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A river route through history and two cultures
Rivers are the heart and soul of countries and cultures, a pulsating lifeline. And no river teems with more life than the mighty Mekong, which winds its way through the lush lowlands of Cambodia and Vietnam. Embark on a journey to discover the ways of life along the river, where traditions are deeply respected even as modern influences grow. Explore sublime temples at Angkor in the light of early dawn. Walk through the jungle-choked temples at Ta Prohm, and gaze into the stone faces carved into Bayon temple. Experience the bustle and unique city life of Saigon and Phnom Penh.
(1) Vietnam & Cambodia aboard The Jahan Itineraries
Experience two countries with turbulent 20th-century histories that are rapidly blossoming. Stroll sublime temples, shop colorful markets, and, in the cities of Saigon and Phnom Penh, visit important museums. Learn the way of life in small villages along the river. Visit the temple Ta Prohm, where the jungle has been allowed to slowly engulf the site, giving you an idea of what archaeologists encountered when their work began. And, at the day’s end, relax on your private balcony aboard the luxurious riverboat The Jahan and watch life along this great river.
Traveling on our Vietnam and Cambodia riverboat along the Mekong River, with its beautiful sites and deep cultural experiences, will give you a spiritual lift. To compound this healthful effect, we add the luxury of comfort to the privilege of being on our Vietnam and Cambodia expedition—with a quality of shipboard life and a philosophy of wellness designed to relax and rejuvenate body, mind, and spirit.
See, do, and learn more by going with engaging experts who have been exploring this region for decades. Go with an expedition leader, naturalists, historians, and more.
Sail with a veteran expedition leader—the orchestrator of your experience. Many have advanced degrees and have conducted research or taught for years. They have achieved expedition leader status because they possess the skills, the experience, and the depth of knowledge necessary to continually craft the best expedition possible for our guests.
Our captain’s river-navigation skill is a voyage hallmark. The captain, who is in constant communication with the expedition leader, navigates toward one bank or the other, giving you a view of life along the river. Since we're frequently underway during the golden hour of light for photography, our captain notifies the expedition leader of upcoming photo ops in plenty of time for you to get your camera and get the shot.
Our naturalists who are passionate about the geographies they explore (and return to regularly), illuminate each facet through their enthusiasm and knowledge. Our guests consistently cite the expertise and engaging company of our staff as key reasons to repeatedly travel with us.
One cannot understand the Khmer Rouge tragedy, the Vietnam War, or even the influence of China today without putting it in the context of French Indochina and the role of the West since the early 19th century. Our historian is the key to understanding the complexity of the past and the future outlook.
The ship staff was always very attentive and greeted you by name. Ship staff was always polite and helpful. The Jahan is a beautiful ship. The variety of modes of travel and the variety of excursions were obviously well planned out. I came away from the trip with a greater understanding of Cambodia and Vietnam.
Making a Difference
Along with a group of our passionate guests, Expedition Leader Tom O’Brien launched a grassroots project to build a library in one of the Cambodian villages we regularly visit. The Kampong Tralach English Language Library has since been constructed, offering hundreds of local people classes and open resources for learning English language skills.
As the Jahan dropped anchor near the small town of Sa Dec in the Vietnam Delta, merchants crisscrossed the early waters while fishers pulled up nets and traders loaded rice and bran to make fish food, fuel, and rice for export to the rest of the world. After breakfast, guests boarded sampans to visit the island of Binh Thanh. We disembarked at a dock that is also used by local ferries to transport locals to and from the island to mainland. This island is known for fruit, reed mats, and rice candies. The shoreline is dotted with mango, jackfruit, and papaya, and while the men are out fishing, the women tend to the families and weave reed mats that are sold in local markets. Locals invited guests to visit their houses, and they demonstrated how the mats are woven and finished. Afterward, we stopped at a local temple to meet village elders. They shared remarkable stories of survival and rebirth during and after the Vietnam War. Returning to the Jahan , guests learned from presentations. Linda Burback, photo instructor and naturalist, spoke on the use of Seek, a plant and animal identification app. Then we had the final recap of the voyage and a disembarkation briefing. Lunch was served, and Linda began collecting photographs for the Guest Slideshow. After lunch, guests went on their final excursion to visit Cai Be, a fruit and vegetable hub of the Mekong Delta. The sampans toured the busy channels before docking at a local rice candy shop. Here we saw how rice paper is made, in addition to rice popcorn, rice wine, coconut candy, and rice noodle treats. There was something for everyone in the souvenir shop where guests shopped on their last day in the Delta. The evening finished with a farewell dinner, presentations by the crew, and dancing on the sun deck. This was all followed by the world premiere of the Guest Slideshow. It was a wonderful finale to a memorable voyage down the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers through Cambodia and Vietnam.
We have traveled from Cambodia to Vietnam, using the Jahan as our vessel of exploration, but this morning, we added yet another vehicle. Chau Doc has hybridized the cyclo into their own version of transport, a trishaw. Everyone boarded their own trishaw and bicycled around the downtown area with our destination being a local market. Pans, tanks, trays, and baskets were filled with live fish, prawns, dried fish, pounded seasoned fish, fish paste, and all manner of familiar and not so familiar vegetables. A floating fish farm was next on our docket with a new mode of transport: a sampan. Each day of our journey as we explore the diverse sights, sounds, and flavors of Cambodia and Vietnam comes with a unique and innovative vehicle of exploration as well.
Our day aboard the Jahan started at dawn with a morning photography excursion around the city of Phnom Penh. We visited Wat Ounalom and discovered large fruit bats, or “flying foxes,” near Wat Phnom. Guests returned to the ship for Tai Chi and breakfast before we pulled anchor and crossed the confluence of the “four rivers” of the Tonle Sap and the Mekong. A special guest, Jean Michel Fillippi, gave a spirited lecture on modern Cambodian history before, during, and after the Khmer Rouge, and during the Vietnam War. Guests peppered the professor with questions, extending this most popular talk right up until lunchtime. After lunch, while the Jahan was clearing customs and immigration for Cambodia and Vietnam, David Brotherson, culture specialist, gave a highly informative lecture on the historical and cultural differences between Cambodia and Vietnam. As the Jahan approached the Tan Chau Canal, tea and a cooking class were offered to guests. The Jahan entered the Tan Chau Canal, linking the Mekong and Bassac Rivers. Transiting the Tan Chau Canal offers a fascinating look into the Vietnam Delta. The canal is teeming with fish and rice processing factories. Boats of all sizes carry rice, husks, fish, sediment, and people. It is a drastic change in tempo from the quiet Cambodian countryside to a bustling, complex array of living and highly functional waterways. At sunset, the Jahan reached its destination for the evening. We docked at Chau Doc, and guests dined and enjoyed a screening of “Good Morning Vietnam.”
After two days exploring the rhythms of rural life along the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers, this morning we approached the Cambodian capital in the cool morning air. Legend holds that Phnom Penh was founded in the 14th century, near where the eponymous Lady Penh recovered sacred statues, one of Buddha and the other of Vishnu. While only one of several post-Angkorian capitals, Phnom Penh’s location at the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers gave it a strategic advantage over trade and communication routes in the lower Mekong basin. Once ashore this morning, we experience another form of local transportation – the cyclo. This design was invented in 1939 and was popular during the Colonial Era, but they are not so common today. Taking a comfortable seat in front of our driver, we headed out into the traffic stream of Phnom Penh and glided along the waterfront in an elongated column. We passed hotels, bars, and restaurants on one side, with the Tonle Sap promenade and palm trees on the other. The first stop on our morning excursion was the Royal Palace. Built during the French Protectorate in the 1860s, this permanent brick and mortar structure replaced an earlier wooden residence that King Norodom occupied during his reign. Today, however, the palace is rarely occupied by the Cambodian king. After seeing the Silver Pagoda, which houses the kingdom’s most treasured icons and treasures, we headed across town to Wat Phnom. This small hill is where Lady Penh is said to have founded a shrine to house the sacred images she pulled from the waters. A giant white stupa stands tall above the hill, around which Theravada, Mahayana, and animist shrines populate the slopes. Another monument on the south side commemorates the retrocession of the northwest provinces to Cambodia from Siam. The afternoon took on a more somber tone as we visited Tuol Sleng and Cheung Ek, two memorials to the many Cambodians who died during the Khmer Rouge regime. The regime’s objective was to destroy Cambodian culture and completely re-engineer society into a classless, rice farming peasantry, and the atrocities that occurred during Cambodia’s darkest hour must surely go down as one of the most misguided episodes in human history. While this is shockingly difficult to process and seems jarring juxtaposed alongside the warm and friendly people we encountered, it is an essential component for any understanding of the Khmer people. In the afternoon, we returned to the ship, and we cast off to cruise along the waterfront after sunset. To finish our day, we once again celebrated the resilience of Cambodians and their rich culture with a traditional dance performance by Cambodian Living Arts. This social enterprise was formed to preserve the Khmers’ intangible cultural heritage, which was nearly lost, and to foster arts and creativity in the generations to come.
Putt, putt, zoom, zoom, moo. Our methods of transportation have been varied and delightful. From investigating Kampong Tralach via the local tuk tuk, a hybridized motorcycle with benches, to a trailer like contraption that could easily double for hauling hay to the ox carts hauled by cattle that have the appearance of lop-eared rabbits on steroids. We immersed ourselves in the countryside, and local artisans displayed their skills.
The authenticity of the interactions and experiences, onboard the ship, on the river, in the towns and villages, and with our guides, is the exhilarating discovery I promise you’ll make.