of this cruising day is fully yours to relax on your private balcony or be pampered by our therapists at the Apsara Spa.
While you savour your delightful dinner, the ship reaches Cai Be. This historic town was established in the 19th century by Vietnam’s last ruling family, the Nguyen dynasty, on the Mekong River where three provinces meet: Tien Giang, Vinh Long, and Ben Tre. Cai Be would later become the surrounding region’s predominant water-based trading hub, as we will see in tomorrow’s visit to the floating market. We anchor mid-stream near Cai Be and moor there overnight. If you are in the mood for some evening entertainment, there is a cinema in the lounge showcasing classic movies and interesting documentaries on a nightly basis.
Day 2: Cai Be - Sa Dec - Tan Chau ( B,L,D)
Wake up early to witness the spectacular scenery at the break of dawn. To make the experience complete, join our daily morning Tai Chi class. Afterwards, a rich breakfast buffet awaits, or if you prefer, we can serve breakfast directly to your room.
We arrive at Cai Be, a charming market town which is famous for its Catholic French church and the manufacturing of traditional crafts and food products. The once enormous floating market of Cai Be gets smaller year by year since trading on the water is continually shifting towards modern markets. However, you can still see boat-to-boat trading of local goods, such as fruits and agricultural products and imagine what this must have looked like on a larger scale. We learn from our guide about the long-lasting trading culture and how each boat has a special marker to let buyers know what goods they are selling.
By local boat, we sail along the green canal network and watch the farmers working in the fields. A visit ashore of a workshop shows us the manufacturing of rice paste, rice paper, rice cookies and rice wine. Cai Be’s surrounding areas are covered by palm trees, which is why the region is also famous for the production of coconut candy. While the vessel continues sailing upstream, you can enjoy time to yourself or head to the bar to and enjoy a true Vietnamese coffee as you watch the life on the riverbanks float by.
In the afternoon, the vessel reaches the area of Sa Dec and arrives at one of the larger islands in the vast stream of the Mekong, Binh Thanh Island. Several communities have settled here and make their living by growing water hyacinths. We exclusively visit one of these untouched areas. By wandering through the village, we get a deep understanding of native life. One of the local artisans, for example, demonstrates the entire process of traditional mat making. You can try weaving yourself. We also meet a local elderly couple who share their story of living on this island. They are always happy to chit-chat with our guests.
Back on board, you may take a dip in the pool on the sun deck. In the evening, our expert guide offers a presentation on life on the Mekong Delta as the ship continues sailing to Tan Chau, a pleasant, slow-paced border town near the Cambodian border with a sizeable Chinese, Kinh and Khmer community. We moor near the city with views on the riverbanks.
Day 3: Tan Chau - Border Crossing - Phnom Penh ( B,L,D)
Welcome to the fish sanctuary of Vietnam.
Once on shore, we see Tan Chau’s vibrant town-life as we hop on “xelois”, which are local vehicles still used as a taxi in this area. Your personal xeloi driver slowly navigates through the streets to observe all the workshops, houses and shops while feeling the laid-back vibe of this place. We stop at the colourful, local market near one of the town’s temples. This is a great opportunity to interact with the vendors of this friendly town and try your hand at bargaining with them.
To see what Tan Chau is famous for, we board local boats and head to a floating fish farm. You are about to get an exclusive look into the world’s largest inland aquaculture industry. Each of the floating structures has netting hanging down into the water to enclose the fish, which are raised and fed on a daily basis. The region’s specialties are tilapia and the Basa catfish, or Pangasius, which is unique to the Mekong River basin and rapidly gaining popularity on the international seafood market.
Back on board our “home”, we sail towards the Vietnamese-Cambodian border. Get ready for a fascinating and leisurely cruise through the deep Cambodian countryside towards Phnom Penh.
The whole afternoon is at your own disposal. From here, even the last passenger turns on their cruise mode and hopefully experiences the relaxing influence this mighty river emanates. The afternoon is perfect for massages, relaxation on a terrace deck sunbed or private balcony kick-backs. Conjure up a spell to merge with the river and float into a state of mild bliss.
You also may like to visit the bridge as the captain always has a little story to share about “his” river. Or, if you are curious to learn more about Khmer gastronomy, join a culinary workshop to sharpen your knowledge about local cuisine.
After some additional cruising time back aboard, the boat arrives and docks at the pier of Phnom Penh. Feel free to go out and explore by yourself after dinner. Stroll along the river promenade and watch the locals chit-chatting, selling odds and ends or have a drink in one of the numerous bars.
Day 4: Phnom Penh ( B,L,D)
Welcome to Phnom Penh - the city once named Paris of the East. Despite its rapid development, it has retained a lot of its rustic charm and elegance. It is an amazing town with centuries of incredible history and culture which can still be felt at many street corners.
We start with a full sight-seeing tour right after breakfast. By bus, we visit the Killing Fields outside the city and afterwards the centrally located prison “S21”. Both historic sites display the sad and cruel chapter of the country’s history when the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia with terror and oppression. Those places have not changed much since this horrific time back in the early seventies and it can be quite heart-breaking. Alternatively, you may explore the city on your own in the morning before re-joining the group.
We have a lunch at a well-renowned restaurant in town and experience the elegant air Phnom Penh’s top addresses are known for. Our exploration of Phnom Penh continues with the cultural highlights of the city’s heritage. The golden edifice of the Royal Palace with its Silver Pagoda and the exceptional Khmer crafts at the National Museum top the list of the city’s must-sees. The day trip ends with a “cyclo” ride along the bustling streets of downtown Phnom Penh and back to the ship.
In the early evening, the lounge is set up for an eye- and ear-catching lecture about modern Cambodian history, held by our friend and local expert, Mr Jean-Michel, professor from the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Receiving first-hand knowledge from our lecturer who has studied the subject extensively and in-person is a highlight of this cruise.
Take some rest or join fellow passengers at the bar for refreshing drinks. Today’s evening is a special one: let us invite you to a wonderful open air gala featuring a barbecue dinner feast. The dinner is accompanied by a classic Apsara dance performance along with other folklore dances.
As the evening unwinds, enjoy your supper with a good glass of wine and marvel at the skyline of Phnom Penh and the calming flow of the Tonle River.
Day 5: Phnom Penh - Kampong Tralach - Kampong Chhnang(Tonle) (B,L,D)
Before the sun peeks over the horizon, the cruiser sets sail towards Kampong Tralach on the Tonle River. This part of the Tonle River is quite interesting to watch from the terrace as the river at certain points is very narrow. The boat glides through leafy swaths of this jungle-like landscape.
We reach Kampong Tralach, where laughing children wave enthusiastically at our arrival and traditional ox carts are still a common means of transportation. Our ox-powered vehicle takes us on a journey along the riverside and through back roads lined with rice-paddy fields until we arrive at a tiny village. Beginning a few short years ago, local underprivileged children have had the opportunity to receive an education at the “Green School”, a local project supported by Heritage Line. The students, who are dressed in green shirts, are always happy to meet us every week as the principal gives an introduction to the students and the school.
While we sail upstream, lunch is served and afterwards our crew displays a variety of traditional Khmer fashion locals wear on special occasions. Conversely, the Cambodian scarf, the Krama, is a garment worn by people of all ages and walks of life not just around the neck, but also as a bandanna, facemask, belt, swimwear, and even as a hammock to carry children.
Later in the day, the ship cruises along the narrow Tonle River towards the most fascinating cruising spot in Cambodia, Kampong Chhnang’s “water world”, where everything is balanced on sticks in water-rich soil. We take a local boat to the shore and hop on a mini bus to reach a nearby, unique rural village to explore the village’s specialties – Khmer style pottery and the process of making of palm sugar from the Cambodian “skor t’not” palm tree.
We drive back to the shore where our local boat starts an exploration of nearby floating villages. Although we are in the heartland of Cambodia, the residents of these floating villages are actually of Vietnamese descent who were expelled by the Khmer Rouge and soon returned after the ruling party was overthrown in 1979. No longer having land to settle on, they have since lived “on the water”.
Once we are back on board, relax until dinner is served and take in the beautiful countryside and its gentle evening sounds.
Day 6: Tonle River - Koh Oknha Tey - Kampong Cham (Mekong) (B,L,D)
In the early morning, we sail from the lower Tonle River towards the Mekong passing their confluence at Phnom Penh. We arrive at the island of Koh Oknha Tey, which lies in the middle of the Mekong and owes its fame to manufacturing high-class silk products. We go sightseeing along the island’s roads a bit via tuk tuk before arriving at the village’s workshops and witnessing the curious process of making silk, starting from a tiny silkworm larva to cocoon, then dyeing, spinning and weaving the fibres into high-quality Cambodian silk.
Before lunch, our expert guide holds a presentation about the geography of the Mekong River and Tonle Lake along with the unique attributes of the area. Afterwards, a monks’ blessing ceremony delivers spirits and wishes for health and prosperity for all.
The ship sails towards the small Angkor Ban village up in the Mekong River. The village is famous for its unspoiled community and beautiful, traditional houses. It feels like being transported back a hundred years, into an era unaffected by modernity where villagers are characterized by their unbridled warmth.
The sun sets and the light now bathes everything in a golden hue. The surrounding natural beauty is a perfect backdrop for a riverbank gathering with cocktails and dancing with the crew in this remote, secluded location.
We continue cruising while dinner is served and the boat finds its overnight spot at the riverbank of Kampong Cham.
Day 7: Kompong Cham ( Mekong) (B,L,D)
After a sumptuous breakfast, we leave the ship for enchanting pre-Angkorian temple of Wat Hanchey (7th century). Formerly built to honor the Hindu god, Hirahara, the complex is now a Buddhist temple, a testament to the country’s past and present religious beliefs. This small complex sits on a hilltop with breath-taking views over the Mekong. Many young, novice monks live on the compound of Wat Hanchey, and we have the chance to observe a bit of their daily lives: eating simple meals, praying, studying, or hanging out and making conversation while in their saffron-coloured robes.
After returning to the ship and partaking in lunch, we stop at the tranquil monastery of Wat Nokor. Although not massive in comparison to the vast complexes of Angkor Wat, Wat Nokor is the largest of its kind in Kampong Cham Province and is distinctive from other temples with its black sandstone walls. Here, we might have the chance to engage in light banter with some of the sociable monks living in the area.
As it is low water season, we may be fortunate enough to visit a nearby spectacle only present during the Mekong’s dry months (December to May). The Koh Paen Bamboo Bridge connects the mainland with Koh Paen Island and is re-built by the local community every November when water levels drop.
We cruise further up the Mekong to visit a local school and learn more about the education of the young Cambodian generation. Children from the Organization for Basic Training (OBT) are provided a free, supplemental education in English, maths, and the arts, and they are always excited to show their skills in music and dance. Shower the young performers with applause and in return, you are bestowed upon with the most genuine and happy Cambodian smiles.
Day 8: Kampong Cham (Mekong)- Siem Reap (B)
Enjoy your last breakfast on board our floating sanctuary. We disembark the ship for a transfer by bus to the drop off point in Siem Reap.
Kampong Cham is an important trade and transportation hub. The highway connecting the town and the capital of Phnom Penh is among the best maintained in Cambodia, and the country’s first bridge across the Mekong (Kizuna Bridge) was built here in 2001.
The transfer takes approximately 4.5 hours including rest stop. To keep you entertained during the ride, our expert guides share interesting insights about Cambodia and the region we journey through. Snacks are provided during the trip. You will arrive in Siem Reap in the early afternoon.
We hope you enjoyed this fascinating river cruise, just as our crew does every single time. Moreover, take the enchanting memories and friendships along with you and share the stories of this amazing river - the Mighty Mekong