Part 1, the gap is filled!

The Viking Mekong.
With the gap looming next summer for 65 days, we were anxious to find a way to fill it especially when we noticed that a number of vacation homes were already booked during this period.  We asked ourselves, "Had we already missed the window of opportunity?"
Our location at the beginning of the gap had been of vital concern.  We'd be leaving Bali with two factors in  mind; one, what flights out of Bali would be cost effective when its far from many areas and two, what flights wouldn't require long travel days?

When reviewing a map of the South Pacific our options appeared limited based  on countries and areas that we'd like to see along with being conveniently located.  Hovering in my mind had been a visit to Vietnam.

When I mentioned this to Tom last year, he was adamantly opposed even cringing at the idea.  His brother-in-law Ernie from his first marriage, was killed in Vietnam when he was only 19 years old. 

This had a tremendous effect on Tom and over the years he expressed considerable reverence and respect for fallen soldiers when it was "close to home."  He's often stated that his two children had lost the opportunity to know an uncle they'd never met and cousins they never had. 

After hearing from many travelers that their own visits to Vietnam were often their favorite travel experience, I had a hard time getting it out of my head.  After mentioning it a few times to Tom this past year I could tell how hard he was trying to let the negative perceptions waft away.  Although I don't nag, I gently mentioned it a few more times. 

On several occasion during this most recent cruise to Australia including at "The Shed" (guys only meetings) aboard ship, he had an opportunity to speak to veterans, both Australian and US, who emphatically stated that visiting Vietnam was a profound and memorable experience that under no circumstance should be avoided.

When I noticed his acceptance of this possibility, recently when we began searching, he mentioned we could consider the possibility of a trip to Vietnam.  I was elated.  The most logical way for us the see the full range of possibilities in the country was a cruise on the Mekong River.

Here are the details of the cruise:


"River Cruise Itinerary
Day 1 Hanoi, Vietnam
Fly to Hanoi, former capital of French Indochina, then transfer to your hotel.* Check in for a 2-night stay, then relax or take a walk to stretch your legs and get acquainted with the city.

Day 2 Hanoi, Vietnam
After breakfast, take a tour of this unique, thousand-year-old Asian capital where old and new combine in a lush setting of parks and lakes. Visit the Museum of Ethnology, which includes a number of fascinating exhibits that bring Vietnam’s history and astonishingly diverse culture to life. Then tour the notorious “Hanoi Hilton,” the H?a Lò Prison where American POWs were held captive during the Vietnam War. In the afternoon, visit Hanoi’s Temple of Literature. Founded in 1070 as Vietnam’s first university, this maze-like compound features inviting courtyards, gateways, pavilions, walkways, lakes and a museum. Continue on to the One Pillar Pagoda, an 11th-century monument that was rebuilt after being destroyed by the French in 1954. En route, pass some colonial landmarks such as the magnificent Opera House and St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Relax this afternoon before dinner at a local restaurant. (B, D)

Day 3 Hanoi, Vietnam
In the morning, take a leisurely ride through Hanoi’s Old Quarter by “green” electric car. Enjoy some free time before your short afternoon flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Check in to your hotel for a 3-night stay; tonight’s dinner is accompanied by a traditional Apsara dance show. (B, D)

Day 4 Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Begin your day with a visit to one of Angkor’s largest Khmer temples, Angkor Wat, built for King Suryavarman II in the 12th century AD. With its beautiful proportions and extensive, intricate bas-relief stone carvings, it is one of the most spectacular sights in Southeast Asia. Spend some time exploring the fortified city of Angkor Thom, which houses several of Angkor’s most popular sights such as the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King with their dramatic bas-reliefs.
Today you also visit the mysterious Bayon Temple, known for its giant, stone-carved faces with their enigmatic smiles. Dine at a local restaurant and relax this evening. (B, D)

Day 5 Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Today, ride to the spectacular 10th-century Hindu temple Banteay Srei (“Citadel of Women”) to see magnificent carvings of Shiva and Vishnu. Then, journey to Ta Prohm, one of the most popular of the Temples of Angkor. Unlike many other buildings, it has been left as it was discovered, with trees and large shrubs growing over the ruins.
After lunch on your own, visit a local village supported by Viking River Cruises, observe school children at work and find out how you can “adopt” a child to help support their education.
This evening enjoy dinner in a local restaurant followed by a Cambodian Circus show which uniquely blends together theater, music, dance, acrobatics, jugging and aerial acts. (B, D)
Day 6 Kampong Cham, Cambodia
After breakfast, visit a local village supported by Viking River Cruises and spend time with children at one of the village schools. Check out of your Siem Reap hotel and begin your coach tour through the Cambodian countryside, which brings you to your ship in Kampong Cham, via the provincial capital of Kampong Thom. Due to its central location, this area is rapidly becoming an important hub for fishing and agriculture. It also has a rich archeological heritage, to which the 200 temples, some of which predate the Khmer Empire, attest. This afternoon, board your ship. After you get settled in, meet the ship’s officers over a welcome cocktail. (B, L, D)

Day 7 Kampong Cham, Cambodia
This morning visit the Twin Holy Mountains of Phnom Pros and Phnom Srey with their many temples and pagodas, still used during traditional Khmer festivals. After, visit a Kampong Cham orphanage where students create beautiful paintings that are available to purchase. This afternoon the ship will set sail toward a silk-weaving village. Take a walk through the village and admire the rich silk fabrics. (B, L, D)

Day 8 Phnom Penh, Cambodia
This morning’s excursion takes you through a Cambodian village. After, take a short ride to Udon Monastery for a tour and to receive a blessing by the monks. Then continue to the next village, famous for its silversmiths. Rejoin your ship and have lunch as we cruise into Phnom Penh.
Your afternoon is free to explore Phnom Penh’s historic riverfront area with its restaurants, art galleries and silk shops, or perhaps visit the distinctive Central Market or the “Russian Market” where you can buy jewelry, curios, clothes and souvenirs. You might prefer to visit more of the city’s wats (monastery temples): Wat Langka, Wat Botum, Wat Koh or Wat Ounalom, each with its own special character and purpose. Late this afternoon, there will be an onboard presentation about recent Cambodian history by a local expert. Dinner is served aboard the ship. (B, L, D)
Day 9 Phnom Penh, Cambodia
After breakfast, disembark in Cambodia’s lovely waterfront capital and explore the city in style, in a cyclo. This mode of transportation provides many Cambodians with a source of income and visitors with a speedy and enjoyable way to move around. See the magnificent Royal Palace with its spectacular Silver Pagoda, built in the 19th century by the French, but inspired by the centuries-old architecture of the Khmer. Then take a tour of the National Museum of Cambodia, which houses treasures of Khmer art and craftsmanship and also displays art that predates the mighty empire.
After lunch, join an excursion to the sobering memorial in the Tuol Sleng detention center, a former high school in which thousands of victims of the Khmer Rouge died, and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, or explore the city’s maze of small alleys, markets and busy streets on your own. Tonight’s dinner is accompanied by a folkloric performance. (B, L, D)

Day 10 Mekong River
Sail down the Mekong, one of the world’s great rivers, toward the Vietnamese border. The Mekong is truly the “Mother River of Southeast Asia,” sustaining civilizations through the centuries. Pass by some of the Mekong rice fields. The Khmer Empire was founded on a rice surplus, and rice is still the main staple of Vietnamese cuisine. (B, L, D)

Day 11 Tân Châu, Vietnam
Today you will have a rare glimpse of rural life as it has been lived for ages. Begin your morning with a ride on a traditional rickshaw in Tân Châu. Afterward, visit the floating fish farm by wooden sampan, then take a boat ride to Vinh Hoa, known as “Evergreen Island.” Here you can take a short walk to see various methods of traditional Vietnamese farming, craftmaking and other daily activities of local people firsthand.
Set sail in the afternoon, observing daily life along the way. This evening, enjoy a screening of the film l’Amant (The Lover), which will prepare you for tomorrow’s visit to Sa Ðéc. (B, L, D)

Day 12 Sa Dec, Vietnam
This morning, board a sampan to explore the backwaters and canals of the Delta. Small factories line the river channels; get a glimpse of industry in the region with a visit to a brick factory. Stop in Sa Ðéc and see the house of Mr. Huynh Thuy Le, the protagonist in best-selling author Marguerite Duras’s autobiographical novel, l’Amant (The Lover). After lunch, visit the colorful floating market of Cái Bè; see local workers producing rice noodles, coconut candy and a host of other handmade products. This evening, attend an onboard screening of the 2002 film The Quiet American, based on Graham Greene’s novel set in 1952 Saigon. (B, L, D)

Day 13 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Bid farewell to your ship this morning as your cruise through Cambodia and Vietnam comes to an end. Disembark in M? Tho, a busy river port not far from the capital of South Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Upon arrival, take a tour of Reunification Palace (also called ?Independence Palace”), the site of South Vietnam’s defeat. See the Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral. After your tour, check in to your hotel for a 2-night stay, then spend the rest of the day at leisure, getting acquainted with this lively city at your own pace. See some of the historic French colonial architecture and soak up some of the city’s youthful energy. Tonight’s dinner is in a local restaurant. (B, D)

Day 14 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
After breakfast, check out of your Siem Reap hotel and begin your coach tour through the Cambodian countryside, which brings you to your ship in Kampong Cham, via the provincial capital of Kampong Thom. Due to its central location, this area is rapidly becoming an important hub for fishing and agriculture. It also has a rich archaeological heritage, to which the 200 temples, some of which predate the Khmer Empire, attest. This afternoon, board your ship. After you get settled in, meet the ship’s officers over a welcome cocktail. (B, L, D)

Day 15 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
After breakfast, check out of your hotel and proceed to the airport for your return flight.* Or, continue your Southeast Asia adventure with a 3-night stay in Bangkok, Thailand’s exciting capital. (B)
Tour Map
All This Included
Explore the stunningly scenic and culturally distinctive lands that lie along the remarkable Mekong River. On this 15-day cruisetour, from Vietnam’s bustling cities to the tranquility of Cambodia, discover two countries, two cultures and two ways of life linked by Indochina’s most important river. Encounter ancient Khmer monuments at Angkor Wat and the elegant French colonial capital of Phnom Penh in Cambodia; in Vietnam, visit the floating markets of the Mekong Delta, experience the intimate charm of Hanoi’s old quarter and tour dynamic Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Here you will find gracious hosts and some of the finest cuisine in the world, while enjoying the natural beauty and rich history just beyond the banks of the magnificent Mekong.
  • 8-day cruise with river-view stateroom
  • 2 nights in Hanoi’s deluxe Sofitel Metropole; 3 nights in Siem Reap’s superior first class Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra; 2 nights in Ho Chi Minh City’s superior first class Sofitel Saigon Plaza (or similar)
  • Fully escorted: 14 guided tours with audio headset
  • Included meals: 14 breakfasts, 7 lunches, 13 dinners, featuring regional specialties
  • Complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks with onboard dinner and lunch service
  • 1 intra-itinerary flight
  • Culture Curriculum: Attend an Apsara dance show in Siem Reap; enjoy lectures on current affairs in Vietnam and Cambodia; visit a local elementary school
  • All port charges
Accommodations on this Tour
Hanoi: Sofitel Metropole
Siem Reap: Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra
Cruising: Cabin onboard Viking Mekong
Ho Chi Minh City: Sofitel Saigon Plaza"

Tom spent days searching online for possible river cruise while, after posting for the day, I joined in searching for possible vacation homes in Southeast Asia either before or after a cruise.

It was challenging to say the least.  Although there were hundreds of vacation homes, most of them were apartments in the cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Mihn City, neither of which appealed to us for an extended period. 

As we've mentioned many times in past posts, we just aren't "city people."  Plus, with the almost daily ports of call on a river cruise, we'd have had an opportunity to see many of the cities, both large and small, during the river cruise and its subsequent included tours to many points of interest.

In most cases, we don't care to join in on ship sponsored tour groups.  In this case, it makes all the sense in the world when attempting to book all of these events separately would have been a time consuming and costly task.  This time, we'll "go with the flow" knowing we'll be able to see as much as possible in this short two week period.

After many days of searching, on June 30th, we booked the Viking Mekong for 14 nights from July 8, 2016 to July 22nd with passenger capacity of 60 with 28 cabins.  The actual cruising time is only seven days with the remaining time spent on tours throughout the area, all arranged through the cruise line. 

As it turned out the Viking Cruises was offering a "two for one" sale for a limited period of time.  As a result, the cruise was almost sold out.  If we wanted to book this cruise, we'd have to chose from one of the five remaining cabins. 

Since most cabins on river cruises of this size have similar, if not identical cabins, we were happy with our choice.  We booked it on the last day of the "two for one sale."  Even with the discount, it  is the most expensive cruise we've booked to date:
 
Charges 
Package  USD $6,998.00 Discount  - 400.00  (discount provided by Vacations to Go)  AUD $9309.19 Discount - $532.11


Total Sal: USD $ 6,59
8.00  AUD $8777.09

A condition of the "two for one" discount was the cruise had to be paid in full by June 30th, the same day we booked it.  Ouch!  We hadn't budgeted for this early payment in full but, we made it work.

Here is the detailed information about the ship, the Viking Mekong:

Detailed Information

Viking Mekong Deck Plans
Dining Info
 Ship Statistics 
 Year Built2012 
 Refurbished2013 
 RegistryVietnam 
 Length180 feet  
 Beam34 feet 
 Passenger Capacity60 
 Crew Size28 
 Total Inside Cabins0 
 Total Outside Cabins28 
 Cabins & Suites w/ verandas0 
 Suites0 
 Maximum Occupancy per room2 
 Age RestrictionsAll must be 18-20 or one must be 21 or older 
 Dinner Seatings1 
 Seating AssignmentsOpen 
 Dining Hours7PM 
 Dining Room Dress Code1 Formal Night 
 Tipping Recommended?No 
 Tipping GuidelinesEurope Sailings: €12-15 per person, per day; Sailings to Russia/Ukraine, China, Egypt and Southeast Asia: $15-28 per person, per day. 
 Onboard CurrencyUS Dollar 
   
 Services & Amenities 
 Bars/Lounges  Yes 
 Beauty Salon/Barber Shop  No 
 Casino  No 
 Chapel  No 
 Disco/Dancing  No 
 Elevators  No 
 Hot Tub  No 
 Cell Phone Service  No 
 Internet Access  No 
 Internet Center  No 
 Wireless Internet Access  Yes 
 Laundry/Dry Cleaning  Yes 
 Library  Yes 
 Movie Theatre  No 
 Outdoor Movie Screen  No 
 Onboard Weddings  No 
 Self Serve Laundromats  No 
 Shops  Yes 
 Showroom  No 
 Spa  No 
 Video Arcade  No 
 Fitness & Sports Facilities 
 Basketball Court  No 
 Fitness Center  No 
 Golf Driving Net  No 
 Golf Simulator  No 
 Ice Skating Rink  No 
 Jogging Track  No 
 Mini-Golf Course  No 
 Rock Climbing Wall  No 
 Swimming Pool  No 
 Tennis Court  No 
 Water Slide  No 
 Water Sports Platform  No 
 Cabin Features & Amenities 
 24-Hour Room Service  No 
 Hair Dryer  No 
 Safe  Yes 
 Telephone  No 
 Television  No 
 Kids Facilities 
 Babysitting  No 
 Children's Playroom  No 
 Kiddie Pool  No 
 Supervised Youth Program  No 
 Teen Center  No 
 Special Needs & Requests 
 Adjoining Cabins
     (private connecting doors) 
 No 
 Kosher Meals  No 
 Single Occupancy Cabins  No 
 Single Share Program  No 
 Wheelchair-Accessible Cabins  No 

At this point, we had no idea what we'd do between July 22 and September 1, 2016, still a gap in the schedule.  With sheer will and determination along with a willingness to use a substantial amount of data for our search, we went to work with a great result we'll share tomorrow in Part 2.  

We couldn't be more thrilled in selecting in this cruise and also, a fabulous vacation home in an entirely new country located in Southeast Asia which we'll be posting tomorrow with photos.

Today, in the US is the national holiday, the 4th of July.  We wish all of our family, friends and readers in the US a safe and enjoyable holiday as the fireworks fly!
____________________________________

Photo from one year ago today, July 5, 2014:

As we drove to the small village of Sao Vincente we spotted this church while I took this lopsided photo while standing on a hill, my lame justification for not straightening the camera!.  For more details, please click here.


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