4 Night Cruise sailing from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh aboard Aqua Mekong.
Friday: SIEM REAP – CAMBODIA
Early morning arrival at Siem Reap Meeting Point. Your guides greet you and our porters collect your luggage for delivery to your Design Suite on the Upper or Lower Deck. Board our air-conditioned bus for the scenic 30 minute countryside ride to the dock on the Tonle Sap Lake.
Welcome to the laid back luxury of the Aqua Mekong. Settle into your elegantly appointed, river facing suite as the vessel begins to cruise and thus begins one of life’s most memorable and photogenic adventures. Ascend to the Observation Deck if you wish, to take in the view of the southern end of the Tonle Sap Lake, among the most fascinating eco-systems on earth. Often called the “heart of Cambodia” because millions of Cambodians depend on its waters.
Over the next four days, the Aqua Mekong sails from here along the one of the world’s great rivers towards remote natural and cultural destinations visited by only a few. First however, we begin with a Safety Drill followed by a briefing on the Observation Deck in the air-conditioned Indoor Lounge with the cruise director and hear from our expert guides about your Mekong adventures ahead.
We begin our cruise today along the Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. This great lake covers an area of around 250,000 hectares in the dry season. Listen carefully as our expert guides explain the unique hydrological phenomenon of the Tonle Sap: when the monsoon begins, the swollen waters of the Mekong River force the Tonle Sap River to reverse its flow northwards, feeding the lake and submerging the surrounding floodplains under up to ten meters of Mekong waters for several months every year.
Fortunately for us, the vast wetland area resulting from this cycle is home to an extraordinarily high biodiversity, both in terms of variety and abundance of species. Year round as well, the Tonle Sap is rich in bird life, including Brahminy kites, pied kingfishers and blue-tailed bee-eaters. The Lake is also one of the most productive captive fisheries in the world, providing more than 60% of the protein intake for the entire population of Cambodia.
We head first towards Kampong Khleang, passing through a landscape dappled with kapok trees, sugar palms and bamboo along the riverbanks. Peeking through this verdant curtain will be bright emerald green of rice paddy fields from June to November, or the yellowish dry earth from January to April.
After a gourmet lunch prepared under the guidance of our Executive Chef David Thompson, board Aqua Expeditions’ comfortable excursion skiffs for your first adventure. Life jackets, ponchos, and plenty of cold potable water are always available for you on board the skiffs.
A village built on wooden stilts over the water that is only accessible by land at certain times of the year, Kampong Khleang is home rice farmers and fishermen practicing their livelihoods as their ancestors did for generations, even though you may very well see them texting on their latest model mobile phones. We come here in part simply because the view en route in from the Tonle Sap, of hundreds of houses and other buildings rising above the water is, we think, stunning.
The many simple wooden paddleboats here attest to the importance of fishing in the inhabitants’ daily lives, as do the variety of fishing devices such as oblong traps called lop and V-shaped scoop nets. You may also see boats piled high with firewood heading to market, as 95% of Cambodians rely on this source of fuel for cooking. This reality makes commercial exploitation of Cambodian forests a growing concern for the future of the Tonle Sap’s delicate eco-system.
Saturday: TONLE SAP LAKE – KAMPONG KHLEANG – MOAT KLA
After a sumptuous breakfast, perhaps of Vietnamese coffee, fresh fruits, eggs to order and sweet banana sticky rice treats that the locals devour, we cruise onward from Kampong Khleang to the remote fishing village of Moat Kla. We climb back into the skiffs and head for shore where our expert guides act as translators, allowing you to pose questions to the people of Moat Kla about their lives.
You may be surprised to see that although most communities on the Tonle Sap are quite isolated, even Moat Kla has floating ‘convenience’ stores stocked with fishing tackle, cooking utensils, rice, beer, candy, fruits and vegetables. Along the water, there are also small merchants like fresh egg vendors, women selling bamboo stalks stuffed with sticky rice and even divers hired to search for lost objects.
Moat Kla is the last village in Siem Reap Province on the southeastern end of the lake and only accessible by water. The community is largely of Vietnamese descent, owing to its settlement long before the nuances of international borders.
Aqua Expeditions has made special arrangements for our guests to attend the blessing ceremony conducted at Moat Kla’s Buddhist temple, home to only four monks.
Sunday: TONLE SAP LAKE – MOAT KLA – CHNOK TRU – TONLE SAP RIVER – KOH CHEN – PHNOM PENH
We continue exploring remote communities around the Tonle Sap River, an ecological hot spot designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1997. Today we head by skiff to Chnok Tru, as photogenic as it is remote and thus completely self-sufficient.
Here we “slide” into an ice factory, the importance of which will be obvious after even just one day in Southeast Asia. As local factory workers explain how they make and use the ice for fish preservation, our expert guides translate and get answers to your questions about this livelihood so different from ours. Also be on the lookout in this lake village for floating schools, riverside churches and pagoda, and even the karaoke bar and police station. Literally everything and everyone in Chnok Tru travels by small boat through the intricate network of canals crisscrossing this tiny town.
We return to the comforts of the Aqua Mekong and continue along the Tonle Sap River to Koh Chen. On the way, we pass Kampong Tralach, the site of Lovek, the capital of Cambodia after the Siamese King sacked Angkor in 1431. Though its glory days are long gone, this area was wealthy metropolis in its time and even attracted Europeans traders and missionaries through the 16th and 17th centuries.
By skiff we visit Koh Chen, or ‘Chinese Island’ in Khmer. The inhabitants of this riverside village are renowned throughout the region as silver and coppersmiths. They purchase the precious metals in Phnom Penh and return here to make ornamental items such as the cups, boxes and delicately engraved tropical fruits used in Buddhist ceremonies and marriage blessings. Each family member carries out an aspect of these ancient methods and the intricate, beautiful workmanship belies its humble origins. Purchase whatever catches your eye before we continue on to the pagoda. If the monks are in residence, we will experience an authentic Buddhist blessing ceremony.
Monday: TONLE SAP RIVER – PHNOM PENH
In the cooler morning time, we cruise further south towards the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. Around 90 minutes into today’s journey we pause to head by skiff towards the shore for a visit to the intricately carved Prek Bongkong Pagoda with its upturned naga and angels that appear to hold up the pitched Khmer roof. This area is known for a series of “silk islands” along the river. We visit one of these villages where the weavers allow us to wander among their looms, admiring their skills at this knotty art form. Witness the entire process here, learning how silk starts with the worms, see silk thread being looped and dyed, then admire and purchase, if you wish, the final shimmering Khmer silk accessories.
We returning by skiff to the Aqua Mekong, ready to continue another dozen kilometers to Phnom Penh.
Tuesday: MEKONG RIVER – PHNOM PENH – KAAM SAMNOR – CAMBODIA
From the remote charms of the Tonle Sap River, we cruise into what may feel like another Cambodia altogether as we explore this country’s political and economic capital, Phnom Penh. Here, Art Deco buildings still stand in the shadows of ever-rising skyscrapers and vintage cyclos cruise alongside imported European sports cars. Buddhist temples, French colonial villas and the Royal Palace provide the photogenic backdrop to international business and a new generation of boutique hotels, chic shopping and cosmopolitan nightlife.
Note: All itineraries are subject to change, due to weather and other conditions. All times indicated are approximate, and are also subject to change.