Arrive this evening in Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor and spend the next three nights at outstanding La Résidence d’Angkor, built in traditional Khmer style with teak furniture and bamboo screens, and located along the Siem Reap River.
In the morning, venture out for an introduction to the area at the fine small temple of Banteay Srei, known for its exceptional carvings. After lunch, stop at Les Artisans d’Angkor, where you can see how local artisans preserve age-old Khmer arts. Then visit the evocative temple Ta Prohm. The jungle has been allowed to continue growing here, framing the structures with the twisted roots and branches of ceiba and fig trees, giving you an idea of what archaeologists encountered when they began their work in the area. This evening gather with your fellow travelers for welcome drinks and dinner at your hotel.
Begin early this morning in order to get to Angkor Wat in time for sunrise. This visionary 12th-century temple, the world’s largest religious monument, represents the apogee of Khmer art and architecture. Crowned by five towers, with elaborate bas-reliefs and a profusion of statues that dramatically depict complex religious tales, along with some 2,000 carved apsaras (beautiful female spirits), Angkor Wat is enthralling. Return to your hotel for a late breakfast. In the afternoon travel by tuk-tuk (motorized taxi) to the great remains of Angkor Thom; to the Bayon Temple, known for its dozens of serene stone faces of King Jayavarman VII; and then the Terrace of the Elephants. Tonight enjoy dinner at a fine local restaurant.
This morning drive eastward to the Mekong River, stopping for a picnic lunch along the way. Embark Jahan, your home for the next seven nights, at the town of Kampong Cham. In the late afternoon begin sailing along the Mekong, with welcome drinks and dinner aboard the ship.
Wat Hanchey, which you visit in the morning, is a large temple complex atop a hill overlooking an exceptionally pretty stretch of the Mekong, offering outstanding views. There is a lot to see here: an 8th-century temple from the pre-Angkor Chenla period, an Angkor-era temple, some fine contemporary temples, and a school. In the afternoon visit the community of Angkor Ban, with many old-style houses that are built on stilts — some of them are very tall. There’s a chance to walk through town and meet the friendly local residents. There is a fine pagoda along the riverside, and views of the fields across the river that runs into the Mekong.
From the town of Kampong Chhnang, drive a short way to a village where pottery is still made for sale to local residents by traditional methods. See how the pots are made and learn about the uses of the palm tree, complete with a taste of palm sugar if you’re so inclined. Then local boats take you along the Tonle Sap for a glimpse into a unique way of life: seeing the floating houses and shops that line the riverbanks here. This afternoon, visit Kampong Tralach, on the banks of the Tonle Sap River, a small village that relies on subsistence fishing and working the rice paddies. Take local oxcarts through the rice paddies, seeing the age-old rhythms of life in the Cambodian countryside.
Today is a full but rewarding day, spent exploring the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, situated at the confluence of the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap Rivers. Begin with a “cyclo” (bicycle taxi) ride to the magnificent Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, home and place of worship to Cambodia’s kings. The architecture, displays and furnishings are remarkable. Continue to the excellent National Museum, which has sculptures and many other artifacts from Khmer temples and other aspects of Cambodia’s history. After lunch at a local restaurant, visit an interesting local market, then venture out of town to the Choeung Ek “killing fields,” where many thousands of Cambodians were murdered by the Khmer Rouge and buried in mass graves. A moving memorial and museum are on the site. Late in the afternoon, visit the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, where innocent people were imprisoned, tortured, and many sent to their death. Exhibits show the determination of Cambodians that this should never happen again. Back aboard ship, an evening dance performance by children from a local orphanage shows how well the arts have been able to reestablish themselves.
As you sail along the Mekong, there’s a chance to see life along the river, with traditional ships, barges and freighters plying the waterway. Today also provides a chance to enjoy Jahan’s many amenities, to hear talks by your staff and for your chefs to show you how to prepare some of Cambodia and Vietnam’s signature dishes. Cross the border into Vietnam, for the second leg of your journey.
Friendly Chau Doc has one of Vietnam’s most interesting markets, with an astonishing variety of tropical fruits, vegetables and other goods. Continue to an island village with fish farms, and see fish being fed through trap doors in the floating platforms. Then see a village inhabited by people of the Cham ethnic minority, with a chance to visit the attractive mosque and to learn about a unique way of life.
From the hamlet of Sadec, take a local boat along a channel off the main river, with much activity to be seen along the way. Visit a small community where the villagers grow, process and fashion water hyacinths into floor mates and rattan baskets — a real slice of life in the Mekong Delta. At the town of Cai Be, see the floating market, where people in boats sell their wares. Each boat has an object attached to a pole that shows what is being sold. Then visit a rice “factory,” where varieties of rice-based candies are made. Rice husks are reused as fuel for the cooking process, and ash is sold to farmers to use as fertilizer. You can also visit a Chinese-style house built in 1838, and walk along local lanes to see loganberries being processed by the families who live there. On board Jahan, experience a gala farewell dinner.
Disembark Jahan in the morning in My Tho, and visit the great Vinh Trang pagoda, originally built in 1850. Then transfer to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam’s greatest commercial center, where you have panoramic views from a tower in the heart of town. See the grand exteriors of the 1911 Opera House, the former city hall dating from 1908 and the Notre Dame Cathedral, a red-brick edifice with twin spires; and visit the General Post Office, designed by Gustave Eiffel. Then check in to the Park Hyatt Siagon or InterContinental Asiana Saigon, located in the heart of the city. In the late afternoon, meet with a local expert on Vietnam’s modern history. This evening, gather at an excellent local restaurant for dinner.
In the morning see some of Saigon’s historic landmarks, which include a rich selection of fine colonial buildings. Continue to the Reunification Palace, headquarters of the South Vietnamese Government during the Vietnam War. The breaching of the gates by North Vietnamese tanks symbolically marked the war’s end. If you wish, end at the War Remnants Museum, which gives a strong view of the war through the eyes of the Vietnamese. The afternoon is free, or if you wish you can visit the Cu Chi tunnels, part of a huge network of tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the war. Rooms are reserved until departure, and in the evening transfer to the airport for flights home.