(Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City)
(Lower Mekong River Cruise)
Step aboard a luxurious cruise ship and sail between Cambodia and Vietnam's cornerstone cities Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), setting out to explore traditional life along the Lower Mekong River, an area still largely unaffected by the modern world. On-and-off-shore excursions along this fascinating river, lead to flooded emerald forests and bamboo stilt villages accessible only by boat, among flocks of painted storks and spot billed pelicans in their last Southeast Asian refuge then on to Chinese wing tipped pagoda temples and remote Buddhist monasteries. An in-depth discovery of Cambodia and Vietnam has never been so accessible.
Cruise Departure Dates:
Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh (2015): July 10,24, Aug 7,21, Sep 4,18, Oct 2,16,30, Nov 13,27
Ho Chi Minh to Siem Reap (2015): Jul 3,17,31, Aug 14,28, Sep 11,25, Oct 9,23, Nov 6,20
Meet your driver for an airport transfer with a private vehicle and English speaking guide.
You will be picked up at your hotel by private car with an English speaking guide and taken to visit the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh and his former residence, One pillar Pagoda, and the Temple of Literature. For lunch, enjoy a lovely meal at a local restaurant. After lunch, continue your city tour to your choice of one of Hanoi's many museums, including Fine Art, History, Revolutionary, War, and Ethnology, then head to Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple and experience a 1 hour cyclo tour. Finish your day off at the Thang Long Opera Theatre for a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show.
Fly from Hanoi to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Flight time is approximately 1.5 hours.
Your cruise guides will greet you and the porters will collect your luggage for delivery to your suite aboard the ship. You'll board an air-conditioned coach for a scenic 30-minute countryside ride to the dock on the Tonle Sap Lake.
Welcome to the laid back luxury of the Aqua Mekong. Settle into your elegantly appointed, river facing suite as the vessel begins to cruise and thus begins one of life’s most memorable and photogenic adventures
Begin your cruise today along the Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. This great lake covers an area of around 250,000 hectares in the dry season. Listen carefully as your expert guides explain the unique hydrological phenomenon of the Tonle Sap: when the monsoon begins, the swollen waters of the Mekong River force the Tonle Sap River to reverse its flow northwards, feeding the lake and submerging the surrounding floodplains under up to ten meters of Mekong waters for several months every year.
A village built on wooden stilts over the water that is only accessible by land at certain times of the year, Kampong Khleang is home rice farmers and fishermen practicing their livelihoods as their ancestors did for generations, even though you may very well see them texting on their latest model mobile phones. You come here in part simply because the view en route in from the Tonle Sap, of hundreds of houses and other buildings rising above the water is simply stunning.
After a sumptuous breakfast, cruise onward from Kampong Khleang to the remote fishing village of Moat Kla. You climb back into the skiffs and head for shore where the expert guides act as translators, allowing you to pose questions to the people of Moat Kla about their lives.
You may be surprised to see that although most communities on the Tonle Sap are quite isolated, even Moat Kla has floating ‘convenience’ stores stocked with fishing tackle, cooking utensils, rice, beer, candy, fruits and vegetables. Along the water, there are also small merchants like fresh egg vendors, women selling bamboo stalks stuffed with sticky rice and even divers hired to search for lost objects.
Moat Kla is the last village in Siem Reap Province on the southeastern end of the lake and only accessible by water. The community is largely of Vietnamese descent, owing to its settlement long before the nuances of international borders.
Special arrangements have been made for you and your cruisemates to attend the blessing ceremony conducted at Moat Kla’s Buddhist temple, home to only four monks.
Today begins with more exploration of the remote communities around the Tonle Sap River, an ecological hot spot designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1997. Today you head by skiff to Chnok Tru, as photogenic as it is remote and thus completely self-sufficient.
You'll set out to discover a local ice factory, a particularly important thing for local industry given the persistent heat in the area. By skiff you visit Koh Chen, or ‘Chinese Island’ in Khmer. The inhabitants of this riverside village are renowned throughout the region as silver and coppersmiths. They purchase the precious metals in Phnom Penh and return here to make ornamental items such as the cups, boxes and delicately engraved tropical fruits used in Buddhist ceremonies and marriage blessings. Each family member carries out an aspect of these ancient methods and the intricate, beautiful workmanship belies its humble origins. Purchase whatever catches your eye before we continue on to the pagoda. If the monks are in residence, we will experience an authentic Buddhist blessing ceremony.
In the cooler morning time, you cruise further south in the direction of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. Around 90 minutes into today’s journey you pause to head by skiff towards the shore for a visit to the intricately carved Prek Bongkong Pagoda with its upturned naga and angels that appear to hold up the pitched Khmer roof. This area is known for a series of “silk islands” along the river. You'll visit one of these villages where the weavers allow you to wander among their looms, admiring their skills at this knotty art form. Witness the entire process here, learning how silk starts with the worms, see silk thread being looped and dyed, then admire and purchase, if you wish, the final shimmering Khmer silk accessories.
From the remote charms of the Tonle Sap River, cruise into what may feel like another Cambodia altogether as you explore this country’s political and economic capital, Phnom Penh. Here, Art Deco buildings still stand in the shadows of ever-rising skyscrapers and vintage cyclos cruise alongside imported European sports cars. Buddhist temples, French colonial villas, and the Royal Palace provide the photogenic backdrop to international business and a new generation of boutique hotels, chic shopping, and cosmopolitan nightlife.
Today’s urban adventure by two wheel motorized tuk-tuks will take in this historic city’s most important sites including the 1866 Royal Palace that is still home to the reigning monarch and its Silver Pagoda, the royal compound’s most famous attraction, so called because in 1962 then Prince Sihanouk ordered the floor inlaid with 5,329 genuine silver tiles. Today the pavilion houses many jeweled statues and images, including the 17th century Emerald Buddha, made of Baccarat crystal, and a life size gold Maitreya Buddha adorned 9,584 diamonds, the largest of which weighs 25 carats.An evening performance by renowned Cambodian aspara dancers continue an ancient tradition for you and your cruisemates tonight.
Say ‘Good morning, Vietnam’ as you cruise to the Vinh Xuong border and onward to Chau Doc village, which sits along the Hâu River, a tributary of the Mekong. After breakfast on board, head to the shore by skiff then by road for a change, about six kilometers, to the 230 meter (755 feet) high Sam Mountain, the highest point in the Mekong Delta, and home to dozens of pagodas that dot the mountainside, some even set in caves.
Make the easy climb to the mountaintop for the most captivating views of the surrounding countryside’s rice fields, and into Cambodia. You won’t be alone up here. As this is border territory, there is a military outpost on the summit. This legacy of the Khmer Rouge era confers a slightly anachronistic aura, which allows some insights into the tensions of that horrific period, although these soldiers appear far more relaxed. If you ask, they will likely pose for your photos, assuming you have a few cigarettes handy as payment for their impromptu modeling duties.
Still at the top of Sam Mountain, you'll have the unique privilege to sit with the venerable Mahayana Buddhist monks at Long Son Tu Temple for a private audience. Enlightened, head back down at the foot of Sam Mountain, stopping to visit the Temple of Lady Xu, one of the major religious sites of the Mekong Delta.
The onboard chef goes to the local market here, along with any gourmet minded guests interested in exploring an authentic Vietnamese wet market, its copious baskets of the day’s catch from the river, crisp vegetables, and luscious tropical fruit.
Though you're in the heart of Vietnam, French colonial architecture stands all around us today as you board the skiffs along the Tien River to a 40 square kilometer riverine island called Gieng Islet. Walk or cycle around this peaceful religious enclave on the Mekong Delta.Later visit the Cu Lao Gieng Church, built in 1875 with an impressively imposing bell tower. Tour on foot the town of Sa Dec, roaming the local market and discovering the harmonious combination of Western and traditional Vietnamese architectural styles.
Here in the Mekong Delta, people rely on flat-bottom wooden boats called sampan to get around and transport goods to market. On your last morning together, you'll climb aboard to paddle through Cai Be floating market, where more than 400 sampans gather every day, starting in earnest from 5 a.m.. Each boat has one bamboo stick on the front to display that vendor’s product, be it Vietnamese fish sauce, rice paper for dumplings, or colorful sweet confectionery. You continue your exploration of this area on foot or by bicycle for more up close glimpses of daily life of Mekong Delta dwellers.
Return to your ship and continue cruising towards My Tho. Here, you pack up and bid farewell to the crew to take a transfer to Saigon, stopping en route to visit the Dong Tam crocodile and snake farm about nine kilometers west of My Tho.
Officially known as the Medicinal Plants Cultivation and Research Centre of Military Zone 9, the largest center for snake rearing and snakebite treatment in the Cuu Long River Delta was established in 1979 in an area full of mines and barbed wire left by the United States Army. Learn about the various types of snakes slithering around the Mekong Delta, watch the production of cobra venom for medical purposes and from a safe distance, admire the center’s efforts to preserve endangered King cobras.
You'll continue onward by air conditioned bus through the Vietnamese countryside and into the bustling metropolis of Saigon, known locally as Ho Chi Minh City.
In the morning, you will visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. Here you will find an amazing complex of underground tunnels used during the Vietnam war. The residents of Cu Chi took their war underground, literally, developing a network of tunnels that, at its height, stretched as far as Cambodia and included meeting rooms, kitchens, and triage area. In the afternoon, return to the city for a tour of the Notre Dame Cathedral, Post Office, and the former Presidential Palace. Next, continue onto visit the War Museum. Towards the end of the day, you will be able to visit and experience the Ben Thanh Market.
The Silk Path is located in the heart of the charming old quarter of Hanoi, which has countless tourist attractions, government and diplomatic institutions, as well as proximity to the business district of the city. With the hotel's 106 well-appointed exclusively designed rooms and suites, it is no surprise that Silk Hotel is a preference choice of a traveler. The hotel has a 2 level restaurant with private dining rooms, a unique bar, and a fitness center and sauna. Silk Path Hotel guarantees a comfortable stay with all luxury amenities within reach.
The Victoria Angkor Resort & Spa provides a sense of serenity with the nostalgic comfort and elegant refinement of the French Art de Vivre in the heart of Siem Reap. The building's graceful colonial architecture of the 1930's provides a sense of peaceful tranquility. The hotel is located within close proximity to World Heritage listed Angkor Temples, the quaint old market town of Siem Reap, and the international airport. Featuring a Victorian touch, air conditioned rooms and suites come with dark furnishings, all with private balcony facing the pool, tropical garden or the Royal Park. International, Asian, and local Khmer dishes are served at L'Escale restaurant, while Le Bistrot de Siem Reap presents modern French gastronomy, complemented by the finest wines. L'Explorateur Bar and Le Pool Deck feature light meals, exquisite cocktails, and refreshing beverages. Surrounded by tropical garden, the hotel houses a magnificent outdoor saltwater pool with a spa tub. Relaxing massages, facial and body treatments are available at the Victoria Spa.
The 205-foot Aqua Mekong was designed to embody the aesthetic of a sophisticated five star hotel, only with the mobility of a river cruise ship. Local sustainable materials and artisanal touches of the Mekong’s multifaceted cultures round out these generous interior spaces designed to welcome guests in the utmost comforts. Spacious and indulgent, yet intimate enough to feel entirely exclusive, the Aqua Mekong incorporates relaxed yet refined lounging and dining areas, and can accommodate a maximum of 40 guests plus crew. Modern navigation technologies and the highest cruise ship standards as well as our experienced river pilot and crew ensure smooth travel and safety on the water.
The Renaissance Riverside is located in the heart of Saigon's business district, the Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon offers first-class hospitality, comfortable rooms and modern amenities. After a long day, relax at the poolside terrace or enjoy a leisurely dinner at Kabin, known as one of the finest Chinese restaurants in the city. Take a dip in the rooftop pool and visit the Health Club for an invigorating workout with the latest gym equipment. Otherwise, simply enjoy the incredible views of the Saigon River and stroll to museums, galleries and other area attractions. You’ll find that the hotel’s central location, panoramic views and impeccable service makes this the ideal place to stay while visiting Ho Chi Minh City.
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