Discover the Overlooked Gems of Vietnam and Cambodia

A close up of a statue's face.

One of the world’s great rivers, the Mekong makes its way through the heart of Southeast Asia, and civilizations both ancient and modern having risen along its banks. Experience it with Emerald Waterways’ Majestic Mekong Discoverer Cruise, which starts with several nights in Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon), where both the energy of modern Vietnam and the remnants of French colonial rule wait to be explored. Then embark on a cruise up the Mekong to Cambodia’s capital.

Along the way, you’ll have a front-row seat aboard the Emerald Harmony, where you can watch life in rural Vietnam and Cambodia unfold before you. You’ll get a closer look at each port, with excursions to age-old temples as well as the workshops of artisans. You’ll conclude your adventure at one of the world’s greatest historic sites, the ancient cities of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Those wonders of the world are dazzling on their own, but Emerald Waterways will make your experience even richer with excursions like a Vespa tour of Siem Reap or an introduction to Cambodian cuisine.

Emerald Viet Highlight



The ancient Cambodian capital of Oudong may not be as famous as Angkor Wat, but it is one of many overlooked gems on Emerald Waterways’ Mekong itinerary
Emerald Waterways


Emerald Waterways

Launched in 2013, Emerald Waterways has quickly been lauded by both travel professionals (receiving multiple awards from Cruise Critic and Travel Weekly) and satisfied guests. With river cruises in Europe, Asia, and on the Nile, as well as ocean cruises on the Adriatic, Emerald Waterways showcases a new model of cruising. The innovatively designed ships offer an inviting intimacy and flawless service, while EmeraldPLUS excursions provide opportunities to experience the best of local cultures and cuisines.
A city Skyline over the water. The buildings are lit up by evening lights

DAY 1Arrive Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City

You’ll start your Asian adventure in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), which offers a vibrant combination of stately colonial buildings and the energy of a bustling metropolis. You’ll have two days and nights to explore this city of some 8 million people and 4 million motorbikes.

You may want to spend today visiting some of the city’s landmarks. Saigon was one of the major commercial capitals (and also the political capital at different points in time) when France controlled Indochina, and many elegant colonial-era buildings survive from that period. The Opera House, completed in 1900, has a façade modeled on Paris’s Petit Palais. The Central Post Office (built from 1886 to 1891) and the nearby Notre Dame Cathedral (1863 to 1880) are among the city’s other beloved French buildings.

A more recent addition, the Reunification Palace, was built in the 1960s. The palace is symbolically important to the Vietnamese; it served as the seat of power of the South Vietnamese government, and the moment it fell to North Vietnamese troops in 1975 marked the end of the war and the reunification of the country’s two halves.

This evening you will have an opportunity to meet with some of your fellow guests at dinner.
Potatoes, Onions, Carrots, Ginger, Chillies And Other Vegetables At A Street Market In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

DAY 2Cu Chi

After breakfast at your hotel, depart for a day trip to nearby Cu Chi, about 45 minutes from the city center, with a local guide. On your way, you’ll glimpse rice paddies and small villages that are typical of the southern Vietnam landscape. It’s a surprisingly bucolic scene, especially considering how close Cu Chi is to Saigon.

Cu Chi served as the base of the U.S. Army’s 269th Aviation Battalion during the Vietnam War. It was also the base of the Viet Cong, who operated in a vast underground network of tunnels extending for some 75 miles. Typically, the Viet Cong forces would shelter in the tunnels by day and emerge at night. It was a harrowing existence—a constant struggle against venomous insects and American troops’ attempts to locate and destroy the tunnels. You’ll hear about the unusual foods that Viet Cong soldiers survived on, as well as the tunnels’ ingenious defenses, including booby traps and camouflaged pits.

After your morning tour, you’ll have the afternoon free to explore Ho Chi Minh City on your own or simply relax at your hotel. Later in the day, you can join a Street Food Tour (at an extra charge), part of the line’s DiscoverMORE program. Your guide will take you to local hot spots to enjoy an open-air feast of dumplings, noodles, and soups.
An empty boat carrying a jar and basket. it is in a river by crop fields.

DAY 3Embarkation

This morning you’ll transfer from your hotel to the Emerald Harmony. Unlike many of its competitors, this ship was specifically designed to dock in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. One of the newest ships in Emerald Waterways’ Star-Ship line, the Emerald Harmony reflects an Asian aesthetic throughout its décor—fitting, since it’s the line’s primary ship on the Mekong. With only 42 cabins and 40 crew members, the service is personal and polished. Whether you opt for a suite with a private balcony or an Emerald stateroom, you can watch life unfold on the river or enjoy the ship’s common areas, which include lounges, a wellness area, and a sun deck.

As your ship sails towards My Tho, you’ll have an opportunity to meet more of your fellow guests, and the Tour Director will provide an overview of all the experiences that await in the days ahead.
A ship on a river in front of lush greenery.

DAY 4Dat Dua

After you reach My Tho, you’ll depart the ship for an excursion to the village of Dat Dua. This part of Vietnam is commonly known as the “land of coconut,” and its most delicious product is a coconut candy. You’ll see the process used to make the sweet treat of coconut milk and cream along with malt syrup and sugar, and how slight variations in the ingredient ratios and cooking times result in different flavors and textures.

After your visit, you’ll continue onto the 16th-century Tan Long Pagoda, also known as the Bat Pagoda, as tens of thousands of bats live in its rooftop. They’ll be sleeping as you admire the stunning Khmer-style decorations and exemplary reliefs and statues throughout the complex of pavilions and buildings.

At the end of your excursion, return to your ship and enjoy dinner and drinks as you set sail for Sa Dec.
An intricately detailed temple's arched walkway.

DAY 5Sa Dec

Start your day in the riverside town of Sa Dec with a visit to the Kien An Cung pagoda. This elaborate temple was built from 1924 to 1927 by Chinese residents who were originally from China’s Fujian province. The distinctive three-layer roof—with two tile layers separated by a brick one—was made of materials from that part of China. Enjoy the river views before continuing on to the house of Huynh Thuy Le, who inspired Marguerite Duras’s novel The Lover. After his death, the house was used as a police station before being converted to a museum. One of the grandest houses in Sa Dec at the beginning of the 20th century, it embodies a unique combination of Vietnamese and French elements.

After a stroll through the city’s market, you’ll return to the ship for lunch and to sail on to the village of My An Hung. The village is best known for its chili peppers, but dragon fruits, mangosteens, and jackfruits are also grown here. You can sample some picked earlier that day as you explore and experience rural life in Vietnam.

This evening, your ship will continue on to Hong Ngu, a river town that is your last stop in Vietnam.
Wooden boats scattered on the beach of a tropical island.

DAY 6Long Khanh Island

You’ll have this morning free to relax or head back into Hong Ngu and explore on your own.

Birders especially should opt for a DiscoverMORE excursion this morning to a nearby bird sanctuary (at an additional cost). Lying on the migratory path of many birds, the Mekong Delta is home to astounding variety of species. In addition to those migrating to and from points further north, there are dozens of water birds that nest in the area year-round. Bring your binoculars and your checklist.

After lunch on the ship, head out in the afternoon to Long Khanh Island, best known for its scarves. You’ll meet a weaver and learn about how natural, local dyes are used to color the yarns before they’re woven into scarves designed with traditional Khmer patterns. The scarves are sold at much higher prices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City; here, you’ll be able to purchase one directly from the person who created it.

After a visit to a Hoa Hao pagoda—a sect of Buddhism unique to this part of Vietnam—you’ll return to your ship, where a highlight of the evening will be a Lion Dance performance. Generally associated with the lunar new year, the Lion Dance was originally imported to Vietnam by immigrants from China. In Vietnam, acrobats typically perform alongside the dancing lion, who dispels negative energy and ushers in prosperity and good luck.
The cruise ship on a river. Chairs are seen on a grass roof

DAY 7Hong Ngu and Vietnam/Cambodia border crossing

After having met the cotton weavers of Long Khanh Island, today you’ll learn about another textile: silk. The cultivation of silk and the creation of silk fabrics in this part of Vietnam dates from the early 20th century, when it was promoted by the French. Lanh My A quickly developed a reputation—one that lasts to this day—for producing some of the world’s finest silk.

On your EmeraldPLUS tour of the silk factory, you’ll learn about the process of creating raw silk and the natural dyes used to transform it into a rainbow of hues. Afterwards, you’ll board a sampan for a short trip to nearby Evergreen Island, where you can experience life in a quiet farming village.

After you return to the ship, your journey will continue as you cross the border separating Vietnam and Cambodia.
A small building with a spire on top.

DAY 8Arrive in Phnom Penh

You arrive today in the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, long known as the Pearl of Asia, thanks to its many temples and French colonial buildings. This morning you’ll learn about one of the darkest periods in the country’s history, when it was ruled by the Khmer Rouge.

Choeung Ek is one of the many sites known collectively as the Killing Fields, where Khmer Rouge forces systematically executed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. The remains of almost 9,000 people have been unearthed from 129 mass graves on the site, and a memorial stupa houses many of their skulls.

Many of those killed at Choeung Ek were first interrogated at Tuol Seng, also known as S-21, after the name given to a former high school when the Khmer Rouge converted it into an interrogation center. Today, the Tuol Seng Genocide Museum’s displays, which include thousands of photographs of political prisoners, give voice to the regime’s victims.

In the afternoon, visit Cambodia’s royal palace. Construction on this vast complex of halls, pavilions, and temples began in the 1860s and it’s still the principal residence of Cambodian kings. While roughly half of the complex (the royal living quarters and offices) is closed to the public, you can explore many of its structures, including the Silver Pagoda, the Moonlight Pavilion, and the Throne Hall.

Then, after a visit to the city’s central market, return to your ship to rest before returning to the city for a tuk-tuk tour, with stops to sample typical Cambodian dishes. There’s also an optional DiscoverMORE tour, Phnom Penh by Vespa, for an additional cost.
A Khmer temple on a hill

DAY 9Oudong

Begin the day with an ox-cart ride, to get a unique perspective on the area near where the Emerald Harmony is docked. You’ll then depart on a tour of Oudong, the seat of Cambodia’s kings for some 250 years until the capital was moved to Phnom Penh. Though the hilltop site suffered damage when it was used as the last stronghold of Khmer Rouge forces, the country’s ancient past lives on amid the ruins. At one of the temples, you’ll receive a traditional Buddhist blessing. You’ll also stop at the Wat Kampong Tralach pagoda, a charming structure located amid rice fields and known for its beautiful paintings and frescoes.

Your afternoon is free. Use it to explore more of Phnom Penh or enjoy a leisurely final afternoon and evening on board the ship.
A dancer in a peacock costume displays her colors.

DAY 10Travel to Siem Reap

This morning you’ll disembark and continue on to Siem Reap. En route, you’ll stop at Kampong Kdei, where you can cross the famous 12th-century Angkor Bridge. Spanning almost 300 feet, this stone bridge with 20 corbeled stone arches is one of the few remaining structures to survive intact from the Khmer period.

Once you arrive in Siem Reap, you’ll have lunch at a local restaurant and check into your hotel for the next three nights. In the evening, you’ll be entertained by the Phare (the Cambodian Circus) on an EmeraldPLUS outing. The spectacle combines music and acrobatics, all performed by refugee children who have learned and perfected their skills thanks to an NGO that trains its students in various performing arts.
An ancient stone city in morning.

DAY 11Angkor Thom

While Angkor Wat is better known, Angkor Thom is nearly as stunning a gem in the larger Angkor site. The administrative center of the Khmer empire from the late 12th century to sometime around 1600, the 3.5-square-mile city is ringed by eight-meter-high walls and filled with the ruins of temples and ancient city gates.

Later in the day, visit Ta Prohm, which was built in the 12th and 13th centuries. This temple has mostly been left in the condition in which it was found, with trees growing from the building and the jungle creeping in on all sides. The result is an atmosphere that feels like the sketchbook of a 19th-century explorer.

For an extra charge, Emerald also offers Vespa tours of Siem Reap, as part of its DiscoverMORE program, which you might want to take advantage of later in the day. Or you can explore the city and its markets on your own.
An ancient stone temple complex at sunset.

DAY 12Angkor Wat

Today you’ll explore one of the world’s most spectacular monuments, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Angkor Wat. Extending over 400 acres, this complex of temples is among the largest religious sites anywhere. You’ll want to get an early start, not only because there’s a lot to see, but also to take advantage of a few hours before the midday sun becomes intense.

One of the most surprising facts about this fabled site is that most of its many stupas, spires, courtyards, and colonnades were constructed over a 30-year period in the 12th century. Among the many highlights is Banteay Srei, a red sandstone temple that predates the 12th-century buildings and has been called the gem of Angkor Wat. Its delicate carvings of Shiva and other gods from the Hindu pantheon are masterpieces of Khmer art.

Later in the day, choose from some of Emerald’s many optional excursions: a Cambodian cooking class, a visit to an artisans’ workshop, or a cruise on Tonle Sap Lake.
A large stone bust along a river at sunset.

DAY 13Depart

After breakfast, you’ll check out of your hotel and begin the journey home, or extend your stay in Luang Prabang (4 days), or Sapa (5 days). On your trip back to the United States, visit Emerald Waterways’ website and start planning your next escape!
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