European river cruise line Scenic is expanding its itineraries to Southeast Asia in 2016, with eight cruises exploring the Mekong River destinations of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Cruises will be operated aboard the river ship Scenic Spirit, which has 34 private balcony suites, and voyages of eight to 27 days are being offered. Cruise fares are from $2,445 per person, double.
Along the delta between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap, guests will see floating canal villages, paddy fields and picturesque islands, as well as the 12th-century Angkor Wat and World Heritage cities of Luang Prabang and Hoi An. In Myanmar, the imprint of colonial legacies is revealed in iconic temples, Buddhist art and the gold- and diamond-encrusted Shwedagon Pagoda.
The eight-day “Luxury Mekong River Cruise,” for example, sails from Siem Reap, Cambodia – home of the 12th-century Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument – to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, along a route that includes a stop in Kampong Cham for a visit to the Wat Nokor old-and-new fusion temple complex for a traditional monk’s blessing. Later, guests share high tea at the landmark Raffles, Hotel de Royal, followed by an exclusive private shadow dance puppet performance accompanied by a traditional Khmer orchestra.
During the 17-day “Gems of South East Asia,” guests learn about Phare, a uniquely Cambodian circus performance that blends juggling, acrobatics and contortion with energetic music and dance to tell traditional stories. Several itineraries include a multi-day cruise through Halong Bay, woven with secluded waterways and towering limestone karsts.
Routes that include Laos will offer excursions such as riding an elephant through the jungle, tasting coffee grown on the Boloven Plateau, as well as spending extended time in the spiritual capital of Luang Prabang to witness monks silently collecting alms in the streets.
In Hanoi, guests will be invited backstage to learn about the 11th-century art of Vietnamese water puppetry from some of the country’s most skilled puppeteers. More extensive itineraries, like the 27-day “Grand Indochina and Luxury Mekong River Cruise,” combine the best of these shorter routes with additional once-in-a-lifetime experiences like a private tour of the secret Cu Chi Tunnels led by a veteran guide who lived and fought there; a meeting with dedicated nuns at Hue’s Duc Son Pagoda, where they teach and train orphaned children, and an intimate visit to the family home of a former merchant in the World Heritage-listed city of Hoi An.
Scenic is an all-inclusive line, and fares cover private butler service, unlimited beverages, gratuities, cultural entertainment and regional cuisine.