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.
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.
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.
Explore with seasoned expedition teams
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.
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.
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.
Today was our last full day on the river, and it was one full of exciting and new opportunities. Early risers were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise cruise as we headed towards our morning destination of Binh Tanh Island at Sa Đéc, where we boarded a local longboat to explore the narrow channels of the delta. The villages on Binh Tanh are known for making the reed mats that are used throughout Southeast Asia. This was a fantastic opportunity for photography as we explored the small village and watched the locals using traditional methods to weave. We then walked to a local community center, where we met with two of the village elders who shared their story about their long lives in Vietnam over past decades. It was a fascinating account of the pre-war years and life after the Vietnam war.
In the afternoon, we visited another local community called Cái Bè. We used the same boats from the morning to cruise the waterfront, and it was a great look at river life as we passed fish farms and stilted houses along the shoreline. Cái Bè is well known as main producer of rice paper and coconut candies, and it was fascinating to watch the process of how these local goods were hand made step by step. After returning to the ship, we had cocktails on the deck as we cruised during sunset and celebrated a wonderful week cruising the Mekong on board
Good morning, Vietnam! Our first day in the Mekong Delta saw us climbing aboard local boats and cruising through a floating wholesale produce market. Bulk transports bearing fruit and vegetables fresh from the farm drop anchor in the middle of the channel where they unload their cargo to distributors in smaller vessels, who then take the produce to local markets ashore. Along the way to Châu Đốc, we stop at a floating fish farm. Tens of thousands of Vietnamese make their living this way, in which large cages are located underneath the waterline of their floating house.
The fish are fed pellets made of a mix of fish powder (offcuts from the filleting plant), rice flour, and sweet potato flour. Each farm has a mixing vat in which they make their own recipe. The most common fish farmed in this manner are Basa and Red Telopea. When we get to shore, we experience another form of local transportation, the bicycle rickshaw. These bike-trailers are typically used to cart packages and passengers around town, and our convoy takes us around the city’s perimeter to give us a sense of the size of this town.
As the day progresses, we continue our cruise down the Mekong and eventually tie ashore at a small farming village in Đồng Tháp Province. We cross the gangway and come into My An Hung, a small farming community which primarily grows red chilli. Walking, we see men unloading a cargo boat of rice husk to be used as fuel and locals playing volleyball. Puppies and roosters roam around. Children wave and smile. At the village centre we sample a full smorgasbord of fresh tropical produce, including durian, or “king of fruits,” of which 30 species exist. We are also treated to a traditional Vietnamese dance, coupled with a steel guitar and accompanying vocals that are typical of the American Delta. As the sun sets
maneuvers out from the dock and we drift downstream.
Docking last night in Phnom Penh ensured that we drifted to sleep to the haunting but distant sounds of ship horns and Buddhist chants. The next morning came quickly. A small number of us met on deck for coffee as the first light of day crested the horizon. Before long, the morning was full of silhouettes, stunning deep reds, reflections on the water, and amber-bathed buildings.
By the time the caffeine hit, we were more than ready for the local market, but first went to visit a noisy but fascinating colony of Lyle’s flying foxes. These busy bats weren’t going to sleep anytime soon, with much squabbling, flapping of wings, and general wiggling of ears. Entertaining as this sight was, it wasn’t enough to keep us from getting back aboard for breakfast.
The rest of the day was spent cruising the Mekong en route to Vietnam. The day was packed with great stuff to keep everyone entertained. First, we had Jean Michel Fillipi discussing the recent history of Cambodia, and he was joined for a Q&A session with Global Perspectives guest speaker and former war correspondent Elizabeth Pecker, who was one of the last few journalists to visit Cambodia before the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Such a compelling combination of speakers would have kept our audience enraptured for the rest of the day had our midday appetites not intervened.
The afternoon consisted of a tour of the ship as well as a presentation on the differences between Cambodian and Vietnamese culture (including enlightening insight on the origins of their languages) by our Cultural Specialist David Brotherson. Later, a class on spring rolls, where a number of our guests learned the a few choice tips from of our chef.
The day ended as it had begun, bathed in golden light. We were heading into Chau Doc, a bustling town of trade, commerce, fruit, and fish (a story for another day).
Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia, situated where the Tonlé Sap joins the Mekong River. It is busy, modern, and teaming with life and yet retaining much of its historical and cultural essence.
We began our day with a thrilling cyclo ride through the busy morning traffic as we weaved our way between all manner of two-, three-, and four-wheeled vehicles,
pedestrians going about their daily business. We were dropped off at the Royale Palace. There, hundreds of pigeons in the gardens outside scattered as we made our way to the front gate. Naga representations topped every building, their tails poised while the heads surveyed us from above. White and gold predominated, a visual feast for the senses as we visited the famous Silver Pagoda.
The National Museum was next, the collection of history packed into its relatively small area was quite overwhelming, as if time itself had compressed in on itself. We traversed across centuries, from one display to the next, stepping out into the sunlit tranquillity of an outdoor Zen garden space.
After lunch, our guests were introduced firsthand to the dark history of Cambodia, an essential part of understanding where this country is today. S21, or Tuol Sleng, is a museum to the wholesale genocide of Cambodian people under the Pol Pot regime. It serves as a shocking, yet sobering reminder that the few in power can inflict so much suffering on the many who are not. The subsequent trip to the Killing Fields that some of our guests undertook underlined this. And yet darkness is always followed by light, humanity is always working to overcome the worst of its tendencies, and Cambodia has shown with its history that tyranny in any form has an expiration date.
was secured overnight at the riverbank, just downstream from “the port of the winter melon,” familiarly known as Kampon Tralach, which is located on the Tonle Sap river about 50km north of Phnom Penh. Since we are here in the dry season, the level of the river is low, and we have to climb up the banks to get to the local road. Awaiting us in this small village is a column of oxcarts, each pulled by two brahman cows under the direction of a local farmer. These carts are used on a daily basis throughout most parts of the country, and the cattle are not bred for meat but instead for labor. This is why they are typically so thin, as they are not being fattened for slaughter. We take a ride through the rice fields and end up at the local public school. The Kampong Tralach School has been supported by Lindblad/National Geographic for several years now, providing funding for free English learning programs.
Later in the day as we head upstream, we pass through narrow sections of the channel where we encounter some of the most intimate scenes. The script of rural Cambodian life drifts by: Children on bicycles head to and from school, farmers lead their cattle to water, fishermen haul the nets in and out of boats.
Our afternoon excursion puts us ashore at the capital of Kampong Chhnang. Named after its earthenware ceramics industry (“the port of the cooking pots”), the province is located in central Cambodia, at the southeast end of the Tonle Sap. We drive to nearby Andoung Russei, where the village women produce earthenware pots by hand, which are then sold throughout the country. Using a “paddle and anvil” technique, and continuing a tradition which dates back centuries, the potters of this village work through the day. The men in this village are farmers who work the fields, tend to livestock, or collect the juice from the sugar palms. We meet Mr. Ry, a village elder who has been climbing sugar palm trees his entire life. The juice he collects can be boiled down to form a caramel-like sugar, or fermented into a potent palm whisky. Cheers!
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.