Monday, May 26, 2014

CRUISING DOWN THE MEKONG RIVER

Erland Stubmo cruised down the Mekong River on The Jahan. He spent a week in this floating boutique hotel, voyaging from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap, enjoying comfort onboard as well as fascinating excursions off the beaten track...


The Jahan
Ho Chi Minh City

The adventure started with some nights in Ho Chi Minh City. Here we stayed at the Renaissance Hotel, which has a great central location by the river, one hour's drive from the departure dock. Select customers could instead choose to stay at our recommended hotel, the opulent Park Hyatt in Lam Son Square steps from the Opera House.

This is a fascinating area of Ho Chi Minh city, with appealing French colonial buildings. The Opera House, the Central Post office and Notre Dame Cathedral are all located close to each other and you almost feel you are in Europe because of the architecture. For example, the post office is designed by Gustav Eiffel.

We also visited the museum of traditional medicine, which was interesting. There are a few Chinese temples to visit; and the War Remnant Museum is indeed worth seeing, giving considerable detail about the Vietnam War.

The Jahan (Heritage Line)

The Jahan is a beautiful boat with an Indian colonial style. The cabins are really spacious, all with large bathrooms and a balcony with table and chairs. The cabins felt like a nice hotel room actually.

Our cabin

Our balcony
The restaurant is a great place to be, and the boat has a pleasant roof-top bar, perfect for enjoying the sunset. On the same level there is also a pool and a sundeck.

Rooftop bar - cocktails in the sunset

Soaking in the sun, and cooling off in the pool

Although The Jahan is a small boat most of the excursions are made in even smaller boats, making it possible to enter the narrow arms of the Mekong river. We really got close to the people who live their lives by the river and we got the chance to visit villages and local markets completely without other tourists.

While docking in Pnomh Penh the most important excursion is to the famous Genocide Museum and the nearby Killing Field. It’s a depressing and emotional experience and a lot of people turn around and leave the museum. The presentation is not censored and knowing that this is recent history makes it even stronger (for those who don’t know, Khmer Rouge killed around 1 million people in the 1970s).

The tour includes two excursions every day to different villages, temples, fish-farms, museums, local schools, etc.

Bamboo bridge Phnom Penh

Typical life along the Mekong delta

It is possible to cruise the other way around also, i.e. starting in Siem Reap and ending in Ho Chi Minh, or you can do half of the cruise, e.g. Ho Chi Minh to Pnomh Penh. Please note that when the water level is low, normally starting end of January, the boat cannot cross Inle Lake to Siem Reap and there will instead be a 4-hour bus ride from Prek K’dam. (that’s what we had to do ).

Very friendly staff on board and knowledgeable guides. A great trip.

Angkor Wat

The hotels we most recommend in the area of Angkor are La Residence d’Angkor and Amansara. Amansara is near the entrance to Angkor and is a retreat with only 24 suites, half of which have private pools. It is all-inclusive including 2 meals/day, drinks and private temple tours. La Residence d'Ankor is a Belmond property overlooking the  river with 62 rooms & suites. Both hotels feature spas, pools.

It was my second time at Angkor Wat and it was equally amazing this time. The temples are truly a special experience. It’s fantastic to be there at sunrise, around 05:00 in the morning, though you will be there together with thousands of others…..

Sunrise over Angkor Wat
See our website for more on hotels in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, as well as suggestions for itineraries.

Note: Erland Stubmo is a senior travel consultant in the Select Collection Oslo office. Erland is an inveterate traveller who always has his camera handy, with beautiful results.

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