Cruising the Mekong River in luxury

There’s something romantic about the great rivers of the world.  Perhaps it is because rivers teem with human life, and the fact that rivers are sometimes wild and untamed, and in other places filled with all the wonderful accoutrements of civilisation.  It’s the fact that rivers are ever changing which adds to their fascination.

One of the world’s great rivers, undoubtedly, is the Mekong; that great swathe of water which rises in the Himalayas before wending its way to escape the land at the South China Sea.  The fact that, for many years, many of the countries in South East Asia were closed to foreigners has only highlighted the mystery associated with the Mekong.  Now the Mekong is there to be sailed, and the good folk at Trails of Indochina have ensured that you can sail the Mekong in absolute luxury.

The Jayavarman is a charming replica of the famous 1930s cruise liner “Normandie”.  Named after a much revered Cambodian Buddhist King, The Jayavarman marries avant-garde French colonial design with enchanting Indochine architecture to perfection and is the first boutique-style luxury cruiser to play the waters of the Mekong.

Carrying up to 65 guests and 40 crew, accommodation consists of 2 signature staterooms, 11 deluxe staterooms and 14 superior staterooms, each fitted out in French colonial style with Khmer artefacts.

The luxury is important, but it is the cruise itself that will always remain in the memory.  A typical itinerary begins in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in Vietnam and ends at Siem Reap in Cambodia, close to the fabulous Angkor Wat Temples, or, of course, vice versa.  The first 70 kilometres from HCMC are by coach as the ship is docked at the nearest river port, My Tho.    

Sailing upriver, the first night is spent moored midstream just off the town of Cai Be, for a visit to its boisterous and overwhelmingly interesting floating market the next morning.  The cruise continues to Sa Dec where passengers disembark to be carried by traditional sampan to explore the man-made canals.

The next day The Jayavarman arrives as the last Vietnamese port on the trip, the river town of Chau Doc, where there are visits to markets, fish farms and floating villages.  Later, the cruise continues over the border to Cambodia.

The ship stops at Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital which still has wide boulevardes and charming buildings from the French Colonial era which mix exquisitely with the golden palace and temples.  There is a sombre visit to the Genocide Museum to witness a sad memorial to the victims of the despotic Pol Pot and his villainous regime.

Phnom Penh is one of my favourite cities in Asia, and it still retains much of its colonial charm.  The Cambodians are lovely people, and you can’t help but wonder as you mingle with them how they retain such grace after the horror that they lived through.

The cruise continues to Kampong Chan and a visit to the traditional village of Angkor Ban where there is no sign of modernity.  The Jayavarman soon enters Tonle Sap, one of Asia’s great disappearing bodies of water.  Tonle Sap is a giant lake which doubles in size during the wet seasons, and the itinerary can change here depending on whether or not the water is high or low.  When the water is high it is Asia’s largest lake.

The ship finally ends it voyage at the town of Siem Reap, gateway to the Angkor Wat complexes, and itself worthy of a few days stay to explore what was once the world’s largest city.

The cruise and the ship offers romance, adventure, luxury and, occasionally, bewilderment.  If you ever have the urge to recreate the charm of 19th and early 20th century lavish cruising, The Jayavarman will probably surpass your wildest expectations.

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