Destinations: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)-My Tho-Sa Dec-Chau Doc-Phnom Penh-Kampong Chhnang-Tonle Sap Lake-Siem Reap
From Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap, enjoy this breathtaking 8 day cruise adventure. The Aqua Mekong will take you on and off shore, from emerald forests and bamboo stilt villages accessible only by boat to flocks of painted storks and spot billed pelicans in their last Southeast Asian refuge and Chinese wing tipped pagoda temples and remote Buddhist monasteries.
Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)- My Tho
Day 2: Sa Dec- Gieng Islet
Day 3: Bassac River- Chau Doc
Day 4: Chau Doc- Border Crossing
Day 5: Tonle Sap River- Phnom Penh
Day 6: Tonle Sap River- Koh Chen- Kampong Chhang
Day 7: Kampong Chhnang- Chnok Tru- Tonle Sap
Day 8: Siem Reap
Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)! Your journey will begin in the late morning, where you will be transferred to the pier for your cruise. Prepare for a scenic 1.5 hour countryside ride to My Tho where we will meet your Aqua Mekong Cruise Ship. Settle into your cabin and prepare for a breathtaking 8 day adventure to Siem Reap, home of the mysterious Angkor temples.
Here in the Mekong Delta, people rely on flat-bottom wooden boats called sampans to get around and transport goods to the markets. On our first morning together, we will climb aboard to paddle through the Cai Be floating market, where more than 400 sampans gather every day. Each boat has one bamboo stick on the front to display that vendor’s product, may it be Vietnamese fish sauce, rice paper for dumplings or colorful sweet confectionery. We will continue our exploration of this area on foot or by bicycle for a more up close glimpse of the daily life of Mekong Delta dwellers.
This morning, we will continue our travels back on shore with a tour around the town of Sa Dec. Though we are in the heart of Vietnam, French colonial architecture stands all around us. We will roam around the local market, noticing the fresh produce and exotic spices on sale as we make our way to the colonial house once occupied by French writer Marguerite Duras. The house, built in late 19th century, is a harmonious combination of Western and traditional Vietnamese architectural styles. It was here in Sa Dec that the teenaged Duras and Huynh Thuy Le, a rich Sa Dec merchant began their affair that Duras wrote about in her most famous work, The Lover.
After lunch on board, we will board our skiffs and make our way to Gieng Islet. Walk or cycle around this peaceful religious enclave on the Mekong Delta. Next, we will visit Cu Lao Gieng Church, built in 1875. It is impossible not to admire its imposing bell tower that appears to pierce the sky high above its low-rise neighbors. You will learn of the religious influences on the surrounding communities, which we may visit to admire the indigenous pagodas and wooden houses. These structures were built in the early twentieth century in traditional Vietnamese design and shaded by bonsai trees.
Today, we will journey by sampan into the Tra Su Cajuput Forest, floating deep into the acacia flooded forest under a dense canopy of trees. This large preserve is a colony for 70 bird species including the rare painted stork and Oriental darter as well as bats, snakes and endangered turtles. Flora here is equally abundant with over 140 specified floral varieties, 22 tree varieties, 70 types of grasses, 13 species of aquatic plants, 9 varieties of fruit trees and many medicinal herbs of great value in traditional Vietnamese medicine.
Once we return to the ship, we will sail onward to the village of Chau Doc, which sits along the Hâu River, a tributary of the Mekong. We will head to the shore by skiff before making our way to Sam Mountain, the highest point in the Mekong Delta. Sam Mountain is home to dozens of pagodas, some even set in caves. We will make the easy climb to the mountaintop for the most captivating views of the surrounding countryside and rice fields. As this is border territory, there is a military outpost on the summit. Still at the top of Sam Mountain, you will now have the unique privilege to sit with Mahayana Buddhist monks at Long Son Tu Temple for a private audience. Enlightened, we 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.Here, our chef will head into the local market, along with any gourmet minded guests interested to explore its copious baskets of the day’s catch from the river, crisp vegetables and luscious tropical fruit.
In the early morning, we will cruise further south towards Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s bustling capital city. Around 90 minutes into today’s journey we will take the skiff towards the shore for a visit to the intricately carved Prek Bongkong Pagoda. We will visit a small village where the weavers allow us to wander among their looms, admiring their talent and skills. Witness the entire process here, learning how silk starts with worms. See the silk thread being looped and dyed, then admire or purchase the final shimmering Khmer silk accessories if you wish. We will return to our ship, ready to make the rest of the journey to Phnom Penh.We return by skiff to the Aqua Mekong, ready to continue to the border for our crossing into Cambodia.
From the remote charms of the Tonle Sap River, we cruise into what may feel like another world altogether as we 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 a photogenic backdrop to international business, a new generation of boutique hotels, chic shopping and a cosmopolitan nightlife.
Today’s urban adventure by two wheel motorized tuk-tuks will allow you to take in this historic city’s most important sites including the 1866 Royal Palace, still home to the reigning monarch and its Silver Pagoda. 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 with 9,584 diamonds, the largest of which weighs 25 carats. The National Museum of Cambodia houses the world’s largest collection of Khmer art, with a majority of it removed from Angkor Wat to prevent looting. For our guests who are interested to delve deeper into Cambodia’s recent past, we offer an optional excursion to the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide, with its extensive photographic evidence of the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime and into the countryside to visit The Killing Fields.Sip sundowners on the Observation Deck as our 3-Night guests arrive. This evening, enjoy a performance by renowned Cambodian apsara dancers who continue an ancient tradition venerated on the intricately carved walls at Angkor Wat.
This morning, we will continue along the Tonle Sap River to Koh Chen. We will visit the island of Koh Chen by skiff. The inhabitants of this riverside village are known throughout the region as talented silver and coppersmiths. They purchase precious metals in Phnom Penh and return here to make ornamental items such as cups, boxes and delicately engraved tropical fruits used in Buddhist ceremonies and marriage blessings. Next we will continue on to a pagoda, and if the monks are in residence, we will experience an authentic Buddhist blessing ceremony.
Later in the day, we will continue exploring Khmer riverside life in the floating village of Kampong Chhnang, meaning Port of Pottery. Archaeological findings here link this now sleepy area as far back as the Dvaravati kingdom, dating to the 6th through 11th centuries when Kampong Chhnang was an important coastal stop on the trade route linking China and India. More recently, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen was born in this province. Colorful shrines with gilded Buddhas, villagers sporting conical hats and simple houses on bamboo stilts are among today’s striking sights along the waterfront.
We continue exploring remote communities around the Tonle Sap River, an ecological hot spot designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1997. Today we head by skiff to Chnok Tru, as photogenic as it is remote and thus completely self-sufficient.Here we will see an ice factory, the importance of which will be obvious after just one day in Southeast Asia. As local factory workers explain how they make and use the ice for fish preservation, our expert guides will translate and allow you to ask questions. In this lake village, be on the lookout for floating schools, riverside churches, pagodas, and even a karaoke bar and police station. Everything and everyone in Chnok Tru travels by small boat through the intricate network of canals through this tiny town.
Next, we will cruise onward from Kampong Khleang to the remote fishing village of Moat Kla. You will climb back into the skiffs and head for shore where our 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 such as 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 is only accessible by water. The community is largely of Vietnamese descent, its settlement dating long before international borders.Tonight, we will have special arrangements for our guests to attend the blessing ceremony conducted at Moat Kla’s Buddhist temple, home to only four monks.
This may be our last day but the adventure is far from over as we take our skiffs into the 22,000-hectare Prek Toal Core Bird Reserve on Tonle Sap Lake, one of the largest freshwater bodies in Asia and the last refuge in Southeast Asia for large waterbirds like the spot-billed pelicans, milky stork, black-headed ibis and the elusive masked finfoot. Along the way, we visit floating houses and fish farms, and learn about sustainable development initiatives like Saray, a cooperative of women who weave water hyacinth into 100% organic mats and home accessories for some of Southeast Asia’s finest hotels.Finally, we will return to the ship to pack up then disembark for the road journey to Siem Reap.