MYSTIC CRUISE ALONG MEKONG RIVER

The upstream Mekong River journey is among the best river cruises on Earth. Let's embarking the luxurious vessel for a fascinating voyage.
DETAILED ITINERARY

Day 1: Saigon – Arrival (Own ticket)                                                                                                                    

Upon arrival at Saigon airport, transfer to your hotel in your private vehicle.

Formerly known as “Saigon” before 1975, today the city is Vietnam’s commercial center. The city’s dynamic energy is apparent in the bustling street scenes with thousands of people on motorbikes constantly on the move.

Day 2: Saigon sightseeing – untold food stories of Saigon on the back of a Vintage Vespa                  

Start your day at one of the oldest wet markets in Saigon. Take a walk around and learn about the most authentic ingredients used in Saigonese daily meals. Try some street food with the support of your guide, also a food expert. Stop at a small vintage coffee shop to try Vietnamese iced coffee and observe the relaxing morning life of the locals.

Transfer to Dong Khoi Street downtown to visit some of the beautiful French colonial-era buildings from the late 19th and early 20th century. Appreciate the splendidly restored exteriors of the Saigon Opera House and the Notre Dame Cathedral, a red brick edifice with twin spires constructed from materials imported from France (entrance is only permitted when no services are being performed). Then head across the square to the Central Post Office, completed in 1891. Continue to Presidential Palace, the headquarters of the Southern Vietnamese Government during the American War. Drive to the War Remnants Museum to learn about the story of the Vietnam War

Notes:

  • Suggested time: 08:30 or 1330
  • Duration: 4 hours

The darker the night gets, the more vivid Saigon becomes! Get ready for a fascinating ride by vintage Vespa tonight to discover busy Saigon after dark, together with fun street food tasting in the most authentic local restaurants. Make your first stop at a small yet popular Vietnamese bread stall, line up to get a fresh bread roll before heading to a vintage coffee shop tucked away in a back alley for a briefing. Then continue to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the streets and explore an old apartment complex that comes to life at night with hundreds of food and drinks stalls. Continue riding to a hidden boutique local restaurant to taste the freshest Southern Vietnamese courses. Take a break at a 30-year-old street dessert shop. Conclude your night at a speakeasy bar tucked away in a quiet alley to taste their signature cocktails and have a chat with people here. Hop back on the Vespa and ride back to your hotel.

Notes:

  • Suggested time: 18:30
  • Duration: 3.5 hours
  • Special note: the itinerary is subject to change during the Tet holidays

Day 3: Saigon – My Tho – Cai Be                                                                                            

Travel 70km from Saigon to My Tho, where you will embark on the luxurious vessel for a fascinating Mekong River voyage.

A lunch buffet is served in the restaurant while the vessel steadily glides upstream on the Mekong River, one of the largest streams in Asia, which runs an estimated length of 4,909 km (3,050 mi) and discharges 475 cu km (114 cu mi) of water annually. The rest of this cruising day is fully yours to relax on your private balcony or be pampered by our therapists at the Apsara Spa.

While you savor your delightful dinner, the ship reaches Cai Be. This historic town was established in the 19th century by Vietnam’s last ruling family, the Nguyen dynasty, on the Mekong River where three provinces meet: Tien Giang, Vinh Long, and Ben Tre. We anchor mid-stream near Cai Be and moor there overnight.

Day 4: Cai Be – Sa Dec – Tan Chau                                                                                         

Wake up early to witness the spectacular scenery at the break of dawn. To make the experience complete, join our daily morning Tai Chi class. Afterward, a rich breakfast buffet awaits, or if you prefer, we can serve breakfast directly to your room.

We arrive at Cai Be, a charming market town that is famous for its Catholic French church and the manufacturing of traditional crafts and food products. Sail along the Green Canal network on a local boat and watch the farmers working in the fields. A visit ashore to a workshop shows us the manufacturing of rice paste, rice paper, rice cookies, and rice wine.


In the afternoon, the vessel reaches the area of Sa Dec and arrives at one of the larger islands in the vast stream of the Mekong, Binh Thanh Island. Wandering through the village to get a deep understanding of native life. Stop at a family-run traditional mat-weaving factory, and meet the elderly couple who share their story of living on this island.

Enjoy the sunset on board as the ship continues sailing to Tan Chau, a pleasant, slow-paced border town near the Cambodian border with a sizeable Chinese, Kinh, and Khmer community. We moor near the city with views of the riverbanks.

Day 5: Tan Chau – Border crossing – Phnom Penh                                                                  

Welcome to the fish sanctuary of Vietnam. Hop on a tricycle called “xe loi” to explore Tan Chau’s vibrant town life, navigating through the streets to observe all the workshops, houses, and shops while feeling the laid-back vibe of this place.

Afterward, board local boats and head to a floating fish farm. You are about to get an exclusive look into the world’s largest inland aquaculture industry. The region’s specialties are tilapia and the Basa catfish, or Pangasius, which is unique to the Mekong River basin and rapidly gaining popularity in the international seafood market.


Back on board and sail towards the Vietnamese-Cambodian border. Get ready for a fascinating and leisurely cruise through the deep Cambodian countryside towards Phnom Penh. The boat will arrive at Phnom Penh in the late afternoon. Enjoy dinner as we dock in Phnom Penh pier (due to immigration regulations passengers may not be allowed to go on land this evening).

 

          

Day 6: Phnom Penh                                                                                                        

Welcome to Phnom Penh – the city once named Paris of the East. Despite its rapid development, it has retained a lot of its rustic charm and elegance. It is an amazing town with centuries of incredible history and culture which can still be felt at many street corners.

We start with a full sightseeing by visiting Killing Fields outside the city and afterward the centrally located prison “S21”. Both historic sites display the sad and cruel chapter of the country’s history when the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia with terror and oppression. Continues with the cultural highlights of the city’s heritage. The golden edifice of the Royal Palace with its Silver Pagoda and the exceptional Khmer crafts at the National Museum tops the list of the city’s must-sees. The day trip ends with a “cyclo” ride along the bustling streets of downtown Phnom Penh and back to the ship. 

In the early evening, the lounge is set up for an eye- and ear-catching lecture about modern Cambodian history, held by our friend and local expert, a professor from the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Receiving first-hand knowledge from our lecturer who has studied the subject extensively and in person is a highlight of this cruise. 

Day 7: Phnom Penh – Kampong Tralach – Kampong Chhnang (Tonle)                                      

Before the sun peeks over the horizon, the cruiser sets sail towards Kampong Tralach on the Tonle River. This part of the Tonle River is quite interesting to watch from the terrace as the river at certain points is very narrow. We reach Kampong Tralach, where laughing children wave enthusiastically at our arrival and traditional ox carts are still a common means of transportation. Our ox-powered vehicle takes us on a journey along the riverside and through back roads lined with rice-paddy fields until we arrive at a tiny village.

Later in the day, the ship cruises along the narrow Tonle River towards the most fascinating cruising spot in Cambodia, Kampong Chhnang’s “water world”, where everything is balanced on sticks in water-rich soil. We take a local boat to the shore and hop on a minibus to reach a nearby, unique rural village to explore the village’s specialties – Khmer-style pottery and the process of making palm sugar from the Cambodian “skor t’not” palm tree.

Day 8: Tonle Sap River – Koh Oknha Tey – Kampong Cham                                                     

In the early morning, we sail from the lower Tonle River towards the Mekong passing their confluence at Phnom Penh. We arrive at the island of Koh Oknha Tey, which lies in the middle of the Mekong and owes its fame to manufacturing high-class silk products. Hop on the tuk-tuk for the sightseeing along the island’s roads a bit via tuk tuk before arriving at the village’s workshops and witnessing the curious process of making silk, starting from a tiny silkworm larva to a cocoon, then dyeing, spinning, and weaving the fibers into high-quality Cambodian silk.

The ship sails towards the small Angkor Ban village up in the Mekong River. The village is famous for its unspoiled community and beautiful, traditional houses, giving us a nostalgic feeling of life back a hundred years.

Day 9: Kampong Cham                                                                                                         

After a sumptuous breakfast, we leave the ship for the enchanting pre-Angkorian temple of Wat Hanchey (7th century). Formerly built to honor the Hindu god, Hirahara, the complex is now a Buddhist temple, a testament to the country’s past and present religious beliefs.

After returning to the ship and partaking in lunch, we stop at the tranquil monastery of Wat Nokor. Although not massive in comparison to the vast complexes of Angkor Wat, Wat Nokor is the largest of its kind in Kampong Cham Province and is distinctive from other temples with its black sandstone walls.

As it is low water season, we may be fortunate enough to visit a nearby spectacle only present during the Mekong’s dry months (December to May). The Koh Paen Bamboo Bridge connects the mainland with Koh Paen Island and is rebuilt by the local community every November when water levels drop.  

We cruise further up the Mekong to visit a local school and learn more about the education of the young Cambodian generation. Children from the Organization for Basic Training (OBT) are provided a free, supplemental education in English, maths, and the arts, and they are always excited to show their skills in music and dance.

Day 10: Kampong Cham – Siem Reap                                                                                                             

Enjoy your last breakfast on board our floating sanctuary. We disembark the ship for a 4.5-hour transfer by bus to the drop-off point in Siem Reap. 

Day 11: Siem Reap – Angkor Temples                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

In the morning, visit Angkor Wat, one of the world’s modern wonders and most important religious sites, with a renowned Khmer scholar. He will be able to share his wide experience with you and provide you with a succinct overview of Khmer history, culture, archaeology, and civilization. He has been working with the Angkor Temple Conservation Institution for many years and is well-versed in the temple’s history as well as how it will be preserved in the next decades. Take a stroll through the intricately carved corridors of Angkor Wat as the Khmer kingdom is brought to life through the scholar’s explanations of the numerous stories included in each of the bas-reliefs and paintings. This private tour will last roughly two hours and will be tailored to your level of interest.

Visit Angkor Thom, the ancient royal city of the Khmer Empire, and its centerpiece, the Bayon temple. When you get closer, you’ll find the enigmatic faces of previous King Jayavarman VII smiling at you from every angle. Your guide will take you to the Terrace of the Elephants, which served as a platform for the King to welcome back his triumphant troops, and the Terrace of the Leper King, which features elaborate sculptures twisting along a tight passageway leading to the Baphuon complex.

Continue to Ta Prohm Temple, one of Angkor’s crown jewels that is overgrown with fig trees and thick vegetation, creating a melancholy yet fascinating ambiance. The majestic roots of the trees have mingled with the temple’s massive stone blocks throughout the centuries, emphasizing a ‘lost city’ impression. King Jayavarman VII commissioned the construction of the shrine to honor his mother. Take your time walking through the temple from the East to the West entrance (around 1-2 kilometers).

Notes:

  • Availability: Full day visit
  • Suggested time: 08:00
  • Duration: 8-9 hours

Day 12: Siem Reap – Departure (Own ticket)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

After breakfast, time at leisure till transfer to the airport for the departing flight.

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Hanoi countryside tales by traditional crafts

Today, drive an hour along the Red River to Ha Noi’s neighboring countryside through immense rice fields and fruit farms. Visit the village that birthed Vietnamese incense upon arrival. This village’s incense, made from over 30 herbs with skills passed down from generation to generation, is known for its pure, light scent. A guided stroll through the hamlet with older residents will take you to various family-run workshops to see the entire incense-making process and hear about the glory days of this traditional craft. Help the host make incense.

Take another short drive to a rural community behind endless rice fields and duck farms. The locals’ 200-year-old fish-pot crafting heritage includes bamboo weaving. Walk around the village to see the typical Northern countryside architecture: dark brown tiled roofs, three-room houses with elders sitting in front weaving fish-pots and chatting. Visit a local artisan who rode his bike across Vietnam to proudly promote his village’s unique traditional craft. Create your own fish pot with his help and give it as a present.

Notes:

  • Availability: Morning
  • Suggested time: 08:00
  • Duration: 6 hours

*Optional to add Nha Xa silk village
*Incense making at Thon Cao, Hung Yen. Fish-pot making village at Thu Sy, Hung Yen.
*Possible to have lunch at Hung Yen