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CRUISE CAMBODIA DESTINATIONS


LEFT: Royal Palace, Phnom Penh


The sparse, tiny cells make


for a claustrophobic and often upsetting experience, so do warn clients that it’s not something they’re likely to enjoy, but those with an interest in the recent history of the country will find it an essential part of their itinerary.


w VIETNAM After the French colonial architecture of the capital, the cruise crosses the border into Vietnam, starting with the colourful markets of Chau Doc, then the floral gardens of Sa Dec, and Vinh Long, where small houses sit atop stilts in the middle of the delta. After that, it’s on to Ho Chi Minh City, where CroisiEurope has a prime docking point


of Kampong Chhnang – home to a lively market street where strings of live chickens or pigs’ heads are as likely fare as fruit and veg or knock-off sports shirts – we were once again out in the countryside within minutes, surrounded by rice fields and distant trails of smoke from the pottery kilns which gave this region its name (‘chhnang’ means ‘clay pot’). A visit to one small home- based enterprise proved just how varied the local economy is. Owner Mr Ry styles himself ‘Spiderman’ thanks to his ability to scale his towering palm trees in no time at all – not bad for a 67-year-old – to tap the flowers for their valuable juice, which he collects in a bamboo pot to boil down into palm sugar, fermented beer or a spirit strong enough to make your eyes water just at a whiff. As well as selling all manner of palm tree products, they make earthenware pots by hand – without even the luxury of a potter’s wheel – and a host of other small souvenirs.


w PHNOM PENH Another day’s sailing and we were back to the big city, docking in the heart of Phnom Penh, within walking distance or a short tuk-tuk ride of the


in the heart of the city, for a guided tour of the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office, and an overnight in port for guests who want to explore independently. There’s also the option of adding a four-day extension to see Hanoi and Halong Bay. The growing popularity of this


itinerary is undeniable, hence the addition of CroisiEurope’s fifth ship along the route, offering greater comfort and more modern facilities compared to existing vessels. The rest of the itinerary did indeed live up to the wonders of Angkor Wat, so for travellers wishing to combine culture with convenience, there’s no doubt a river cruise is the way to do it.


Tried & Tested


Mr Ry styles himself ‘Spiderman’ thanks to his ability to scale his palm trees – not bad for a 67-year-old


main attractions. The gold-laden Royal Palace is certainly not to be missed – even the Silver Pagoda, which forms part of the royal estate, is dripping in gold and bejewelled statues of the Buddha, though it takes its name from the 5,000 silver tiles that cover its floor – for a glimpse of Cambodia’s royal history. But for an altogether more chilling insight into the country’s more-recent horrors, there’s the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, an uncomfortable but necessary exploration of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. It was the site of former prison S-21, where as many as 20,000 prisoners were tortured and killed over the course of the regime’s rule; just seven are known to have survived when the prison was liberated in 1978.


INDOCHINE II


CroisiEurope’s new-build premium-level ship is a welcome breath of fresh air for its Cambodian fleet. It accommodates 62 passengers in 31 cabins – all with good-sized balconies, though beware of bugs if opening the doors in the evening – with a 29-person, mainly Cambodian crew. Its red Vietnamese wood decor offers a touch of French colonial elegance, though it feels modern thanks to a contemporary finish and splashes of colour in its soft furnishings. There are three passenger decks: the restaurant, reception area and


a handful of cabins on the main deck; the balance of cabins on the upper deck; and a comfortable air-conditioned lounge bar plus exterior pool and day beds on the sun deck.


Dining is mostly family-style and by set menu – worth noting for fussy eaters or those who prefer individual service – but attentive waiters and a spacious, well-appointed restaurant make meals a pleasant experience. Alcoholic drinks are available at extra charge. Look out for very reasonably-priced spa treatments and the sociable evening atmosphere in the lounge bar.


11 January 2018 travelweekly.co.uk 65


PICTURES: RATANA/BREM FILM; CHRISTINA GUAN; GREGORY GERAULT; BEVERAGGI


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