PANDAW CHAU DOC
From its source in the Tibetan Plateau to its delta in the South China Sea, the Mekong is the most fabled river in south-east Asia. To join this cruise you fly to Siem Reap, gateway to Angkor Wat. Constructed during the 12th century, the five interlinked rectangular walls and moats of this Khmer temple represent chains of mountains and the ocean. During its passage through Cambodia and Vietnam, the Mekong evokes an enchanting pastiche of manicured rice paddies interspersed with water buffalo pulling their burden. At Kratie you can buy pyramid- shaped sweet bean rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves from street vendors whose sparkling eyes are at odds with their wisened skin. Along Phnom Penh’s French colonial corniche, gaggles of schoolchildren wave at passengers enjoying breakfast aboard the 48-passenger RV Mekong Pandaw. A more bucolic scene embraces Sa Dec where old men chase ducks down to the water’s edge, while at low tide, children search for cockles and crabs in the silt to sell in the local market. In the narrow canals of Vinh Long, people emerge from houses on stilts brushing their teeth, bathing and washing clothes as the sun erupts to illuminate florid pagodas and sacred temples.
GEM With its mix of Chinese, Cham and Khmer communities, Chau Doc’s cultural diversity is apparent in its countless temples, mosques and churches. However, it’s the floating market that most visitors find spellbinding. Rafts and boats are anchored along both sides of the river and are draped with mangoes, cherries, jackfruit and starfruit as well as poultry and fish which are hung from bamboo poles in front of the boat to attract customers. You could easily spend a week here and meet someone from a different culture each day.