Join our consultant Emma Sanger on her Cambodia and Vietnam river cruise on board the APT-Travelmarvel La Marguerite
Day 1/2 - Depart the UK
I flew to Siem Reap via Hanoi on the direct service with Vietnam Airlines. I travelled in Premium Economy on their new Dreamliner flight. The cabin was spacious and the service was excellent. I would say that the entertainment system didn't really have the latest big blockbuster movies so I struggled to find something to watch that I hadn't seen before. The food was a choice of an English dish or a Vietnamese local dish. Both options weren't great and I noticed many people did not eat it. All in all a good flight and everything ran smoothly and on time.
Finally I arrived at Siem Reap ahead of the rest of the group and was met by a Destination Asia rep Ket, who transferred me to the Raffles Siem Reap for the night. The hotel is in a great location and set in pretty gardens. It has an old colonial feel to it and has a lot of history attached to it. My room was large and luxurious andI had a good nights sleep.
Day 3 - Hotel Inspections
I was picked up again by Ket and taken on some hotel inspections. I visited Angkor Village, Navatu Dreams, The Park Hyatt and The Sofitel. All were great but my favourite by far was the Sofitel and the Park Hyatt. Both I would prefer over Raffles. At the end of the day, I was dropped off to The Shinta Mani hotel to meet up with the rest of the group. This was to be our base for the next three nights. The hotel is a smaller boutique 4* hotel right next to Raffles. It has a great location and it's the hotel of choice for the Travelmarvel by APT brand.
Day 4 - Ta Prohm Temple and school visit
This morning was at leisure so we tried to get familiar with the local area by visiting the market in town. A tuk tuk was $4 each way and about a 7 minute ride.
The afternoon was our first Travelmarvel excursion. Firstly we popped into an ODA School who Travelmarvel support. This was a great place to see how a little can go a long way, and people do appreciate anything that you can do to help. It was then on to visit the Lara Croft temple aka Ta Prohm where nature is reclaiming the land back from the temple. In my opinion it was simply breathtaking and soon became a highlight of the trip. After that, it was back to the Shinta Mani hotel for our welcome dinner with traditional Cambodian dancers.
Day 5 - Bayon and Angkor Wat temples
This morning was again a morning at leisure so we took the opportunity to use the facilities of the hotel and had some time at the pool.
The afternoon excursion took us to the Bayon Temple followed by a breathtaking trip to Angkor Wat, where we stayed until after sundown. Both were again stunning examples of Cambodian temples.
In the evening we went to the Phare Circus, which wasn't a circus at all. More like a play using singing, dancing and painting. It was a moving story about one girl’s struggles during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.
Day 6 - Embark La Marguerite
This morning, we decided to go on our own to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. We arranged a tuk tuk for 4am with the hotel and they packed us off with a light breakfast. The cost was $5 each way for a 30min ride. The entry was already paid for as Travelmarvel bought us a 3 day pass. This is something I thought was amazing and was a far better experience than the sundown the previous evening. We were back at the hotel by 7am and after breakfast we set off on our 5-hour journey south to meet our ship the La Marguerite. Although the journey was long it certainly wasn’t dull, we went past some stunning scenery and got a sneak peek into some of the countryside we would visit along our journey through Vietnam and Cambodia.
We visited a small township en-route and were greeted with local delicacies such as KFC (Khmer Fried Cricket) and deep-fried Tarantula, needless to say - as tempting as it was, I didn’t try it. We finally boarded our home for the next seven nights and, after quickly unpacking we enjoyed our first of many delicious meals on board which was lunch. Then it was time to explore the ship from its spacious sundeck and plunge pool to the peaceful haven of the library. In the evening our tour leader went through what we would be doing over the following seven days.
Day 7 - Kamong Chnang, Kampong Tralack, Oudong
This morning we set off for our first full day touring the Tonle Sap River. We first visited a traditional village market, an altogether different way of life than the city we had just left the day before. The floating village was something to behold as I cannot imagine living solely on the river with many houses that have no electricity and certainly no running water. However it did make me see that you do not perhaps need everything that we have in the western world in order to have a happy life.
We returned to the boat for lunch and a rest and then back out in the afternoon to visit Oudong where the local Buddhists blessed us in a traditional ceremony . Then a fun Ox cart ride around the area of Kampong Tralach. What was most enjoyable about this trip was the fact that local children came out to meet us and then proceeded to follow us all the way to the next point shouting, singing and even some drawing pictures for the people on the carts. Dinner was served on the boat this evening. The food on the boat was very good with plenty of different food options to please many. There was always a dish that had a hint of Asian influence so you never forgot where you were travelling.
Day 8 - Koh Chen copper village and Phnom Penh
This morning we sailed to visit Koh Chen village, which is best known for its copper and silver factory. We also popped into the local school. The children that morning were being taught English and sang us an English nursery rhyme. In return we gave them a rendition of 'the wheels on the bus' although I don’t think they were that impressed by our singing!
We boarded the boat at approximately around lunch time and commenced our journey to Phnom Penh, where we would be moored for the next two nights. In the afternoon we had time to explore on our own to get a feel for what the city was actually like. A large bustling city unlike anything we had experienced in Cambodia so far. In the evening we had the opportunity to dine off the ship for those who wanted to. We decided to eat dinner on board but went off exploring the night markets afterwards.
Day 9 - Phnom Penh
Today proved to be an interesting but emotional day for many, as we journeyed on to visit one of the killing fields and also the genocide museum of Phnom Penh. It is definitely worth visiting and I found it fascinating and haunting at the same time as this was a fairly recent atrocity. We all headed back to the ship in a somber, reflecting mood.
After a little rest from the heat and time to re-energize, we were off out again on the afternoon trip to visit the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace could not be mistaken for anything else, it was majestic in appearance and different to many other palaces I have visited as they seemed to have different buildings for difference purposes rather than just a single room. For our last evening in the city we dined on board again. We didn't feel like going out after the emotional day we'd experienced.
Day 10 - Border Crossing Tan Chau
After a busy schedule so far we were ready for a little bit of rest, and today we would get it. A whole day of sailing was ahead of us with a break for the border crossing over to Vietnam. This proved to be seamless, and we didn’t have to leave the vessel at all. The process for all passengers took around three hours, which was not too bad.
Here we left the pretty Tonle Sap river and joined the Mekong. I was surprised at how inspiring it was. Everywhere you looked there were signs of bustling industry and large sand dredgers.
Still, the sun was shining and we got the opportunity to rest on the excellent sun deck with a gin and tonic or two. Something else I should mention is the fact that as part of the cruise on board the ship, soft drinks and local spirits and beers are complimentary throughout the day. Wine is only complimentary during meal-times. This certainly added value to the journey as you never had to worry about the bar bill at the end of the cruise.
Day 11 - Tan Chau, Sa Dec
Today was our first full day of touring in Vietnam, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The children again were delighted to see us and appreciated the gifts of books and pencils as they had very little. They were also fascinated with my selfie stick and we're happy to pose for photos. We then went on to visit the local town and took a journey on a traditional rickshaw through the streets to a silk factory. It was definitely a fun way to see Tan Chau.
We had an afternoon of sailing again so another opportunities to have a dip in the pool.
Day 12 - Sa Dec and Cai Be
This morning we paid a visit to Sa Dec. We visited Huynh Thuy Le's old house (once the lover of the French writer Marguerite Duras, the name sake of our ship)
After lunch we went out again, this time to Cai Be where we visited their gothic cathedral and paid a visit to a local rice paper manufacturer where we learned how rice paper was made.
Day 13- Disembark Ship, Saigon and visit Cu chi Tunnels.
Today we left the cruise with heavy hearts, as it had been a trip of a lifetime, excellent service, good quality tours and accommodation. The journey from MyTho to the different world of Saigon took just under two hours. We stopped en-route at the Cu Chi tunnels. This famous site is a tunnel network built by the Vietnamese resistance fighters during the Vietnamese War. I found it amazing. No wonder the mighty US were no match for these primitive tunnels and traps.
After this we journeyed around another 2 hrs. to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)
The capital of Vietnam is a million worlds away from the journey we had just taken down the Tonle Sap and Mekong River. With what can only be described as swarms of motorcycles you are bound to get caught in it all.
This afternoon we were left to explore the city and have a little bit of relaxation time by the pool of our hotel the Grand Hotel Saigon. It was a great location right in the heart of the city and within easy walking distance of all the main sights. Again we were given a comprehensive list of restaurants from our Travelmarvel guide and chose a local Italian restaurant to dine in which was good value and very tasty! It was an early night to ensure we were ready for our last full day in Vietnam.
Day 14 - Saigon
Full day at leisure for us in Saigon so we took a short walk to the famous post office and the Notre Dame cathedral. As well as enjoying some other city highlights including a huge market.
In the evening we headed to KOTO Kumho for our farewell dinner.
It was an opportunity for us to say good bye to all the other guests that had become our friends over the past two weeks. Very emotional indeed.
After breakfast we had a little more time to hit the markets one last time before we headed to Ho Chi Minh airport for our journey home. Again flying with Vietnam airlines via Hanoi in Premium Economy.
It was a truly spectacular trip and one that I will not be forgetting in a hurry. The tour was well organised and ran very smoothly, staff couldn’t do anything more for you and the guides were very knowledgeable. The La Marguerite is an excellent vessel and firmly places itself as a leader in good value Mekong cruises.
Emma travelled on the Essential Vietnam and Cambodia premium river cruise with APT Travelmarvel - details here - Essential Vietnam and Cambodia