Vietnam & Cambodia: Mekong Delta Explorer
Vietnam and Cambodia go hand in hand as holiday destinations and offer a fantastic variation of experiences. On this two-week trip we've included the buzz of Ho Chi Minh City life, the gentle pace of life on the Mekong Delta, the history of Phnom Penh and finally the beautiful temple architecture of Siem Reap.
Itinerary at a Glance:
- Whizz around the streets of Saigon in search of the best street eats on the back of vintage Vespas
- Sip cocktails on the deck of your luxury cruise boat as it sails up the Mekong Delta
- Discover the undiscovered countryside around Siem Reap as well as the stunning temples of the Angkor complex
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When To Travel
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Day 1: Arrive and Settle in
When you land into Vietnam's capital of culture, Ho Chi Minh City, you'll be met by a driver at the airport and driven to your hotel in the centre of town. The journey should take around 20 minutes.
The rest of the day we have left free for you to settle into your hotel, the city and the time zone. Perhaps take a stroll through town to find a place for lunch. We absolutely love Vietnamese food and are certain it'll become a highlight of your trip so would be happy to recommend and book one of our favourite restaurants for your first night.
Day 2: Explore Ho Chi Minh
By now fully rested, set off from your hotel after breakfast for a half day city tour of Ho Chi Minh City, still called Saigon by many locals. This dynamic city has a unique life of its own and with one of our local guides you'll really get under the skin of what makes it so special.
The tour starts with a visit to the city's bustling Chinatown (Cholon) and a stop at Thien Hau Temple. From the temple take a short drive to the lively Binh Tay Market to barter for some goodies or simply appreciate the surrounding sounds and smells. Your guide will then take you to visit the former Presidential Palace, and from here you can walk to visit the major sights of colonial Ho Chi Minh City. These include the red-brick Catholic cathedral of Notre-Dame, the 19th century Post Office and the Hotel de Ville or City Hall, all of which are classic examples of French colonial architecture.
With a final stop at the Opera House there should be just enough time for a quick stop at Fanny's ice cream parlour before you are dropped off back at your hotel in time to freshen up before dinner.
Day 3: Active Ho Chi Minh
This morning begins with a short drive to the banks of the Saigon River. Here you'll board a private speed boat for a scenic cruise to the Cu Chi tunnels. Gaze upon the modern skyline of the city as the boat cruises across the water, and then watch as the scenery changes, passing charming riverside villages and colourful rural landscapes.
After 90 minutes you'll arrive at Cu Chi and disembark to explore the incredible network of 124 miles of underground tunnels. Crawl underground and get a better sense for what life was like living and fighting in the labyrinth of caves and tunnels. Eventually emerging from them, return to the boat and relax while cruising back to the heart of Ho Chi Minh City.
Come evening we've arranged for you to experience the nightlife and street food scene of Ho Chi Minh from the back of a vintage Vespa scooter - this is one of our favourite excursions! As the city comes alive and people begin to congregate outside you'll whizz through the city stopping at a traditional bia hoi (food stall) for dinner and drinks, then move on to a Vietnamese-style coffee shop for more drinks and live music by candlelight, and finally to a local bar, when you can opt to travel back to your hotel by Vespa, or continue on your night out alone.
Day 4: To the Delta
Bid farewell to Ho Chi Minh this morning as you are picked up from your hotel after breakfast. You'll be transferred to the pickup point of My Tho which is about an hour and a half south, on the banks of the Mekong Delta.
Boarding your cruise in time for lunch and a welcome drink on deck, you'll then set sail west towards your eventual destination in Cambodia. For now though, simply sit back and enjoy the views of the bustling rural life along the river banks and the peace and quiet on board your luxurious ship on the water.
Day 5: To Sa Dec
Waking up on the water you'll start the day with breakfast on the deck, before disembarking onto a smaller boat to visit Cai Be floating market, which is found along the canals and backwaters near your mooring point.
After lunch you'll continue sailing onto Sa Dec, via Vinh Long Province. Sa Dec is often referred to as Little Venice due to the bustling life that can be found along the canals that make up the markets here. Aside from soaking up the local life you'll also be able to visit the ancient house of Mr Huyn Thuy Le, the lover of Marguerite Duras, a famous French novelist whose book was immortalised in the film L'Indochine.
Dinner will then be served on board and you'll have plenty of time to relax and enjoy the sunset and then the twinkling night sky.
Day 6: To Chau Doc
Today you'll continue on your journey onto Chau Doc, a colonial town with a very French atmosphere. Since the boat will dock right in the centre of town you have the option to get off board with a guide or to depart separately and explore on your own.
If you head out with the guide you'll visit a Muslim Cham tribal village and a catfish farm - a traditional fishing community made up of Cham houseboats. If you are exploring independently, we suggest borrowing bikes from the boat, cycling through the local market and stopping at the Vietnamese Catholic Church.
Afterwards, enjoy a quick pit stop at The Victoria Hotel for a drink overlooking the river, and then head back to the boat in time for lunch and your cast off to the Cambodian border. The crew on board your boat will have taken your passports and will ensure the border crossing formalities all go smoothly.
Day 7: To Phnom Penh
This morning you'll finish your Mekong cruise as you sail into Phnom Pen, past the Royal Palace and bustling corniche - a beautiful way to see these two iconic sights and a great arrival into Cambodia.
Get off board after breakfast and meet a driver who will take you to your hotel for the next two nights. Then, with the bags dropped, start your introduction to Cambodia with a bang as you meet a guide and embark on a city tour. You'll start the day at Wat Phnom Temple, the founding place of the city, and then move onto the Royal Palace. The palace dates back to 1866 and houses several gold, silver and crystal Buddhas, and the Silver Pagoda, named for the 5000 silver tiles that cover its floors. Finally, you'll visit the National Museum, which houses the world's largest collection of ancient Khmer artistic, archaeological and religious artefacts from the 4th to the 13th centuries.
After this busy day of sightseeing, head back to your hotel for dinner and then get an early night.
Day 8: Phnom Penh Historic Tour
After breakfast this morning you'll have a sombre but educational and culturally important morning learning about the brutal reality of the Cambodian genocide at the hands of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge party in the late 1970s.
The tour starts with the 'killing fields', a mass grave site where your guide will explain that after the genocide ended Cambodia had a civil war that lasted almost 20 years, and so mass graves like this one can be found all over the country. Thankfully Cambodia is now finally at peace and in the process of recovery, but these sites remain an important reminder of the horrors suffered. After the killing fields you will visit the infamous Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This is a former high school that the Khmer Rouge converted to an interrogation centre and prison. More than 17,000 people were tortured there before being murdered at the killing fields and nearly 2 million people died from execution, starvation, or disease during the terror.
Day 9: To Siem Reap
This morning you'll head away from Phnom Penh and north to Siem Reap. To get there you'll make the transfer to the airport and the take a short domestic flight. At the other end you'll be met by a driver and whisked to your hotel in the centre of town.
After a relatively non-stop trip so far, and an early start tomorrow, we suggest you take today nice and easy, perhaps going for a wander around town and then spending the afternoon by the hotel pool.
Day 10: Angkor Wat
Today's tour starts at pre-dawn to witness the breath-taking view of the sun emerging from behind the iconic lotus towers of Angkor Wat.
Constructed over a period of 30 years in the early 12th century, the Buddhist monument of Angkor Wat is the largest religious complex in the world. After watching the sun come up and the light start to reflect in the lily pad adorned moat, head away from Angkor Wat before the crowds arrive and head instead to Ta Prohm, the temple made famous in the Tomb Raider films. Take a long leisurely stroll through the temple grounds here and then stop for a light breakfast in this tranquil setting.
Finally, end the morning by heading back to Angkor Wat now that the crowds have dispersed as much as they ever will. Wander around the well preserved central complex and follow the sequences of bas-reliefs (sculptures) depicting scenes from Hindu mythology and the ancient empire. As you take in the beautiful detail present in the Khmer art and architecture step back to admire the scale of the complex too - this really is one of the most stunning buildings in the world.
Return to Siem Reap for lunch and a wander around the many artisanal shops before heading back to your hotel for a relaxing afternoon.
Day 11: Rural Siem Reap
Beyond the temples of Angkor lies a wealth of countryside activity and contemporary Khmer culture, just waiting to be explored.
Living and working in Siem Reap the guides we work with have discovered beautiful and interesting places that are missed by the masses. Today your guide will lead you between rice paddies, through woodland and across back gardens. You'll travel on foot, by ox-cart and by boat to experience the very best of the countryside. Meeting families and seeking a blessing from some monks, you'll also get a first-hand insight into the life of the locals.
The tour finale involves a traditional dinner in a villa surrounded by rice paddies and overlooking the Western Baray reservoir. As you sip on a sunset drink and the chef prepares your meal, enjoy the unspoilt views and soothing traditional Khmer music.
Day 12: Hiking in Siem Reap
On the final day of your trip head back out of the city to the Angkor Archaeological Park, where you'll visit a number of secluded temples on a half day hike.
The walk begins by bypassing the moat surrounding Angkor Thom, where you'll follow the walls in the shade of tall dipterocarp trees to reach Prasat Prei temple. This undiscovered little temple consists of a single tower and a fire shrine, all enclosed by a wall and a moat.
After a short stop here you'll then continue to the forest surrounding Prasat Banteay Thom temple. In the 13th century Banteay Thom would have rivalled many of the temples in the main Angkor complex but time and looters searching for treasure have taken their toll on the carvings. However, the mystical nature of the secluded location, which is away from any roads, still makes this a really special temple to explore.
Back at the hotel after lunch, enjoy your final afternoon at leisure.
Day 13: Home Time
Alas the time has come to head home. Meet your driver in reception and head to the airport where you'll catch a flight home.
Frances and Rosie are our experts for this itinerary and as seasoned travellers they have the inside track on the most memorable adventures.