Fly to Hanoi, former capital of French Indochina, then transfer to your hotel.* Check in for a 2-night stay, then relax or take a walk to stretch your legs and begin getting acquainted with the city.
After breakfast, take a tour of this unique, thousand-year-old Asian capital where old and new combine in a lush setting of parks and lakes. Pass by the scenic Sword Lake on your way to the vast Ho Chi Minh Memorial, a complex dedicated to Vietnam’s 20th-century Communist leader. Then, spend some time in the excellent Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, where you learn about the cultural heritage of this multicultural country’s 50+ ethnic groups. Later, tour the notorious “Hanoi Hilton,” the facility where American POWs were held captive during the Vietnam War. Relax this afternoon before dinner at a local restaurant. (B, D)
Day 3Hanoi & Siem Reap
This morning, check out of your hotel and proceed to Hanoi’s Temple of Literature. Founded in 1070 as Vietnam’s first university, this mazelike compound features inviting courtyards, gateways, pavilions, walkways, lakes and a museum. Tour the facility and spend some free time enjoying attractions such as the Tortoise Steles, Sage Courtyard, Well of Heavenly Clarity, Lake of Literature and Constellation of Literature Pavilion.
This afternoon, take a short afternoon flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Check in to your hotel for a 3-night stay; tonight’s dinner is accompanied by a traditional Apsara dance show. (B, D)
Day 4Angkor Wat & Siem Reap
Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important archeological sites in the world. Begin your day with a visit to one of Angkor’s largest Khmer temples, Angkor Wat, built for King Suryavarman II in the 12th century A.D. With its beautiful proportions and extensive, intricate bas-relief stone carvings, it is one of the most spectacular sights in Southeast Asia. Spend some time exploring the fortified city of Angkor Thom, which houses several of Angkor’s most popular sights such as the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper Kings with their dramatic bas reliefs.
Today you also visit the mysterious Bayon Temple, known for its giant, stone carved faces with their enigmatic smiles. Dine at a local restaurant and relax this evening. (B, D)
Day 5Angkor & Siem Reap
Today, continue your exploration of the temple ruins left behind by the mighty Khmer Empire, which ruled Cambodia from the early 9th century for some 400 years. Its founder, King Jayavarman II, was a contemporary of Charlemagne, and his dreams of empire were equally grandiose. At its zenith, the Khmer Empire covered most of the Indochinese Peninsula. Ride to the spectacular 10th-century Hindu temple Banteay Srey (“Citadel of Women”) to see magnificent carvings of Shiva and Vishnu. Then, journey to Ta Prohm, one of the most popular of the temples of Angkor. Unlike many other buildings, it has been largely left intact as it was when discovered, with trees and large shrubs growing over the ruins.
Return to Siem Reap this afternoon and learn how local crafts are alive and well in the modern-day city. Visit a vocational center that trains 650 young apprentices every year in the traditional crafts of stone sculpture, wood carving and painting; then take a guided tour through Artisans d’Angkor, a network of studios for the newly trained craftspeople. Mingle with the locals at some of Siem Reap’s open air markets or just relax before your final dinner in Siem Reap. (B, D)
Day 6Kampong Thom & Kampong Cham
After breakfast, check out of your Siem Reap hotel. A coach tour through the Cambodian countryside brings you to your ship in Kampong Cham, via the provincial capital of Kampong Thom. Due to its central location, this area is rapidly becoming an important hub for fishing and agriculture; it also has a rich archeological heritage, to which the 200 temples—some of which predate the Khmer empire—attest. This afternoon, board your ship; after you get settled in, meet the ship’s officers over a welcome cocktail. (B, L, D)
Day 7Kampong Cham
You will visit the hilltop temple of Wat Hanchey this morning, which affords stunning views of the Mekong River. The temple itself dates back to the 8th century and it is surrounded by smaller religious monuments dotting the hillsides. After lunch, visit the twin holy mountains of Phnom Pros and Phnom Srey with their many temples and pagodas, still used during traditional Khmer festivals. Continue to the ecotourism village of Choeungkok, supported by the French–Cambodian Amica organization. (B, L, D)
Day 8Phnom Penh
Dock along the lovely waterfront of Cambodia’s capital and explore the city in style, in a cyclo. This mode of transportation provides many Cambodians with a source of income and visitors with a speedy and enjoyable way to move around. See the magnificent Royal Palace with its spectacular Silver Pagoda, built in the 19th century by the French but inspired by the centuries-old architecture of the Khmer.
This afternoon, join an excursion to the sobering memorial in the Tuol Sleng detention center, a former high school in which thousands of victims of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime died, and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, or explore the city’s maze of small alleys, markets and busy streets on your own if you prefer. Tonight’s dinner is accompanied by a folkloric performance. (B, L, D)
Day 9Phnom Penh
After breakfast, take a tour of the National Museum of Cambodia, which houses treasures of Khmer art and craftsmanship and also displays art that predates the mighty empire. After your museum visit, continue to the beautifully preserved 14th-century Buddhist temple of Wat Phnom, with more modern murals inside and a sanctuary dedicated to Lady Penh, said to be the founder of this temple. Take some free time for exploration or shopping before returning to your ship for lunch.
This afternoon there will be a presentation on board including a lecture on Cambodia’s history and culture and a film about the life of Pol Pot, leader of the infamous Khmer Rouge—or you are free to explore Phnom Penh’s historic riverfront area, with its restaurants, art galleries and silk shops, or perhaps visit the distinctive Central Market or the “Russian Market” where you can buy jewelry, curios, clothes and souvenirs. You might prefer to visit more of the city’s wats—Wat Langka, Wat Botum, Wat Koh or Wat Ounalom—each with its own special character and purpose. Dinner is served on board. (B, L, D)
Day 10Mekong River Scenic Cruising
Sail down the Mekong, one of the world’s great rivers, toward the Vietnamese border. The Mekong is truly the Mother River of Southeast Asia, sustaining civilizations through the centuries. Pass by some of the Mekong rice fields—the Khmer empire was founded on a rice surplus and rice is still the main staple of Vietnam’s present-day cuisine. (B, L, D)
Day 11Châu Ðôc & Cu Lao Gien
Begin your morning with a tour of the busy riverside port of Châu Ðôc riding a trishaw. Afterwards, board a small boat to visit a Cham tribal village. Descended from an ancient Malay-Polynesian empire that arrived in Southeast Asia during the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C., the Champa people competed with the Khmer for dominance of the area. Observe village life and visit a catfish farm.
In the afternoon, visit Cu Lao Gien Island where you see the monastery of St. Paul of Chartres, built in 1875 and later known as “la Providence.” Once a thriving mission with an orphanage, a hospital to treat leprosy victims, a school and a hospice, it serves today as a retreat for some 180 retired nuns. This evening, enjoy a screening of the film l’Amant (the Lover) which will prepare you for tomorrow’s visit to Sa Dec. (B, L, D)
Day 12Sa Dec & Cái Bè
In Sa Dec, you will see the house of Mr. Huynh Thuy Le, the protagonist in Marguerite Duras’s beloved autobiographical novel, l’Amant (The Lover). Duras, who grew up in what was then French Indochina, is one of France’s best-selling authors. Later today, board a sampan boat to explore the backwaters and canals of the Delta. Small factories line the river channels here; see local workers producing rice noodles, coconut candy and a host of other handmade products. Then, visit the colorful floating market of Cái Bè. This evening, attend an onboard screening of the 2002 film The Quiet American, based on Graham Greene’s novel set in 1952 Saigon. (B, L, D)
Day 13My Tho & Ho Chi Minh City
Bid farewell to your ship this morning as your cruise through Cambodia and Vietnam comes to an end. Disembark in My Tho, a busy river port not far from the capital of Southern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Upon arrival, take a tour of Reunification Palace—the site of South Vietnam’s defeat. See the Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral. After your tour, check in to your hotel for a 2-night stay, then spend the rest of the day at leisure, getting acquainted with this lively city at your own pace—see some of the historic French colonial architecture and soak up some of the city’s youthful energy. Tonight’s dinner is in a local restaurant. (B, D)
Day 14Ho Chi Minh City
After breakfast, begin another tour of this bustling metropolis with a visit to its historic center. Take a stroll along Dong Khoi Street, the main shopping boulevard in the old colonial heart. See the grand city hall, the old opera house with its soaring arched entryway, the Chinatown area and a Lacquer Factory. Complete your morning tour at Ben Thành Market.
This afternoon, get a different perspective on modern-day Vietnam at the War Remnants Museum, which provides a stark picture of the Vietnam War from a decidedly partisan point of view. The rest of your afternoon is free for exploring the city’s neighborhoods or doing a bit of last-minute shopping at the local markets before this evening’s festive final dinner at a local restaurant. (B, D)
Day 15Ho Chi Minh City
After breakfast, check out of your hotel and proceed to the airport for your return flight.* Or, continue your Southeast Asia adventure with a 3-night stay in Bangkok, Thailand’s astounding capital. (B)
The following meals are included:
B = Breakfast; L = Lunch; D = Dinner