Siem Reap, Cambodia
Before embarking on the Mekong River itself, most itineraries start at Siem Reap in Cambodia. Once a tiny village, Siem Reap is now the most popular destination in the country thanks to its proximity to Angkor Archaeological Park, where 400-square-kilometres of ancient Khmer Empire city ruins still stand. Angkor Wat is the most famous part of the site, but many of the area’s 1,000 temples are just as fascinating. Seek out the serene faces of Bayon Temple, the overgrown tree-covered Ta Prohm and the intricately carved Banteay Srei – and arrive early to avoid crowds!
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Cambodia’s capital is the beautiful and busy Phnom Penh, where visitors can stroll along a pedestrianised riverfront lined with restaurants and parks, bargain in the art deco Central Market and explore landmarks like the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the National Museum. Those keen to further understand Cambodia’s sad history should visit the sombre yet important Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the site upon which thousands of people were held prior to being taken to the Killing Fields during the genocidal regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.
Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia
Sleepy but with a bustling dock, Kampong Chhnang is a great little spot close to the Tonle Sap river where you can catch glimpses of rural Cambodian life. Take a wooden boat through the floating fishing villages, wave to farmers working in rice fields, or wander through the lively produce market – all indicators of simple Khmer living.
Cai Be, Vietnam
The rural town of Cai Be in Vietnam is known for holding a floating retail market where boats vie for business every morning. Although less sellers appear here each year due to the increase in roads being built in the area, the surrounding scenery and meandering little canals are still stunning. Don’t miss the Catholic church with its uniquely tall steeple on the riverbank!
Sa Dec, Vietnam
Sa Dec, a peaceful city with beautiful colonial architecture, is famous for more than just its well-known flower markets and peaceful tree-lined streets. ‘Huynh Thuy Le Old House’ is a riverside residence dating from 1895 which once belonged to the Chinese family of a 27-year-old son who then-teenage author Marguerite Duras had an affair with, before immortalising it in her acclaimed novel ‘The Lover’.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The largest city in Vietnam is Ho Chi Minh, infamous for the part it played in the Vietnam War. Nowadays its sprawling streets are filled with a wonderful mix of French colonial architecture, bustling food stalls, spiritual temples and shining high-rises. Must-see sights include the double spires of Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Jade Emperor Pagoda, while hunting for bargains in the chaotic Ben Thanh Market and taking at least one ride in a speeding cab is a quintessential Vietnamese experience.