Heritage Line styles itself as “collectors and artisans of a singular collection of unique ships that recreate a bygone era.” The privately owned Vietnamese company, which liaises under one umbrella with its sister companies, Trails of Indochina and Indotrek, currently operates five luxury river cruises on some of Southeast Asia’s most spectacular waterways.
Before boarding one of its two Mekong river ships, The Jahan, for a seven-night cruise from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City, we stayed overnight at the Victoria Angkor Resort & Spa. Downtown and opposite the Royal Gardens, it is pure colonial style. We had a spacious Deluxe Pool View Room overlooking the lush tropical Pool Garden, which is straight out of a Tarzan movie.
Greeted on board by The Jahan’s smiling staff with a cool towel and welcome cocktail, we were ushered to our Deluxe Stateroom, one of the eight on the upper deck, which, like the 12 Superior Staterooms on the main deck, have floor-to-ceiling windows opening onto their own balconies with comfortable lounging chairs.
The Taj Suite has elaborate Indian décor and furnishings, which include camel bone-inlayed chairs, tables, cabinets, side tables and vanity case.
Before lunch, as we set off downriver across Tonle Sap Lake, guests were introduced to key members of staff and given the safety drill and an overview of the day’s sailing and activities. In the airy Viceroy Dining Hall, the buffet lunch was a selection of hot and cold international and Asian dishes, with a salad bar and cheese board; there was also a carving station, which, we were to discover, had a different choice of roast meats every day.
The romantic Jahan is a class act, with oodles of style packed into its compact 230-foot length (which is hardly surprising, as it’s named after Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who built the magnificent Taj Mahal). Indian influences are a leitmotif throughout the ship, from the delicate hand-painted wall and ceiling tracery to the camel-bone inlay on cabinets and chairs, from niches with Indian ornaments to the glowing wood floors and furnishings.
The Taj Suite
The staterooms have charming day areas with a sofa and vanity corner, while the well-appointed bathrooms have large showers. All rooms have wall safes and ILLY coffee machines. Having first admired and then removed the colonial straw sunhats and telescope from the bed, we were delighted to discover that it was just our kind of bed: neither too firm nor too soft — and with the finest bed linens.
On board, there are four creamy-white and blue Signature Suites offering 385 square feet of space. We found them very romantic and say they are the perfect choice for honeymooners. They have butler service, as do the two top Noble Suites, the Taj and the Lord Byron, which also have separate dining areas. The Taj has two balconies, one with a Jacuzzi. We liked its elaborate Indian décor and furnishings. The Lord Byron has a large balcony also with a Jacuzzi and interesting hand-painted British colonial scenes on the walls. On The Jahan’s seven-night cruise, the Noble Suites come with a complimentary minibar, welcome bottle of Prosecco and candlelight dinner, plus one 60-minute spa treatment and foot massage per person.
The Apsara Spa has two treatment rooms and a range of massages. We had a dry Khmer Massage, for which we put on loose local pajamas, and found it very relaxing. There is also a small gym with a treadmill and a steam room. The top deck has the largest pool on the Mekong, and the sun beds were a favorite observation point for the beautiful scenery of riverside towns and villages, Khmer pagodas and rice paddies, and the never-ending passage of every size and shape of craft on the river (Mekong means “Mother of Water”), from small fishing dugouts to lumbering barges and dredgers.
The Jahan has four creamy-white and blue Signature Suites that come with a large wooden four-poster king bed.
Top Tip: For your VIPs, reserve a romantic Candlelight Dinner in the Observatory at the prow on the upper deck. Our table was beautifully appointed and the flickering candles set the scene for the elegant dinner that included a spicy Tom Yam Scallops Soup and an Australian Beef Tenderloin with an amazing dark chocolate sauce. The choice of wines complemented both the food and the surroundings.
The Jahan is not alone on the Mekong. Its sister ship, Jayavarman, which has 27 staterooms and suites, does the same journey in the opposite direction and, indeed, we were docked side by side on the overnight in Phnom Penh. Guests can also choose to board or disembark both ships in Phnom Penh, opting for three- or four-night cruises between the capital city and either Ho Chi Minh City or Siem Reap.
To book The Jahan and Jayavarman, which sail respectively from June to April and July to April, contact [email protected] or [email protected], and for VIP requirements, contact Heritage Line’s Sales Office ([email protected]; 011-008-483-811-8858) in Ho Chi Minh City. Director of Sales and Marketing Andreas Schroetter ([email protected]; 011-008-483-811-8858, Ext 505) told us bookings are best made at least three months ahead, especially for the October-March high season. Andreas also said they will shortly be rolling out dates for the new Gourmet and Wellness cruises on The Jahan, due to start next September.
The Lord Byron Suite, which has hand-painted British colonial scenes on the walls, comes with a large balcony with a Jacuzzi.
The staff on board are very professional and go out of their way to make guests feel at home. In the evenings, in the Raj of India Lounge, the guides made presentations about the Mekong and its people, local history and other interesting topics.
Good to know: There is no TV on board, and Wi-Fi is sporadic when The Jahan is sailing, but once docked in the evenings the signal was fine.
We docked in the capital Phnom Penh for 24 hours, stepping back into the country’s darkest years of the Khmer Rouge atrocities by visiting the Choeung Ek Killing Fields memorial park and the S-21 Tuol Sleng prison camp. We had lunch in Malis, where we discovered celebrity chef Luu Meng’s brilliant take on traditional Cambodian food. The afternoon was spent in the National Museum, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda and, after another elegant four-course dinner on board, we enjoyed the lively bars and colorful night market on Sisowath Quay.
The top deck has the largest pool on the Mekong. Guests can relax on the sun beds and enjoy the scenery of riverside towns and villages.
There were days with both morning and afternoon excursions, and the staff took the greatest care to make it easy for guests to disembark, helping us aboard the tender boat or walk along secure gangplanks onto land. In Cambodian waters, we visited the little village of Kampong Chhnang to see how they make earthenware cooking stoves, and, on the island of Koh Oknha Tey, we saw silk weaving on hand looms.
To cross the border with Vietnam, The Jahan anchored mid-river, and the purser took a pilot boat to get our passports stamped at the border immigration office. Note: E-visas are not accepted at this immigration point, so make sure your clients have visas issued by their Vietnamese embassy or consulate, or ask Heritage Line for assistance.
In Tan Chau, we were pedalled in trishaws along the dusty streets to the local market; we also visited a floating fish farm. On the last afternoon, the tender took us into Ca Be harbor, past the Gothic Cathedral and a floating market, to a factory where they produce the thin rice wrappers used for nem spring rolls and coconut candies, a local specialty.
The Taj Suite
The following morning, The Jahan docked at My Tho and guests traveled by coach to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s biggest city, which also goes by its former name of Saigon.
Look out for Heritage Line’s new Ginger, a boutique junk due to debut early next year on Halong Bay. With six ultra-spacious suites, it will be the first ship on the bay with a pool and live cooking stations. It will cruise an off-the-beaten track from Halong into the exquisite and remote Lan Ha Bay.