A Journey on the Mekong - RV Mekong Prestige II

A Journey on the Mekong - RV Mekong Prestige II

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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.

Highlights

  • Return scheduled flights from London Gatwick
  • Experience a seven night river cruise on board the 4-star superior RV Mekong Prestige II
  • All staterooms are outside cabins with balconies and river views
  • Stay in 4-star hotels with breakfast
  • Gaze in awe at the magnificent temples of Angkor, one of Asia’s greatest ancient sights
  • Stay in the heart of Saigon with its bustling waterfront and French colonial architecture
  • Tour of 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
  • Visit local communities to discover their
  • unique way of life, unchanged in centuries
  • Experience the delights of exquisitely presented
  • Vietnamese and Cambodian cuisine
  • All shore excursions and crew gratuities included
  • All meals and selected drinks 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 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.
  • 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 the airport for your overnight flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

Day 2

After your early morning arrival you check into the four-star Novotel Saigon Centre Hotel for two nights. After some time to relax, we will take a short introductory walking tour around our hotel. The rest of the day is at leisure.

Day 3

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!

Day 4

Expectations rise during our short 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 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 snowclad 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. You board the superb four-star superior 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 outstanding quality and service is comparable with the best onshore restaurants – accompanied by a tasteful selection of local wines, beers and 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.

Day 5

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.

Day 6

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.

Day 7

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 cyclerickshaw 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 and the Killing Fields which need no further explanation. However 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!

Day 8

After another delightful breakfast, we arrive at Koh Chong, a delightful silk weaving village visiting a particularly impressive pagoda 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. 

Day 9

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 of 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 Vipassana 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.

Day 10

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 for the last few days may vary (see note at the end of this brochure). This evening the Mekong Prestige glides to a final halt, berthed in Siem Reap at the head of this stunningly beautiful lake.

Life on board

The newest river cruiser on the Mekong and operated by a French-Vietnamese joint venture, the RV Mekong Prestige II will be launched in late 2013 and features just 32 spacious staterooms. All the images displayed here are from its sister ship, the Mekong Prestige I, launched in late 2012, so there may be some small cosmetic changes. Spread out over three decks, there’s plenty of outdoor and indoor space to relax in. At the very top of the ship is the spacious Sun Deck, with a large plunge pool and plenty of sun loungers which you can relax on under the awning or in the sun and affording the best views of the river life around the ship. The bar and comfortable air-conditioned lounge are also on the same deck, as is the ship’s small spa and fitness room. The restaurant is located on the Upper Deck and is bright and airy with fine linen and excellent service and can accommodate all guests in one sitting.

Accommodation

Novotel Saigon Centre Hotel

Saigon – the new four-star Novotel Saigon Centre (www.novotel-saigon-centre.com/) is ideally located in the downtown area, close to Notre Dame cathedral and the Reunification Palace. The...

Borei Angkor Hotel

Siem Reap – the four-star superior Borei Angkor (www.boreiangkor.com/) is located a five minute drive from the centre of Siem Reap. The hotel’s main restaurant offers both indoor and...
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  Call:  01 905 6300