The Mekong Connection: Cambodia to Vietnam
Siem Reap, Angkor Temples, Tonlé Sap Lake, Phnom Penh, Chau Doc, Mekong Delta, Can Tho, Cai Rang, Phu Quoc, Ho Chi Minh City
Where better to start than the magical Angkor temples, before heading south across the wildlife-rich Tonlé Sap Lake to Phnom Penh.
Spend a few days in the ‘Jewel of the Orient’, learning about the great Khmer past and its more recent turbulent history, followed by a cruise down and through the maze of waterways that make up the Mekong Delta.
Take a well-deserved break on the stunning beaches of Phu Quoc island, before exploring electric and eclectic Ho Chi Minh City.
As with all our holidays, we have created lots of free time for you to enjoy as you please. If you would prefer a more ‘complete’ travel programme, we will be happy to oblige. We can also tailor this holiday to meet your exact needs - your holiday, your way.
arrive Siem Reap
Upon arrival in Siem Reap you will be met by your guide who will transfer you to your hotel.
Siem Reap is the base for exploring the fabled temples of Angkor, the ancient capital of the Khmer empire. Over 100 temples are spread over a vast area and the site easily lives up to its status as one of the seven wonders of the forgotten world.
The remainder of your day is at leisure.Overnight in Siem Reap.
Siem Reap, Angkor Temples
During any visit to the Angkor temples, we ensure your day(s) remain both flexible and personal. Having met with your guide, you will be able to discuss in detail what you are looking to achieve from your time at the temples. Whilst some wish to explore as many temples as they can during their stay, others like to travel at a slower, more relaxed pace.Maximum experience, minimum crowds
Whether it’s sunrise at Angkor Wat or sunset at Pre Rup, climbing through the snake like roots that engulf Ta Prohm or swimming in the quiet waters of the West Baray Reservoir (or a combination of these), you can be sure that your visit to one of the seven wonders will not be easily forgotten. Unlike some archaeological tours, the Angkor temples never seem to lose that initial ‘wow factor’. Every site is as outstanding as the last, and it will be with a mixture of regret and excitement that you'll get back into your air-conditioned transport to visit the next site. We do still appreciate that some visitors are wary of becoming ‘templed-out’ and to combat this we can create more varied days with visits to other sites such as floating villages and flooded forests on the Tonlé Sap Lake, museums and exhibitions, cooking schools or simply time at leisure to explore Siem Reap or laze by the pool.
All our guides are highly experienced Angkor specialists, fully trained and licensed to work at the temples. Along with their exceptional knowledge of each temple and the civilisations that built them, Selective Asia’s guides know how best to avoid the bus-loads that descend on any given temple at certain times of the day, and know every trick in the book when it comes to getting the best photos and the most tranquil moments.
If you have any specific requirements or special interests, be sure to let us know and we will arrange the guide with the most suitable expertise.
You may also wish to consider visiting some of the further lying such as Beng Melea & Koh Ker, Sambor Prei Kuk or Preah Vihear. Excursions to these less-visited temples always enhance your experience however they do change things logistically and therefore visits must be arranged well in advance of your arrival.
Overnight in Siem Reap.
We appreciate that before witnessing the scale of the temple site for yourself it is hard to grasp what’s achievable in a day. Along with including any temples on your wish list, with the assistance of your experienced guide, you will also be able to dictate the amount of time and the hours of the day you are at the temples. This is very advantageous when you consider it can be hot work clambering amongst the incredible structures and your hotel pool is just 15 minutes away! By travelling with Selective Asia you truly have free reign of your programme whilst at the Angkor Temples.
6 temples in focus
Angkor Wat – certainly the most famous of all the Angkor temples and, some would argue the most impressive. The temple, built in the early 12th century by King Suryavarman II contains three storeys of libraries, galleries and towers surrounded by a thick retaining wall and an imposing moat. Many visitors aim to visit the temple at sunrise to capture one of the most iconic Angkor photos.
Ta Prohm - a temple left in much the same condition as when it was found - creating one of the most photogenic and atmospheric temples of the entire Angkor site. The tree roots of enormous fig trees and gigantic creepers can be seen breaking through the walls and stone carvings. Any visit is truly an adventure.
The Bayon - built in the 13th century as the state temple of King Jayavarman VII, standing at the centre of his capital - Angkor Thom. The Bayon’s most distinctive feature is the multitude of huge faces carved into large towers which rise up to form the central peak. The Bayon sits at the exact centre of Angkor Thom and roads lead to it from each of the city's cardinal points.
Beng Mealea - the size and scale of Angkor Wat but utterly swallowed by the jungle. Clambering about this titan of temples it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like for early explorers. Having travelled the 65 km’s to Beng Melea it would be a shame not to continue a little further and visit Koh Ker. This 10th century capital, abandoned over 1000 years ago, actually consists of 96 temples spread out over a large site and many are now buried.
Due to the distance from Siem Reap both temples are far less visited than Angkor Wat and you will be able to explore the temples in more solitude.
Banteay Srei - one of the most unusual and widely recognisable temples of Angkor. Built largely of red sandstone, it is covered with elaborate and deeply carved decoration. All the buildings are miniature in scale and it is this, along with the beautiful carvings, that have made it such a popular temple. Close
Siem Reap, Tonlé Sap, Kampong Phluk 'flooded forest', 'floating village'
After breakfast depart Siem Reap for the Tonlé Sap, driving down the eastern side of the lake. Arrive at Kampong Klaing, a remarkable village built entirely on stilts, where there is time to explore the various houses, school and shops before boarding your private boat. Cruise along a short tributary, passing fishermen and children playing in the shallow waters before arriving at a typical floating village where you may either disembark or cruise amongst the waterways.
At the head of the tributary you will continue out on to the ‘Great Lake’ and continue travelling north to Kampong Phluk; a ‘flooded forest’. Accessible only during high water, you’ll pass through the tree tops whilst seated in your boat. Nearby is a fishing village where you can also learn more about the traditional methods used for generations.
Returning to the mainland, meet your driver and return to Siem Reap. Arriving mid-afternoon, the remainder of your day at leisure. If time permits you may wish to continue your tour of the Angkor Temples.Overnight in Siem Reap.
Siem Reap, Angkor Temples
Continue your tour of the Angkor Temples….
Siem Reap has expanded at a phenomenal rate in recent years, with another hotel seemingly opening every other month. However, the old town retains much of its original charm and there are a number of sites of interest such as museums, galleries and the local market. The town also has a wide choice of restaurants and bars, with something to suit every taste.
Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, City Tour
Morning departure for Phnom Penh by car (driver only). Taking just five hours, you’ll pass through provincial towns, villages and roadside hamlets giving you the opportunity to observe life away from Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
Upon arrival in Phnom Penh transfer directly to your hotel. The city was once considered one of the most beautiful cities in the Orient and despite its recent turbulent history it still retains much Colonial charm. Today the city buzzes with energy and an air of opportunity as Cambodia advances into the 21st century.
After lunch visit the Royal Palace, situated on the site of the former citadel and built by King Norodom in 1966, the Palace still serves as the King and Queen's residential quarters. Also within the walls of the Palace is the Silver Pagoda, so called because of five thousand silver tiles that line its exquisite floor. If time permits there is also the option of visiting the National Museum, which houses the worlds leading collection of Khmer art and sculpture, and Wat Phnom the founding site of the city. All are within easy walking distance of each other and are a great introduction to this laid-back city.Overnight in Phnom Penh.
For clients wishing to stop en route between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh a guide can be arranged, allowing you to explore several points of interest including the pre-Angkor temples of Sambor Prei Kuk. Lesser known than Angkor complex, visitors to the temples will be rewarded with space and tranquillity – two commodities often hard to come by at Angkor.
Alternatively you can visit Phnom Santuk, a ‘holy mountain’ located 20km south of Kampong Thom and set high above the surrounding countryside. Various hillside boulders were carved with images of Buddhas and a series of pagodas built as early as the 13th century. To get to the top you have to climb the 809 stairs that wind their way up through a forest, emerging at a colourful pagoda with many small shrines. The views of the surrounding countryside are superb and, just beneath southern summit, there are several large reclining Buddhas.
For guests who want to take things a little slower and enjoy life on the water, there are a number of luxury cruise boats sailing the waters between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, with some continuing their journey through the Mekong Delta to Vietnam. Cruises are operated on a number of vessels including The Toum Tiou, The Jayavarman and The Bassac. Operating in either direction, each vessel offers a different itinerary and cruises of varying durations, but with each you will make frequent stops at floating villages, fishing ports, craft villages and places of natural and cultural interest.
Once airport transfers and formalities are taken into account the journey by air is barely quicker than the direct road journey, but for guests who prefer to fly, scheduled flights departing regularly throughout the day and take approximately 50 minutes.
Phnom Penh, Tuol Sleng & Cheung Ek Tour
In 1975, after years of guerrilla warfare, the radical Communist Khmer Rouge party, under its leader Pol Pot, seized power of Cambodia and declared ‘year zero’. They immediately abolished money and private property, and ordered the entire population of Phnom Penh from their homes and into the countryside to cultivate the fields. Over the next three years an estimated 2 million Cambodians died, many from starvation and exhaustion. Many others were tortured and executed for being supposed ‘enemies of the state’.
The morning is spent learning more about these terrible years, through visits to the infamous Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crimes and Cheung Ek, better known as the ‘Killing Fields’. It is an incredibly moving experience, but these are two visits you will be glad to have made. During your visit to Cambodia, you will barely meet a single person who didn’t lose a member of their family during these years, yet they are all willing to talk openly about it with you. They wish you to hear about it and see these places, to ensure that it never happens again.--------
Alternative option (no additional cost)
As an alternative to the Genocide Museum and Killing fields you may prefer to visit Phnom Oudong, the ancient Cambodian capital during the latter stages of the Khmer Empire and crowning site of the Kings. Consisting of a series of stupas atop a large hill, there are outstanding views across the surrounding plains. Phnom Oudong was bombed and desecrated by the Americans and then the Khmer Rouge, but still possesses a beauty that no war has been able to steal from it.
Lunch is at Friends the Restaurant a ‘kindness restaurant’ where ex-street children are trained in hospitality and restaurant skills, helping them to break away from life on the streets.
Your afternoon and evening are at leisure to explore more of the city. A great place to find yourself at sunset is on the banks of the Mekong River with a cold drink, watching the city slow down.Overnight in Phnom Penh.
In addition to your guided programme in Phnom Penh you may wish to consider a few additional activities or visits. In most instances the following work best as an addition to the time with your guide and may require an extra day in the city – please speak to your consultant for further details.
The Apsara Art Association
The AAA is a dancing school set up to train orphans and children from poor families in the art of traditional Khmer dancing, providing them with a future career. The centre is only 15 minutes by car from the city centre and can easily be included in a morning or afternoon with your guide. Any visitor to the training centre will confirm that the children enjoy there new found skill!
Dining with a local family
Spend an afternoon with a local family learning more about the way of life for the city folk of Phnom Penh. As well as eating with the carefully selected family in their home you’ll visit the local pagoda, shop for ingredients at the evening market and join the cook of the house in preparing the meal. Always a fun and informal affair, these evenings are usually as informative for your guests as they are for you!
Community-based tourism project
Visit the village of Daem Po, or 'Banyan Tree ', where the villagers run a ‘Rice Bank Project’ aimed at ensuring that even the poorest farmers in the region can obtain good quality rice seeds, in turn improving the day-to-day life for their families. The village welcomes a small number of tourists each year to learn about the project and also to experience a little bit of daily life, by joining them harvesting and planting in the fields, and around the village preparing food and eating together.
Visit the nearby island of Koh Dach, also known as 'silk island'. Having travelled by public ferry from Phnom Penh, disembark and explore a village that is dedicated almost entirely to silk weaving. A typically rural Cambodian stilted village, throughout the morning you will see a variety of traditional silk weaving techniques and observe the local weavers at work. Many of the silk products sold in Phnom Penh are weaved in Koh Dach thanks to the very high quality of the work. There will be time to drive round the small island before returning back across the Mekong River to Phnom Penh in the early afternoon. Close
Phnom Penh, Mekong Delta Cruise, Vietnam: Chau Doc
Your day is at leisure until your early afternoon transfer to the Mekong River banks to board your boat for the four hour journey to Chau Doc in Vietnam.
Weave your way through some stunning delta scenery before arriving at the Vietnamese border and continuing on to Chau Doc. Upon arrival in Chau Doc transfer directly to your hotel where there is time to relax and watch river life on the Mekong River. Chau Doc is laid back place and the beautiful Victoria Hotel, on the river bank, is the ideal location to soak up the lazy delta atmosphere. The remainder of your day is at leisure.Overnight in Chau Doc.
Crossing by land border is, for many clients, a new experience and therefore we ensure that you have full assistance throughout. You will be changing guides as you move from one country to another and it is both their duty to see you safely across the border.
Please note: On some occasions it is not permitted for a guide to accompany you all the way to the immigration post - this is completely standard procedure and there will be border staff on hand to answer any questions you may have. Close
Chau Doc, Mekong Delta, Can Tho, Sunset Sampan Cruise
Morning journey along the Bassac River to a Muslim Cham village on a nearby island. You will also pass through the many floating villages in the area before returning to Chau Doc to visit some local temples.
In the late morning continue by car through the delta to Can Tho where the remainder of your day is at leisure. The city is the economic and cultural capital of the entire delta region and an afternoon is easily spent taking in key sites and enjoying some local delicacies.
Your afternoon is at leisure until a mid-afternoon sampan cruise through the tributaries and canals to witness more Delta life. Make use of the fading light for a wonderful photographic opportunity, before returning to your hotel after sunset.Overnight in Can Tho.
Can Tho, Cai Rang, Mekong Delta, Phu Quoc
Rise early for a boat trip to the Cai Rang floating market where you will have a chance to practice your bartering skills! The market is filled with small boats darting through the water as vendors sell their wares. In the late morning transfer to Can Tho Airport for your flight to Phu Quoc Island.
Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel where the remainder of your day is at leisure.
The island lies in the Gulf of Thailand, 45km west of Ha Tien and 15km south coast of Cambodia (it used to be Cambodian). During the late 17th-century the island was used as an important strategic stronghold for the Vietnams Emperor’s fighting bordering forces. In later years the French took advantage of the ample rubber and coconut plantations and in more recent times it was home to a POW detention centre during the American War.
The island, famous for its production of fish sauce, now provides visitors with long stretches of deserted white sand, low tourist numbers and a laid-back atmosphere - welcome to the Vietnam of old! Enjoy the wildlife, famous local delicacies, quaint fishing ports and superb beaches!Overnight on Phu Quoc.
Your day is at leisure.Overnight on Phu Quoc.
Your day is at leisure.Overnight on Phu Quoc.
Your day is at leisure.Overnight on Phu Quoc.
Phu Quoc, Ho Chi Minh City, Cu Chi Tunnels, City Tour
Morning transfer to Phu Quoc Airport for the short flight to Ho Chi Minh City. On arrival you will be met by your guide for a visit to the famous Cu Chi tunnels - an incredible underground tunnel network constructed by Vietnamese resistance fighters during the long struggle for independence. The tunnels, over 250km in length and up to three levels deep in places, played a huge part in the Viet Cong’s victory over the Americans, allowing them to control a large rural area surrounding Ho Chi Minh City.Today, some of the remaining tunnels have been opened to tourists, offering a unique insight into what underground life must have been like during the ‘American’ war.
Upon return to Ho Chi Minh take a tour of the city centre. Your guide will be happy to personalise your programme, however we would recommend sites such as the Reunification Palace where the South finally fell to North Vietnamese troops in 1975; Notre Dame Cathedral; the Old Saigon Post Office; Thien Hau Pagoda in the city’s bustling Chinatown and the War Crimes Museum, highlighting the suffering of the Vietnamese people during recent conflicts – you won’t be too surprised to discover it’s not exactly a politically balanced exhibition.Overnight in Ho Chi Minh City.
Saigon After Dark Vespa tour
In the early evening set off on an excursion with a difference, riding pillion on a Vespa for an amazing tour cum food experience. You’ll visit five different local cafes, coffee shops and restaurants across the city, sampling some of Saigon's best authentic street food. You’ll also be introduced to Ho Chi Minh’s City’s live music scene at a hidden café and local bar. This tour allows you to the experience the nightlife of Saigon the way locals do.
A taste sensation
Whilst the styles of Vietnamese cuisine vary through the country, drawing on varying regional preferences and ingredients, many of the basic methods of food preparation remain similar. A morning at a cooking school such Ho Chi Minh City's Vietnam Cookery Centre is the perfect way to learn a few techniques in the preparation of some of Vietnam’s best-loved dishes. Your morning will include a visit to the local market, and will culminate with lunch, ‘enjoying’ the fruit of your labours!
Visit the Cao Dai Holy See Temple
At Tay Ninh, approximately 90km north-west of Ho Chi Minh City, sits the huge cathedral-like Holy See Temple, home to the uniquely Vietnamese religion of Cao Daiism. The remarkable temple is wildly, almost garishly decorated with lavish symbols and paintings, and is truly a sight to behold. It’s essential to time your visit to coincide with the daily mid-day mass, a mesmerising and mysterious ceremony of prayer and chanting. Visitors are welcome into the temple, and ceremonies can be witnessed, and photographed, from the raised foyer.
Discover Ho Chi Minh City in its best light
Rise early and drive to Tao Dan Park to join the residents of Vietnam’s largest city taking early morning exercise before their working day. Activities include Tai Chi, badminton, jogging or simply walking and you are more than welcome to participate . After your exercise, an early morning stroll through Ben Thanh Market followed by coffee and Pho will ensure you have started your day in true Vietnamese style! Close
depart Ho Chi Minh City
Your day is at leisure until your transfer to Ho Chi Minh City Airport for your onward flight.
Please give one of our Asia experts a call on +44 (0)1273 670 001