A Journey on the Mekong - RV Jayavarman

A Journey on the Mekong - RV Jayavarman

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The mighty Mekong River flows through the heart of South East Asia: rising from the Tibetan Plateau and passing through China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, it is 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. Our journey along this amazing natural marvel explores the fascinating waterborne worlds along its banks, from floating villages, stilt houses, colourful floating markets and the thousands of local boats of all shapes and sizes plying its mud-coloured waters. Our fascinating tour starts in Cambodia with a stay in the charming town of Siem Reap, gateway to the incredible complex of temples within the ancient city of Angkor. At its height 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 stretching from Thailand, through Laos and Cambodia into southern Vietnam. This is the largest complex of religious buildings ever created, an almost inconceivable 200 such temples spread over 150 square miles in a truly astonishing fusion of Hinduism and Buddhism. Angkor’s  incredible state of preservation, beauty of its design and artistry of its sculptures have for many, made it one of the great wonders of the world and it is truly breathtaking. On the river we pass tiny sampans being rowed to market, seemingly over-loaded with everything from a huge variety of colourful vegetables and ripe fruit, to an imponderable number of  bicycles! Lining the riverbanks are wooden houses, balancing precariously on stilts or gently bobbing on floating rafts of bamboo whilst giggling kneehigh children peep at the strange tall westerners gliding gently by. We spend a whole day in Phnom Penh, beautifully located at the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers and long considered the most beautiful of the ‘French’ cities of Indochina with its vibrant waterfront ambience. Crossing into Vietnam, both the people and landscape change and a faster pace of life and increased river traffic become evident. Vietnam has for the past two millennia been ruled by the Chinese, Khmers, Portuguese and the Japanese all leaving legacies in the temples and pagodas, together with palaces, fortresses and innumerable other buildings in every style imaginable. 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, Notre Dame cathedral and wide tree-lined boulevards. Today both Vietnam and Cambodia are countries in an exhilarating flux, with a heady pace of change, modern in outlook, but overwhelmingly with a unique traditional Far Eastern character. Bicycles and mopeds still 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.

Highlights

  • Return scheduled flights from London Gatwick
  • Experience a seven night river cruise on board the luxurious 5-star RV Jayavarman
  • All staterooms have river views and private balconies
  • Stay in 5-star luxury hotels with breakfast
  • Gaze in awe at the magnificent city and temples of Angkor,the greatest ancient site in Asia
  • Stay in the heart of Saigon with its bustling waterfront, French colonial architecture and wonderful cuisine
  • Visit Phnom Penh, the ‘Paris of the East’, with its golden temples and palaces
  • See the fascinating Cu-Chi tunnels, a poignant reminder of the US-Vietnam conflict
  • Visit the teeming floating markets of Kampong Chhnang and Cai Be
  • Enjoy numerous stops at local communities en route to discover their way of life, in harmony with their surroundings and unchanged in centuries
  • Participate in the ship’s cooking or Tai Chi classes
  • Experience the delights of exquisitely presented Vietnamese and Cambodian cuisine
  • All shore excursions included
  • All meals included whilst on the Mekong cruise
  • Escorted by an experienced Riviera Tour Manager

Inclusions

  • The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room/cabin; five nights on bed and breakfast in five-star hotels and seven nights on full board on the RV Jayavarman; 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.
  • All British passport holders require visas for both Vietnam and Cambodia. Please also ensure you have at least two completely empty pages in your passport and that it is valid for at least six months after your return date.
  • Vietnam visas: Single-entry tourist visas can be applied for by post or in person up to six months before travel from the Embassy of Vietnam, 12 Victoria Road, London W8 5RD, tel. 0207 9371912 (visa section 9.30am-12.30pm Mon-Fri). For postal applications, please send your passport, a passport-sized photo, a completed visa form, a self-addressed envelope, and a postal order payable to the ‘Embassy of Vietnam’. Charges for a standard up to 30-day tourist visa are £44 per visa, plus an additional charge, for returning your passport by Royal Mail Special Delivery, of £8 if submitting one passport, £6 per passport for two or three passports, £5 per passport for four to seven passports, or £8 per passport for eight applications. Please allow 5 working days for processing. For full details and a downloadable visa form, please see www.vietnamembassy.org.uk/consular.html.
  • Cambodia visas: Available on arrival in Phnom Penh upon completion of a simple application form and payment of $30 per person. You will alsoneed 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://evisa.mfaic.gov.kh for details. Local departure taxes: currently $25 per person for Cambodia, payable locally. Please note all visa costs are non-refundable and subject to change without notice.
  • Whilst the travelling schedule shall pose no problems for people of any age in normal physical health, we would point out that in visiting a number of historical sites, paths may be uneven and we often enjoy walking tours of the main sights. Therefore this holiday may not be suitable for clients of greatly impaired mobility. In the tropics temperatures and humidity levels will also be quite high for most of the year. Please consult your GP regarding the appropriate inoculations required for Vietnam & Cambodia at least a month before departure.
  • All British passport holders require visas for both Vietnam and Cambodia. Please also ensure you have at least two completely empty pages in your passport and that it is valid for at least six months after your return date.
  • Vietnam visas: Single-entry tourist visas can be applied for by post or in person up to six months before travel from the Embassy of Vietnam, 12 Victoria Road, London W8 5RD, tel. 0207 9371912 (visa section 9.30am-12.30pm Mon-Fri). For postal applications, please send your passport, a passport-sized photo, a completed visa form, a self-addressed envelope, and a postal order payable to the ‘Embassy of Vietnam’. Charges for a standard up to 30-day tourist visa are £54 per visa, plus an additional charge, for returning your passport by Royal Mail Special Delivery, of £8 if submitting one passport, £6 per passport for two or three passports, £5 per passport for four to seven passports, or £8 per passport for eight applications. Please allow 5 working days for processing. For full details and a downloadable visa form, please see www.vietnamembassy.org.uk/consular.html.
  • Cambodia visas: Available on arrival in Phnom Penh upon completion of a simple application form and payment of $30 per person. You will alsoneed 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://evisa.mfaic.gov.kh for details.
  • Please note all visa costs are non-refundable and subject to change without notice.
  • Whilst the travelling schedule shall pose no problems for people of any age in normal physical health, we would point out that in visiting a number of historical sites, paths may be uneven and we often enjoy walking tours of the main sights. Therefore this holiday may not be suitable for clients of greatly impaired mobility. In the tropics temperatures and humidity levels will also be quite high for most of the year. Please consult your GP regarding the appropriate inoculations required for Vietnam & Cambodia at least a month before departure.
  • To make the most of your trip, we recommend you check the Foreign Office website at www.fco.gov.uk/travel

Itinerary

Day 1

You should arrive at London Gatwick airport to take your overnight flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

Day 2

After your early morning arrival you change aircraft, flying to Siem Reap in Cambodia, staying two nights at the five-star Angkor Miracle Resort with breakfast. This excellent hotel is extremely comfortable, boasting all the exceptional facilities of a major international property, two restaurants, a large pool and spa. The rest of the day is at leisure.

Day 3

Today we see the haunting soft morning light rise 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 guarding every direction, this is an extraordinary masterpiece of Khmer art. One of the most intriguing sites is the smaller temple of Ta Prohm left in its natural, unrestored state, with giant tropical trees bursting through the ruins, their roots entwined like vast tentacles across the moss-covered, weathered walls and roofs. Late afternoon and the highlight of the day, 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

Day 4

The Tonle Sap (Great Lake) is the life-giving watery heart of Cambodia. Its fisheries sustain literally millions of people and it is home to an incredible variety of birds. The water level rises and falls considerably throughout the year and therefore our itinerary for the first couple of days of our cruise can vary according to the time of year (see note at the end of this brochure). After breakfast we board our coach and drive to Prek K’Dam on the Tonle Sap River. Snacks and cold drinks are provided and we stop briefly at Skon, known as Spiderville as it’s noted for its time of day. fried spiders, apparently a delicacy in this part of the country - however, it is not obligatory to find out first hand! As we embark the RV Jayavarman in Prek K’Dam you will immediately feel relaxed in the luxurious surroundings of your new home for seven nights. As expectation mounts, the ship gently slips her moorings, sailing downstream towards Kampong Chhnang. With a maximum of just 54 passengers you will love the intimacy of your river cruise, soon getting to know your fellow, like-minded travellers as the ever fascinating river banks glide by. This evening you enjoy a welcome dinner in the ship’s beautifully appointed restaurant.

Day 5

As you wake from a refreshing sleep, the ever changing riverbanks slip by and you may wish to start the day with breakfast on your balcony or perhaps a Tai Chi class on the Sun Deck. You soon arrive at Kampong Chhnang, becoming immersed in river life, with its attendant noise, bustling markets bursting with colour and a large community of floating houses. We will take a short trip to see the Khmer-styled pottery at the Aundaung Russey village, followed by a motor boat tour into the wetlands of the river mouth, famous for its birdlife. Of considerable interest are the great fish traps, some 500 metres long, which net a gargantuan amount of fish after the monsoon, as vast shoals migrate from the falling water levels of the lake to the Tonle Sap river. It is fascinating to learn first-hand how make their living in harmony with their surroundings. Our cruise continues with a lazy meander along the river, narrowing through the Anlung Oak channel, lined by lush green jungle. We disembark downstream, travelling by ox-cart to see some valuable humanitarian aid in action at a literacy project supported by our cruise line (www.cambodialiteracyproject.com). Another sumptuous dinner awaits us in the Indochine dining room while the ship cruises along Phnom Penh’s fascinating waterfront.

Day 6

We arrive at the ancient pre-Angkorian temple of Wat Hanchey, located on a hill overlooking the river. You can either take the motorised transport or climb the 291 steps to the top for quite simply one of the most breathtaking views in Cambodia. Dating from the 8th century, the temples stretching out before you superbly underscore the architecture of the Chenla Empire which predates the mighty Angkor complex. Returning to the ship, we witness a blessing ceremony performed by orange-clad local monks before the colourful Buddhist monastery of Wat Nokor. What is surprising to most visitors is that it is quite normal for many young men to become a monk at some stage in their lives. It is generally not a lifetime commitment, but more a study of one's inner self in order to become a better person and sometimes just for a few months. During our visit, we learn about Buddhism, its history and an attendant way of life so widespread in the Far East. This afternoon we visit one of the many rubber plantations, learning about the history and manufacture of this valuable natural resource. Whilst these and the other visits are included in your holiday, they are by no means compulsory, so should you so wish, you may remain on the ship at any time.

Day 7

Phnom Penh was once known as the’ Paris of the East’ and during our morning tour you can certainly see why. After breakfast, we will explore this dynamic, historical capital city which, despite its recent rapid development, has preserved admirably much of its rustic charm, elegance and French colonial allure. Sightseeing in the morning will include an exciting cycle-rickshaw ride to the dazzling white and gold edifice of the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda, and witnessing exceptionally beautiful Khmer craft at the National Museum. After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum and the Killing Fields. Phnom Penh has some excellent markets selling silks, spices and high quality lacquer work, so for anyone not wishing to visit the museum, this is the perfect opportunity to hone your bargaining skills! This evening you will be entertained by a traditional Apsara dance performance coupled with a barbeque under the stars. These talented silk-clad dancers will dazzle you with their graceful poise and intricate hand movements, originally designed to entertain the gods. We moor overnight so you can explore Phnom Penh by night should you wish. You will find bustling markets, teeming street restaurants and hawkers selling literally everything in this vibrant and electric ambience, so typical of the emerging Far East!

Day 8

Today we enjoy a quieter day cruising along the main Mekong channel, before this afternoon docking at the Vietnamese border for the requisite cross-border procedures. As the process tends to take some time, you can choose to bask in the glow of the afternoon sun, catch up on some reading, pamper yourself at the spa, or sharpen your culinary skills with the Chef’s Cambodian and Vietnamese cuisine cooking class. The ship moors midstream overnight. By now you will have totally immersed yourself in shipboard life, happily watching the fascinating world drift by and home will seem very far away!

Day 9

This morning’s short excursion is to Chau Doc, a pleasant town near the Cambodian border with sizeable Chinese and Khmer communities. We will also visit the colourful local market near an ancient pagoda. This is followed by a trip to the quayside, where we catch a boat trip to the local floating market and rustic catfish farms. We are way off the beaten track here and it is fascinating to observe the villagers' lives at close hand; despite their lack of material possessions, there is much happiness here and warm, broad smiles abound. Then it’s back to the ship for lunch and an afternoon at leisure as we wind our way ever southwards.

Day 10

Today we embark on a traditional sampan to tour Binh Thanh Island and its man-made canals. Here, every villager is involved in the process of growing and processing colourful water hyacinths into natural-fibre floor mats and rattan baskets. After lunch on board, we arrive in Cai Be and have a tour of its boisterous and colourful floating market where traders gather in a cacophonous congregation. The evergreen islands along the Mekong here remain unknown to most people. The cruise will halt intermittently so we can observe how rice paste, rice cookies and coconutsweets are made, along with the Longan fruit drying process. We then board the ship for a tranquil evening cruise towards My Tho enjoying a wonderful farewell dinner of specialities from the regions we have visited.

Life on board

The epitome of luxury on the serene river Mekong, Heritage Line’s RV Jayavarman was launched in November 2009 and features just 27 exquisitely designed staterooms. The superbly tasteful décor is a wonderful fusion of French colonial and traditional Asian touches: with polished teak, gleaming brass, antiques, crisp cotton and fine silks much in evidence. Couple this with the intimate ambience and service of a boutique hotel and imagine yourself sipping a refreshing ‘sundowner’ at the Funnel Bar, leaning against the gleaming rail and being absorbed by the ever-changing and fascinating life of the sublime river Mekong surrounding you. Life does not get much better than this!

Accommodation

Angkor Miracle Resort & Spa

Siem Reap - the five-star Angkor Miracle Resort & Spa (http://www.angkormiracle.com) is located just outside the centre of Siem Reap, a 10 minute tuk-tuk ride away. The hotel has a large outdoor...

Renaissance Riverside Hotel

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) - the five-star Renaissance Riverside Hotel (http://www.marriott.co.uk/hotels/travel/sgnbr-renaissance-riverside-hotel-saigon/) is located right in the centre of this...
  Cost per person: €0pp
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