Day 1 Arrive Saigon
Transfer to your downtown hotel – The Duxton.
Day 2 Saigon (B)
Saigon is the country’s commercial centre and, with over nine million inhabitants and five million motorbikes, a city that never sleeps. Despite the well-documented hustle and bustle, Saigon retains its connections with the past. A walking tour to admire Saigon’s historic landmarks is a must. Transfer to Dong Khoi street., or Rue Catinat as it was known in the time of the French occupation, to discover some of the beautiful French colonial buildings built in the late 19th and early 20th century. Appreciate the splendidly restored exteriors of the Opera House and the former Hotel de Ville which are still two of the finest buildings in Saigon. Wander up to the Notre Dame Cathedral, a red brick edifice with twin spires based on the original construction from Paris. (It is only possible to visit inside when no service is being performed) Then head across the square to the Central Post Office, designed by the French architect, Gustav Eiffel, before he had risen to fame for the Eiffel Tower. The former Presidential Palace, the headquarters of the Saigon Government during the American war, is a short drive away and reveals the history of Saigon during its turbulent recent past. Head out of the city centre on a short 6km drive to District 5 to visit Thien Hau temple, built by the Cantonese congregation in the early 19th century to honour the Goddess of the Sea. The temple’s ornate interior courtyard is always full of life as worshippers from the local Chinese community come to offer their prayers. Take time to make a wish, write it on a small card and attach it to one of the incense coils in the local custom. Continue your visit to FITO (closed on Monday), the first museum of traditional medicine in Vietnam, offering an insight into how traditional medicine was used in the past. Return to your hotel.
Day 3 Saigon (BL)
Full day sightseeing. Start early in the morning with a two hour drive northwest of Saigon to the Cu Chi tunnels. The tunnel complex was initially started in 1948 to protect the Viet Cong guerrillas from the French air and ground sweeps. The tunnels also served as communication routes, storage facilities for food and weapon caches as well as hospitals and living quarters for guerrilla fighters throughout the American war. A visit to the underground villages will provide a better understanding of the tunnels’ history, the hardship of life underground and the Vietnamese resilience during combat. Continue your journey with 1,5 hour drive the Cao Dai Great Temple. Indigenous to Vietnam and founded in the early 20th century, Cao Dai is a fusion of the best from Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, with Christianity and Islam thrown in for good measure. The elaborate temple’s architecture reflects the combination of religions. Visitors are welcomed inside the temple to observe the colourful service at midday. There is a viewing balcony which affords excellent views and photography is permitted. A Vietnamese lunch is served at a simple, local restaurant. Transfer back to Saigon in the late afternoon.
Day 4 Saigon- My Tho (BD)
You embark the Toum Tiou in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) mid afternoon and set sail by late afternoon. As you head into the Mekong Delta towards My Tho you will enjoy the first of many glorious sunsets.
Day 5 My Tho - Cai Be - Vinh Long (BLD)
An early rise to catch the sun rising over the still waters and then you set sail navigating the intricate canals of Cho Gao. Before long My Tho comes into view and the Toum Tiou drops anchor close to Thoi Son Island. My Tho is a quiet, prosperous city of about 100,000 inhabitants, famous for its many fruit orchards, gardens and the huge rice fields that surround it. The surrounding countryside is home to some of the most luxuriant gardens in Vietnam, with their coconut palms, banana and mango trees. Local boats come alongside the Toum Tiou to transfer you to the mainland. Here you will take a short trip to Vinh Trang Pagoda and discover My Tho market. Mid morning the Toum Tiou departs and you cruise to Cai Be. Here once again local boats will pick you up and take you on a tour of the fascinating Cai Be Floating Market. Afterwards you continue to Vinh Long, en route passing brick and pottery factories as well as witnessing local life which is organized on the water’s edge, houses on stilts, hawkers in boats, hundreds of small boats crisscrossing the canals, and the ever present smiles on Vietnamese faces. After returning to the Toum Tiou you sail to Sa Dec where she drops anchor and you spend the night.
Day 6 Sa Dec - Chau Doc (BLD)
After breakfast there is a short tour of the local area including visiting a local primary school and a pagoda. You will have the opportunity to stroll around Sa Dec market, situated on the banks of the Mekong. This interesting ‘city’ only has 30,000 inhabitants and is fascinating in its unspoiled authenticity undisturbed by tourism. It provides a glimpse of the delta where a few French colonial houses still remain, including the ‘Chinaman's House’, from Duras' novel ‘The Lover’ (which was also made in to a movie). The afternoon is spent leisurely cruising through the Delta towards Chau Doc. After arrival local boats will take you to visit fish farms as well as a local Cham minority village. If time allows you will also get to experience the sunset from the top of Sam Mountain where its famous Buddhist sanctuaries offer an unobstructed view over the mosaic of glistening rice paddies stretching off into distant Cambodia. This evening you enjoy dinner at the Victoria Chau Doc Hotel as well as being able to use its swimming pool and bar.
Day 7 Chau Doc - Border Crossing - Phnom Penh (BLD)
The Toum Tiou sets sail early this morning and heads to Vinh Xuong, the Vietnamese / Cambodian border. After completing the customs formalities the Toum Tiou heads into Cambodian waters and drops anchor at Koh Dek Chau island which allows a fascinating, close-up look at daily rural life in Cambodia. On the fringes of civilization, the 600 people who live on Koh Dek Chau will receive your visit with some surprise and the excited children will escort you along your way. You will wander through the village that occupies the full length of the island, walking along a trail shaded by date palms. Late afternoon you set sail for Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, arriving in time for dinner.
Day 8 Phnom Penh (BLD)
This morning you will learn about the dark side of Cambodia - its more recent turbulent and harrowing history. Initially you visit the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (also known as S21), ironically a former school, located in a quiet Phnom Penh suburb, this was the infamous Khmer Rouge prison / torture centre. Once you have gained an initial insight into the brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime you will be driven 15km from Phnom Penh to visit the ‘Killing Fields’. This is where Toul Sleng prisoners were forcibly marched and then executed; it is now a memorial site located in a beautiful tranquil setting. You will return to Phnom Penh for lunch at a local restaurant, after which the rest of the day is free at your leisure to further explore this charming city. This evening, on-board dinner is a treat as you are mesmerized by a hypnotic Apsara dance.
Day 9 Phnom Penh – Kompong Tralach (BLD)
This morning you visit the terracotta red National Museum which offers a charming setting for a comprehensive collection of Khmer artifacts, and then move on to the nearby Royal Palace, on the banks of the mighty Mekong river. Inside the Palace walls you will be marvel at the Throne Hall, the Chan Chaya Pavilion, and the King’s residential quarters. You will also see the Silver Pagoda, so named as it’s floor is made up of over 4,000 solid silver ingots! At noon the Toum Tiou leaves Phnom Penh for Kompong Tralach and its wonderful vihara belonging to Wat Kompong Tralach Leu pagoda. To reach it involves a stroll through Kompong Tralach Krom village then crossing some gorgeous stretches of emerald rice paddy as you leave the river behind. The Vihara dates back to the early 19th century. It was most probably built on an older site, as indicated by the laterite foundations, and is home to some outstanding mural paintings. These, however, are starting to suffer from weathering. Standing by itself in the middle of rice fields, it is a modest pagoda that receives very few visitors. As the sun sets you return to the Toum Tiou, sail a short distance, and then drop anchor for the night.
Day 10 Kompong Chhnang - Kompong Luong (BLD)
The Toum Tiou sets sail in the early morning and soon arrives in the town of Kompong Chhnang, which is one of the largest fishing ports on the Tonle Sap. Although fish farming is widely practiced in the area, Kompong Chhnang is better known for its pottery and earthenware which has remained unchanged in style for centuries, and which is produced in sufficient quantities to supply the entire country. And not to be overlooked are the products of the Thnot tree (the sugar palm – a real national symbol) that abounds in the area, such as the mellow tasting, caramel-colored sugar cake and the potentially potent sugar palm wine. After some sightseeing the Toum Tiou continues to Kompong Luong, where local boats will come alongside and sail you around this fascinating, remote, completely self-sufficient, floating town. Here you will see a floating school, floating ice-making factories, and floating pagodas, service stations, pigsties, stores, boat and television repair shops, video clubs, karaoke bars, a police station... everything is floating on the water. All trades are represented and everybody from children to grandparents travel by boat through the network of canals that criss-cross this little town. This evening the Toum Tiou drops anchor amidst the enchanting ‘flooded forest’. This evening, your last aboard the Toum Tiou, you will enjoy cocktails and the Captain’s farewell dinner.
(N.B. During the low water season Feb – June instead of sailing to Kompong Luong the Toum Tiou sails you to Chnok Tru, where local boats take you around the biggest floating market on the Tonle Sap. This evening the Toum Tiou drops anchor close to Chnok Tru).
Day 11 Kompong Luong - Siem Reap (B)
This morning you sail across the Tonle Sap lake passing more floating villages before reaching Siem Reap Port at around 11:00am, disembarking and transfer to your local hotel, Prince D’Angkor.
(N.B. During the low water season Feb – June instead of sailing on the Toum Tiou to Siem Reap you will be transferred by speedboat).
Day 12 Siem Reap (BL)
A full day of sightseeing. Wind your way to visit Angkor Thom with the temple of Bayon. The royal city itself covers four square miles and is located in the city's geographic centre. Its 50-tower temple is an awesome sight. At first glance it seems a shapeless mass of stone, but further scrutiny reveals a face, and then another and another until suddenly you are engulfed by the silent, heavy, enigmatic and silent gaze through half-closed eyes, staring out from a primitive and remote time. Continue your exploration with a visit to the picturesque Ta Prohm that had nearly disappeared into the jungle and remains overgrown, an oddly haunting and exotic scene. The magnificent roots of a tree, pushing between the huge stone blocks of the temple in a sort of embrace, emphasizing the legend of a ‘hidden city'. This afternoon you will visit the intricately carved Khmer ruins at Angkor Wat- one of the world's most impressive ruins. The temple still owns hundreds of fine carvings of Apsaras and the scenic from Hindu mythology. The Khmer civilization constructed the temple between the 9th and 13th centuries.
Day 13 Depart Siem Reap (B)
Transfer to the airport for your onward flight. B