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Selected departures up to November 2016 & March to November 2017
The mighty Mekong River flows through the heart of South East Asia, rising in the Tibetan Plateau and passing through China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to make the world’s tenth longest river system. Flowing through gorges, swift rapids, mirror-like lakes and vast fertile floodplains - over 60 million people depend on it for food, water and transport. Only the Amazon basin boasts a higher biodiversity than the Mekong; it’s particularly known for its giant catfish and carp up to 9 feet in length.
Our journey along this amazing natural marvel explores its fascinating water-borne worlds, from floating villages, stilt houses and colourful floating markets to the thousands of local boats plying its mud-coloured waters.
We visit Cambodia and Siem Reap, gateway to the incredible complex of temples at Angkor. At its peak in the thirteenth century, with a staggering one million inhabitants, Angkor was the world’s largest city and capital of the fabulously wealthy Khmer Empire, encompassing Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and southern Vietnam. This is the largest complex of religious buildings ever created, 200 temples spread over 150 square miles in a truly astonishing fusion of Hinduism and Buddhism. Its incredible state of preservation, the beauty of design and the artistry of its sculptures have made Angkor one of the great wonders of the world.
‘Stepping back in time’ is a much-used cliché, but as our Mekong journey unfolds through some stunning countryside, it is absolutely suitable: farmers bent almost double beneath their traditional conical hats work in fields which disappear into the distance, whilst docile water buffalo methodically plough the rice paddies until the sun sets in a blood-red explosion of tropical colour.
We cruise past tiny sampans being rowed to market, overloaded with everything from ducks, chickens and ripe fruit, to an imponderable number of bicycles! Lining the riverbanks are wooden houses, balancing precariously on stilts or gently bobbing on rafts of bamboo, whilst giggling children peep at the strange tall westerners gliding by.
Beautifully located at the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, wondrous Phnom Penh, long considered the most beautiful of the ‘French’ colonial cities of Indochina, is one of Asia’s most intriguing capitals. Almost completely depopulated during Pol Pot’s notorious regime, the city is again full of life and thriving once more.
In Vietnam the people and landscape are different, with a faster pace of life and increased river traffic. Vietnam has for the past two millennia been ruled by the Chinese, Khmers, Portuguese and the Japanese, who have all left legacies in the temples and pagodas, together with palaces, fortresses and innumerable other buildings of every style. Then the French arrived, contributing cathedrals, fine mansions and neo-classical public buildings, not forgetting excellent baguettes and pastries – quite an eclectic mix! Many visitors inevitably recall the US-Vietnam war – who could forget those dramatic images of the frantic helicopter flights from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon, now over a generation ago?
Today, in one of the world’s last communist countries, the motorcycles and western dress of the industrious youth happily co-exist with orange-clad Buddhist monks and political posters from another era. Visitors are invariably impressed by the sheer size and constant bustle of Saigon, which still retains an unmistakable French flavour in its pavement cafés, architecture, and aptly named Notre Dame cathedral.
Vietnam and Cambodia are countries experiencing colossal change. Although modern in outlook, they still retain a unique traditional Far Eastern character. Bicycles and mopeds outnumber cars by 100 to 1, so now is the time to visit these most captivating and colourful destinations whilst so much of this uniqueness and tradition remain in evidence! And the best way to discover these two fascinating countries is just as it always has been - from their beautiful arterial waterway, the stunning Mekong River.
The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room/cabin; five nights bed and breakfast in four-star hotels and seven nights on full board, including non-alcoholic soft drinks, local beer and local wine at mealtimes on the RV Mekong Prestige II; all flights as mentioned; all transfers; porterage; guided tours of Saigon & Cu Chi tunnels, one-day entrance and guided tour of Angkor; all shore excursions as described whilst on the cruise; gratuities for ship’s crew; the services of a Riviera tour manager.
Not Includes: Vietnam & Cambodia visas. Deposit: The deposit for this tour is £500 per person.
Vietnam visas: British Passport holders no longer require a visa to enter Vietnam up to 30th June 2017. The requirement is that you have at least 6 months validity on your passport from the date you are due to return home and that you must leave 30 days between exit and re-entry into Vietnam. Each visit can be no longer than 15 days. If you have a different type of British nationality – for example ‘British National (overseas)’, you’ll need a visa before entering Vietnam.
Cambodia visas: Available on arrival in Phnom Penh upon completion of a simple application form and payment of $30 per person. You will also need two passport-sized photos and if you arrive without photos, there is an extra charge of around $2 per person. Visas may also be arranged and paid for online prior to departure: please see http://www.cambodianembassy.org.uk for details.
Please note all visa costs are non-refundable and subject to change without notice. Whilst care has been taken to ensure that the information provided relating to visa requirements is true and correct at time of publication, changes in requirements after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of this information. Therefore, whilst we strive to provide the most up-to-date information, we strongly suggest that you re-confirm requirements with the relevant embassy prior to application
After your morning arrival you check into the four-star Novotel Saigon Centre Hotel for two nights with breakfast. After some time to relax, we’ll take a short introductory walking tour around our hotel. The rest of the day is at leisure.
This will be a day to remember! We visit the famous Cu Chi tunnels, a complex underground network stretching for 200 kilometres, which included hospitals, meeting rooms, sleeping quarters and kitchens. Begun during the last years of French rule and vastly expanded during the 1960’s, the tunnels provided a base for the Vietcong from which to attack US forces within just 30 miles of Saigon. Our visit here is a fascinating insight into these troubled times: we see the tunnels themselves and examples of the many mantraps and stake pits which protected them. Despite being carpet-bombed, the tunnels were never really penetrated and should you wish, you may even try out real period weapons on a firing range.
We continue through rural farming communities back to Saigon. In the afternoon our city tour covers all the major sights including the colonial-style central post office, the cathedral and the Reunification Palace where famously in 1975, a tank burst through its gates in the final defining moment of the Vietnam War. We also see the War Remnants Museum and the lively Ben Thanh market - a fascinating insight into Saigon daily life, you can find anything here, all at extremely good prices!
Expectations rise during our drive to the Mekong Delta, its coconut groves swaying with the breeze, the countryside studded with pagodas and an amazing network of paddy fields, tended by farmers bent double and almost completely covered by their iconic conical hats; these are some of Vietnam’s most enduring images.
Originally called Mae Khong – “Mother of all Rivers”, huge volumes of water drain from the hinterland plains and the snow-clad Chinese Himalayas, surging along an epic 3,000 mile journey. Life here obviously revolves around its waterways; the imposing sampans, so typical of South East Asia for hundreds of years and the quintessential floating markets of longboats which almost sink under the groaning weight of colourful vegetables. Your cruise is the perfect way to discover and understand this fascinating and rapidly emerging corner of the world – a serene experience immersing you in its people and its customs at a wonderful gentle pace.
After a stop at the picturesque Cholon market and a lacquer workshop, you board the superb four-star RV Mekong Prestige II and your highly professional crew, imbibed by the unique service ethic you find everywhere here, ensure you settle in to your spacious and beautifully appointed cabin. After an excellent lunch, your journey begins. A wonderful reality soon sinks in with your first glimpses of the amazing stilted villages and teeming river traffic animating the scene seemingly at every turn. As darkness gently falls, take your seat in the restaurant for your first dinner, offering a choice of superbly executed Vietnamese or Cambodian cuisine or international classics. The excellent cuisine is accompanied by tasty and included local wines, beers or soft drinks. Mooring at Cai Be, the day ends with a lovely performance of traditional Mekong music and perhaps a nightcap in the balmy late evening air, bathed by the unmistakable sounds of the East.
This morning we sail by local “junk” along Cai Be’s waterfront and amazing floating market where wily sellers tantalisingly dangle their wares from long poles to the myriad of smaller boats in a vibrant riot of colour and noisy bartering. We also visit the remarkable French Gothic cathedral, a poignant reminder of Vietnam’s colonial past.
This afternoon we cruise through Vinh Long to Sa Dec, with a guided stroll through the colourful local market and an interesting comparison with this morning. Highlight of the day though, is the intriguing Cao Dai Temple, centre of a unique indigenous religion, a fascinating combination of Taoism, Buddhism and Chinese Confucianism plus elements of Christianity, Islam and spiritualism. Bizarrely, its saints include Joan of Arc, Napoleon, Shakespeare and Winston Churchill! The temple itself is a striking combination of western and oriental architectural styles and mesmerising brightly coloured statues, overlooked by the religion’s all-seeing Divine Eye – it’s sure to leave you something to ponder after your visit!
Another tropical night atmospherically falls as we cruise upstream whilst enjoying another superb dinner and the kaleidoscope of truly amazing sights, sounds and scents, accompanied by the gentle waters lapping peacefully against the hull.
One of the great pleasures of river cruising is waking up somewhere completely different and as dawn breaks, we are berthed in remote Tan Chau near Cambodia! One of the delights of Vietnam is that so many ‘cottage’ industries still thrive offering a fascinating insight into the past. This morning we explore Tan Chau, Vietnam’s leading silk centre producing extremely high quality and truly beautiful naturally dyed clothes. Slipping our moorings, Vietnam slowly recedes as we cross into Cambodia, continuing into the evening, a chance to enjoy pre-dinner drinks in the lounge, exchanging your experiences with your like-minded fellow passengers before another tasty dinner. Take a stroll outside, look above and be dazzled by the luminosity of an amazing night sky, unfettered by streetlights and advertising as we cruise to Phnom Penh.
Called ‘Paris of the East’ during colonial times, Phnom Penh has preserved much of its wonderful rustic charm, elegance and French allure. Sightseeing includes an exciting cycle rickshaw ride to the dazzling white and gold Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda, followed by a chance to witness exceptionally beautiful Khmer craft in the National Museum. In homage to Cambodia’s tragic recent history, we next visit the haunting Tuol Sleng Genocide museum.
Phnom Penh has some excellent markets offering fine silks, spices and high quality lacquer work, so for anyone not wishing to take this visit, this is the perfect opportunity to hone your bargaining skills! This evening you will be entertained by a traditional Apsara performance whose talented silk-clad dancers will dazzle you with their graceful poise and intricate hand movements, originally designed to entertain the gods. We moor overnight enabling easy exploration of the city where, late into the evening the bustling markets, teeming street restaurants and hawkers selling literally anything enhance the vibrant and electric ambience so typical of the emerging Far East!
After another delightful breakfast, we arrive at Koh Chong, a delightful silk weaving village visiting a particularly impressive pagoda and a local school before returning to Phnom Penh for an afternoon at leisure. You can explore its intriguing corners such as Wat Phnom – symbol of the city, perhaps the remarkable Russian market, just relax and catch up on some reading or simply absorb the teeming river life.
This morning we cruise into the heart of Cambodia on the Tonle River, a Mekong tributary which astonishingly changes its direction of flow between wet and dry seasons! A remarkable ecosystem here is home to 20,000 plants species, 1200 birds, 800 reptiles and amphibians plus 430 mammals - with 1300 new species having been discovered since 1997. Next we visit historic Oudong – the country’s former capital, nestling at the foot of Phnom Udong, a wooded hill with impressive Buddhist spiritual monuments towering above the trees, marking the final resting place of the Khmer kings. This afternoon we visit the peaceful Vipasssana Dhura Pagoda, a revered place of meditation followed by the charming monastery of Wat Kampong Leu, renowned for its extraordinarily beautiful wall paintings. We return by traditional local ox cart, experiencing the leisurely pace of life still pervading this wonderfully beautiful country.
Kampong Chnang is a busy rural port town noted for its bustling markets and mesmerising canal network. Boarding traditional long tail boats we visit its picturesque floating village where life is conducted entirely astride the river before a stroll through the picturesque market, a cacophony of sounds, smells and vibrant colours. This afternoon, our final cruise crosses the enormously varied Tonle Sap (Great Lake), in the rainy season South East Asia’s largest lake and critical to Cambodia’s biodiversity, with its fish staggeringly supporting 3 million people. You may see crocodiles and turtles plus a huge variety of birdlife. Adapting to the seasonal climate, fascinating “floating villages” have evolved where homes and markets plus workshops, schools and surgeries amazingly rise and fall with the water level. Because of these changes our own itinerary from day 9 to 11 may vary (the cruise described above is based on a high-water itinerary - see note at the end of this brochure).
Early this morning the Mekong Prestige glides to a final halt, berthed in Siem Reap at the head of this stunningly beautiful lake. We say our fond farewells to the splendid crew as you continue your exploration of Cambodia, where you stay for three nights at the four-star superior Borei Angkor Hotel with breakfast. It’s extremely comfortable with two restaurants, a large pool and spa. The rest of the day is at leisure.
Today we see the haunting soft morning light over the eerie temples of Angkor. Encircled by verdant steamy jungle, shrouded in mist and with a tropical dawn chorus reverberating in the air, this is something you will never forget! We visit the huge fortified 13th century city of Angkor Thom, with its five monumental gates, and 300-foot wide moat - its centre containing one of Angkor’s most astonishing sites, the temple of Bayon. Crowned by over fifty towers, each with four colossal carved heads looking out in every direction, this is an extraordinary masterpiece of Khmer art.
One of the most intriguing sites is the smaller temple of Ta Prohm which has been left in its natural, un-restored state, with giant tropical trees bursting through the ruins, their roots entwined like vast tentacles across the moss-covered, weathered walls and roofs. Late in the afternoon we see the immense temple of Angkor Wat, one of the largest religious structures in the world.
The main entrance faces due west to catch the rose-red glow of the setting sun, a truly magical time of day.
Our last full day in Cambodia is at leisure for you to enjoy the swimming pool and facilities of your hotel or to explore the excellent markets and restaurants of Siem Reap.
At the appropriate time you transfer to the airport for your flight to Bangkok, from where you connect with your return flight to the UK.
You arrive home.
We have a number of departures starting from Siem Reap and finishing in Saigon. In these cases, the itinerary of the ship is simply reversed, staying for three nights in Siem Reap at the start of your tour and two nights in Saigon at the end. The order and timing of visits on some days may vary slightly to those described above.
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