For an introduction to the Mekong River in true Aqua Expeditions style, we recommend our three-night Mekong River Discovery Cruise between Phnom Penh, Cambodia and either Siem Reap, Cambodia or Saigon in Vietnam.
Setting off from the modern marvels and colonial charms of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, travel among the timeless floating villages along the Mekong River, receiving blessings en route from Buddhist monks in their remote sanctuaries.
Guests who journey with us downriver within Cambodia will visit the great Tonle Sap Lake outside Siem Reap, a refuge for rare water birds, while our upriver cross border adventure captures the romance of Indochine en route into Vietnam’s bustling metropolis of Saigon.
Up River Itinerary
PHNOM PENH TO SIEM REAP: HIGH WATER
Tuesday: Afternoon arrival at Phnom Penh Meeting Point
Your guides greet you and our porters collect your luggage for delivery to your suite. Board our air-conditioned bus for the short ride to the pier where we meet the Aqua Mekong.
Welcome to the laid back luxury of the Aqua Mekong. Settle into your elegantly appointed, river facing suite as the vessel begins to cruise and thus begins one of life’s most memorable and photogenic adventures. Ascend to the Observation Deck if you wish, to sip sundowners with our 7-Night guests against the backdrop of Phnom Penh’s skyline.
Join us in the evening for a performance by renowned Cambodian apsara dancers who continue an ancient tradition venerated on the intricately carved walls at Angkor Wat.
Wednesday: TONLE SAP RIVER - KOH CHEN - KAMPONG CHNANG
This morning, we embark by skiff to visit Koh Chen, or ‘Chinese Island’ in Khmer. The inhabitants of this riverside village are renowned throughout the region as silver and coppersmiths. They purchase the precious metals in Phnom Penh and return here to make ornamental items such as the cups, boxes and delicately engraved tropical fruits used in Buddhist ceremonies and marriage blessings. Each family member carries out an aspect of these ancient methods and the intricate, beautiful workmanship belies its humble origins. Purchase whatever catches your eye before we continue on to the pagoda. If the monks are in residence, we will experience an authentic Buddhist blessing ceremony.
Later in the day, we continue exploring Khmer riverside life in the floating village of Kampong Chhnang, meaning Port of Pottery. Archaeological findings here link this now sleepy area as far back as the Dvaravati kingdom, dating to the 6th through 11th centuries when Kampong Chhnang was an important coastal stop on the trade route linking China and India. More recently, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen was born in this province. Colorful shrines with gilded Buddhas, villagers sporting conical hats more often associated with Vietnam and simple houses on bamboo stilts are among today’s striking sights along the waterfront.
Thursday: KAMPONG CHNANG - CHNOK TRU - TONLE SAP LAKE
We continue exploring remote communities around the Tonle Sap River, an ecological hot spot designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1997. Today we travel by skiff to the village of Chnok Tru, as photogenic as it is remote and thus completely self-sufficient.
Here we “slide” into an ice factory, the importance of which will be obvious after a few days in Southeast Asia. As local factory workers explain how they make and use the ice for fish preservation, our expert guides translate and get answers to your questions about this livelihood so different from ours. Also be on the lookout in this lake village for floating schools, riverside churches and pagoda, and even the karaoke bar and police station. Literally everything and everyone in Chnok Tru travels by small boat through the intricate network of canals crisscrossing this tiny town.
Onboard the Aqua Mekong, we cruise onward to the remote fishing village of Moat Kla. We climb back into the skiffs and head for the shore where our expert guides act as translators, allowing you to pose questions to the people of Moat Kla about their lives.
You may be surprised to see that although most communities on the Tonle Sap are quite isolated, even Moat Kla has floating ‘convenience’ stores stocked with fishing tackle, cooking utensils, rice, beer, candy, fruits and vegetables. Along the water, there are also small merchants like egg vendors, women selling bamboo stalks stuffed with sticky rice and even divers hired to search for lost objects.
Moat Kla is the last village in Siem Reap Province on the southeastern end of the lake and only accessible by water. The community is largely of Vietnamese descent, owing to its settlement long before the nuances of international borders.
Aqua Expeditions has made special arrangements for our guests to attend the blessing ceremony conducted at Moat Kla’s Buddhist temple, home to only four monks.
Friday: TONLE SAP LAKE - SIEM REAP - CAMBODIA
This may be our last day but the adventure is far from over as we head off by skiff after breakfast into the 22,000-hectare Prek Toal Core Bird Reserve on Tonle Sap Lake, one of the largest freshwater bodies in Asia and the last refuge in Southeast Asia for large waterbirds like the spot-billed pelicans, milky stork, black-headed ibis and the elusive masked finfoot. Along the way, we visit floating houses and fish farms, and learn about sustainable development initiatives like Saray, a cooperative of women who weave water hyacinth into 100% organic mats and home accessories for some of Southeast Asia’s finest hotels. Visitors like us are invited to test our knotting skills, usually to the amusement of the resident experts.
We return to the Aqua Mekong to pack up then disembark for the road journey to Siem Reap
Note: All itineraries are subject to change, due to weather and other conditions. All times indicated are approximate, and are also subject to change.